Friday, September 10, 2010

A Silicon Valley Expo in 2020? Can't See It Clearly (Yet)

I'm gonna put this in the "would be cool, but never gonna happen" category: news that governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is spearheading efforts to host the 2020 world's fair - in Silicon Valley, no less. Wyatt Buchanan writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that efforts are underway to make that happen, starting with a trip to China.

OK, naturally I love the idea that the gov is raising public awareness about the international expo concept by attending the 2010 World's Fair. I mean, Shanghai is running the largest and most expensive expo in history and virtually no one in the United States has heard of the thing. Schwarzenegger's overseas trip is helping to change that. Heck, one of my students mentioned the visit in our Communication and Culture class!

Then again, the idea of a U.S. world's fair - our first since the New Orleans debacle of 1984 - faces obstacles that may be insurmountable. These include the perception that such a gargantuan event will cost more money than it raises, especially now that people don't need a world's fair to get a taste of global culture or witness innovations in technology. Some say, reasonably enough, that the internet - really, the shopping mall - killed the international expo idea decades ago. At least for Americans.

Oh, and let's not forget the fact that the U.S. isn't even a member of the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions, which sanctions these events (and, for some reason, monster horticultural shows). We pulled out of that group years ago. Add the shoddy state of our pavilion at the Shanghai expo and it appears that America has abandoned any pretense of leadership in the world's fair arena.

Things can change, of course. We can decide to mount a memorable expo and transform Silicon Valley into a true center of 21st century thinking. A homegrown 2020 extravaganza could happen. But it'll take a transformation in American attitudes about these international events to get us started down that road. That begins with one thing: knowing that there's a great world's fair going on right now.

Learn More: Read Jim Wunderman's San Jose Mercury News, August 28, 2010 editorial in support of the Silicon Valley World's Fair:

Update: San Jose Mercury News September 12, 2010 story: Plans unveiled for bid to put World Expo 2020 at Moffett Field (with rendering of proposed fair!)


Urso Chappell said...

First of all, I should admit I'm a bit biased. I'm a world's fair historian and I've been to eight of them so far. I'm also quoted in the article you mention.

However, I disagree that the internet has replaced the need for world's fairs. The same was said of television in the '50's... and even back in 1889, they were saying it in Paris... under the new Eiffel Tower.

World's fairs are a medium similar to museums, theme parks, live entertainment, and the Olympics. They've evolved just like those have. Unfortunately, they've evolved outside the view of most Americans. A visit to a museum isn't the same as visiting their web site... and folks still go to theme parks even though you can see all the rides on YouTube now.

World's fairs are more about ideas now... and meeting real, live people. I'm lucky to live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, but I still learn a lot visiting an Estonian Pavilion, for example.

Even if the Bay Area doesn't bid, there are some other cities looking to bid ( and Edmonton is bidding for the (much smaller) Expo 2017.

Andrew Wood said...

Thanks for your note!

I share your belief that the internet can hardly replace the visceral experience of being in a world's fair. I only wish that more folks shared our sense of the value these events contain.

Also, of course, I'm thrilled that you're working hard to inspire a growth in world's fair interest among Americans. It'll be hard to get 2020 in the U.S., but it is possible, thanks to dedicated folks like you.

Andrew Wood said...

Oh, and here's a clickable link to your website:!

Urso Chappell said...

A certain kind of Freudian dyslexia set in when I read your comment as saying "dedicated fools" instead of "dedicated folks."

I guess the next few years will determine which is correct.