Disney's grand vision of the 21st Century is a reminder of the world that can still await us

The 21st century began on Jan. 1, 2001, but for Disney fans it had been in full swing for more than 18 years, since the opening day of EPCOT Center on Oct. 1, 1982, when a sleek and optimistic vision of the future debuted in a theme park unlike any other built before or since.

Late last year, Disney started a massive overhaul of EPCOT, which will see more Disney characters and brands added to the park, and update many of its attractions for the actual 21st century – which has arguably proved a fair deal bleaker and less promising than the happy visions Disney conceived for EPCOT.

Disney's version contained daily flights to space, boundless energy, harmony with the earth and its oceans, pollution-free transportation, and a unifying message of peace and unity among people from every nation. The future didn't quite turn out that way.





But even back in 1982, it was something of a fiction. Grounded in the harsh reality of the time, it was a quintessential Disney wish that got its start in the 1950s, as Walt Disney was readying Disneyland. Even the most devoted Disney enthusiast rarely sees past the rides, shows, restaurants and shops when they go to Disneyland, but Walt Disney and his engineers (long before they were "Imagineers") saw something far different: urban planning. So impressive was Disney's ability to make something out of nothing that James Rouse, designer of the first enclosed shopping center in America said in 1963, "the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland."

An avid traveler, Walt Disney had also spent much time visiting cities around the world – and around the country – and by the early 1960s he was growing concerned about the state of American cities, but eager to explore solutions he saw internationally. His interest became an obsession, and by the mid-1960s he was wholeheartedly turning his company from a film studio into a think-tank devoted to creating a prototype community filled with experimental technology from around the world.

He called the city EPCOT – the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. To help fund it, and to draw even more attention to it, he placed it within the confines of "Disney World," the gigantic project his company was building in Central Florida. Building the theme park proved relatively easy; but when it come to the "city of tomorrow," even his closest aides were confounded by the visions and ideas Walt Disney had proposed. "He had come to fear that EPCOT would not be built if anything happened to him," biographer Neil Gabler wrote in Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination. On Dec. 15, 1966, Walt Disney died.



So, for a time, EPCOT died. Its vision of a future created by corporations and big industries, supported by governments and social unity, was undone by the violence, unrest and distrust of the 1960s. Yet, a decade after Walt Disney died, EPCOT began moving ahead.

The idea of a "real" city that housed research-and-development arms of major corporations, staffed by people from around the world, fell away quickly, but at EPCOT's core was the belief that the ideas and innovations of companies, and the imagination of the people who worked for them around the globe, could serve to inspire the future. These two competing notions of technological innovation and of cultural cooperation were initially proposed as two parks, until, inspiration struck.

"We found that we couldn't get enough sponsorship for both," remembered Marty Sklar, who went on to head Walt Disney Imagineering, "so we pushed the two of them together, basically, and that became EPCOT Center." The building, transportation and management codes that had been created for development of the city formed the backbone of the entire Walt Disney World resort development, so the 43-square-mile complex became known as "EPCOT," while the theme park would be at its geographical heart – it would be, literally, the EPCOT Center.

Those two sections that were initially separate parks were joined and became Future World and World Showcase. A massive marketing campaign supported what was then the single largest construction project in the world – no small feat, considering a global recession that gripped the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As a company, Disney was undaunted. "EPCOT Center is a celebration of ingenuity, innovation, imagination … and most of all … hope for the future," the company wrote in its 1982 annual report. "We believe we need optimism in our world because a society just can't progress without the belief that life will be good, that individual enterprise will bring its own rewards and that the great nations of the world will be guided on the right course with a better informed public." Disney called EPCOT "the dawn of a new Disney era."

Instead of single rides, massive pavilions contained long, elaborate attractions that explored key concepts vital to the future: communication (in Spaceship Earth), energy (Universe of Energy), the environment (The Land), transportation (World of Motion), imagination (Journey Into Imagination) and, after EPCOT's first expansion, the oceans (The Living Seas) and future technology (Horizons). The Wonders of Life added a look at the human body, completing Future World in 1989.



World Showcase opened with nine countries – Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States – with Morocco joining in 1984 and Norway in 1988. Country pavilions were initially sponsored by private companies, except Morocco, which has always been sponsored by its government. Curious what EPCOT looked like in 1982? Here's a carefully restored 16 mm film taken not long after opening.

The hopeful vision of the future presented by EPCOT officially became outmoded when the 21st century really did dawn. An enormous overhaul of EPCOT was announced last summer, but construction has been stalled by the outbreak of coronavirus – an outbreak that may best be solved by cooperation among people, innovation led by private industry, and an understanding that our future is shared by everyone. One of humanity's greatest crises may find its ultimate solution in the ideas, spirit and innovation that Walt Disney left behind, and that led to a theme park – and a vision – unlike any other.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

True

The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

Keep Reading Show less
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

Screenshot taken from a live video of the trial.

A recent (and fairly insensitive) sketch from “Saturday Night Live” said it best regarding the widespread fixation many have on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial:

“It’s not the most pertinent story of the moment, but with all the problems in the world, isn’t it nice to have a news story we can all collectively watch and say ‘glad it ain't me?’”

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

Schadenfreude, celebrity fascination and previously inaccessible information now being at our fingertips is a potent combination in this trial, making amateur lawyers and psychologists of all who feel compelled to unleash their hot takes. And though the right to converse and speculate exists, is it always in our best interests to do so? Especially when it means potentially spreading misinformation, or at the cost of empathy and compassion?

Keep Reading Show less
Photo from Upworthy Library

A proud sloth dad was caught on camera.

Teddy the two-toed sloth has become a proud papa and thanks to a video posted by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, we all get to witness the adorable reunion with his newborn son.

Mama sloth, aka Grizzly, gave birth to their healthy little one in Feb 2022, which delighted more than 3,000 people on Facebook.



The video, posted to the Florida zoo’s YouTube page, shows Grizzly slowly climbing toward her mate, who is at first blissfully unaware as he continues munching on leaves. Typical dad.

Keep Reading Show less