Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Cybernetica shows off outdated technology but offers a message that's still relevant today.
Few in the 20th century could seduce anyone into buying a train ticket like British Transport Films. In 1972, the International Union of Railways asked the organization to tell the story of how technological advances were making passenger rail the smartest, safest, and cleanest way to get around Europe.
The resulting film, called Cybernetica, used the fictional journeys of three women from different countries to explain how ticketing, timeliness, and safety were all better than ever thanks to investments in giant, complex computer systems.
The technology on display, while mesmerizing, won’t impress anyone today. The film’s final message, however, still resonates. The three ladies, it turns out, are all former airline employees who choose rail for their get-together in Paris. As the narrator tells viewers, that’s the responsible choice in an increasingly polluted world:
They, like all of us, are surrounded by a menace which is threatening our well-being. Everyday, congestion increases. Everyday, more land disappears under layers of concrete. Every hour, more of our fresh air becomes poisoned. Yet there is a way to travel—scientifically in tune with the future—which has capacity to spare and claim no penalty in terms of noise, congestion, and a poisoned atmosphere.
We can move around all we want yet leave the land, the air, the sunshine undisturbed.