This Atlantic article explores the “alternate realities” imagined by one Steven M. Johnson. The “inventor-cartoonist” has had many transformations since his design-beginnings back in the 1970s. Over the years his focus has moved from the purely “funny, funky or silly,” to tackling social issues; from designs that could be “actual, useful products,” to Utopian ideas.

Johnson explains how some of those “fake,” seemingly implausible inventions would eventually come into being:

“In 1975 I started predicting (in my drawings) that store-bought clothing would be sold pre-ripped; I was almost a decade ahead,” he crows. “In 1991 I showed a drawing of a small, radio-controlled vacuum cleaner that could creep under furniture. It was about the size of the Roomba, which was offered a decade later. Mere entertainment is sometimes a vehicle for suggesting what is ‘in the air.'”

Lisa Dusenbery is the former managing editor of The Rumpus. More from this author →