Renowned Vancouver futurist ‘Dr. Tomorrow’ Frank Ogden
led a life to remember
By Tiffany Crawford, Vancouver Sun, January 12, 2013
Frank Ogden, the free-spirited futurist known as Dr. Tomorrow who was one of the first people to predict that the Internet would come to dominate our lives, has died.
The world-renowned Vancouverite with an eclectic resume, including pilot, corporate consultant, broadcaster, LSD therapist, teacher and author of 22 books, died on Dec. 29. He was 92.
A close friend of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, a fellow futurist, Ogden predicted a future of teleports, limited labour unions, the growth of self-employment and body implants that would turn people into cyborgs. He travelled widely throughout his long life, giving lectures on all things high-tech and experimenting with different cultures, including studying voodoo in Haiti. The nonconformist felt just at home on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo or the Sahara desert as he did in Vancouver.
When he wasn’t roaming the planet, Ogden worked from home on his wired houseboat in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, and was a pioneer in streaming live video Internet broadcasts. From his floating electronic cottage, Ogden conducted the first two international seminars via satellite and fibre-optic technology, for Australia’s Telstra Communications Network in Sydney and Melbourne.
Years before he started using the Internet to stream live video, Ogden predicted that the broadcast universe wouldn’t be limited to 500 traditional channels, but would instead be a universe frequented by anyone with a camera, computer and limited money. It was one of his many prognostications that he lived to see become a reality. Cybersex was another, as Ogden had predicted 20 years ago the rise of what he called virtual sex.
Ogden, whose boundless curiosity and insight into the future of computers and satellites made him one of the world’s foremost futurists, was ahead of his time when he wrote The Last Book You Will Ever Read and Other Lessons from the Future in 1993. In it, he envisioned e-books as the future of reading, and in 2000 he was hired to evaluate the prototype of the Everybook, an electronic book reader developed by the Pennsylvania-based Everybook Inc.
In 1953, he broke the Canadian light-plane altitude record by flying a Mooney M-18 Wee Scotsman to an altitude of 19,400 feet out of the Toronto Island Airport. With a conventional internal combustion engine, he set this “impossible” record by flying up until he ran out of gas and then gliding back to the airport. At the time, the lighthearted Ogden joked that he was able to break the record because “most pilots are sensible enough to want 20 to 30 gallons of gas left in the tanks to get back.”
But flying high didn’t end with piloting helicopters and planes. Long before Timothy Leary’s acid trips and the Summer of Love, Ogden was part of a medical team researching LSD at Hollywood Hospital in New Westminster. As the story goes, Ogden showed up on the hospital’s doorstep wanting to be part of the research team after he read about LSD in Maclean’s magazine. (A magazine that would later describe Ogden as “having more ideas in a weekend than most people have in a lifetime.”) He was hired, and subsequently added “therapist” to the long list of jobs on his curious curriculum vitae.
During his stint as a therapist, from 1961 to 1968, he recalled that a New York clinic recruited Hollywood’s doctors to speculate about the possible ways LSD could be used as a terrorist weapon. “There was a big fear that someone would throw a bucket of juice into a reservoir and a whole city would go crazy,” he said, at the time. In 1966, the U.S. banned LSD. But it was still legal in Canada, and Ogden said Americans started showing up at Hollywood Hospital, cash in hand, many of whom were celebrities from California.
Ogden was born on a fast-track train near Toronto in 1920. Educated in Canada and the U.S., Ogden later became a flight engineer in World War II. He held a dizzying array of odd jobs, flying airplanes and helicopters, selling real estate, managing Montreal’s controversial radio station CKGM and teaching at the Ontario College of Art. He even studied voodoo in Haiti and set up a think-tank for the prime minister of the Bahamas. On his website, Dr. Tomorrow is quoted as saying: “Everything in life is information.” He adds: “Voodoo priests get their information through a hierarchy of gods; we get ours through a hierarchy of technology,”
Ogden was also a fellow of the Explorers Club, an elite group of adventurers that included mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Predeceased by his wife, writer Carol Baker, Ogden is survived by his son Ted and daughter Lodei, as well as grandson Trevor, granddaughter Sarah and great granddaughter Halle.
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