Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The pinnacle of slightly-inclined upward motion technology.

I watched the original 1978 version of "Dawn of the Dead" for the first time last night. It's strange seeing a movie like that, almost 30 years later, separate from the general climate of the era it was released in. I know it's billed as a horror movie, and I know that it was also intended as a not-so-subtle satire on consumerism, but what I'm *not* sure of is just how funny the movie was intended to be in 1978. I found myself laughing quite a lot, watching the zombies shuffle around the mall while cheesy mall-style Muzak poured from the speakers. But was this scene more horrifying in 1978? Did the zombies send chills along with their satirical message? I really can't be sure.

I noted that 1978 era shopping malls differed little from the shopping malls of today, and after a few minutes of research (thanks wikipedia), I found that the movie had been shot at the Monroeville Mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.

The mall was constructed a decade earlier, which made the mall similarities even spookier -- the malls of the late 60s doesn't look much different than the malls of the late 2000s, it would seem.

I was struck by the escalators in in the mall -- certainly a staple of shopping centres, among other locales, but something about seeing the escalators in a 1970s mall made me think of the cheery, optimistic, we'll-all-be-living-on-the-moon-with-our-flying-cars attitude of the 1960s. And it occured to me that escalators were a wonderful 1960s sort of idea.

They're stairs. BUT THEY MOVE. ON THEIR OWN. It's just like science-frickin-fiction.

So I wiki'd escalators. And what do you know, they aren't really a creation of the 1960s. In fact, the modern version of the escalator appeared in 1921.


The original versions of the escalator (apparently there two competing products that ended up merged into the 1921 version) actually appeared in the 1800s.

The escalator originated in the 19th century.

Tell me that's not stunning. Tell me that doesn't make your jaw drop.

And tell me that doesn't make you wonder why, more than 100 years later, we're still using them?

Put another way, is the escalator *really* the pinnacle of slightly-inclined upward motion technology? I mean, granted, I don't really have any suggestions for improvements or new technologies, but I'm not an engineer. I'm a sort-of-geeky newspaper guy. The actual invention of something like that is sort of out of my area of expertise. Talking about it, though, is well within it.

I know there's plenty of technologies that last for a long, long time (the automobile seems a pretty obvious example) and just become regular parts of our lives. But the escalator has remained almost unchanged since 1921. That just seems...indescribably bizarre.

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