Sunday, 28 April 2013

But where's my hover car? What the past futurists got right... and wrong...

So we’re now way past the year 2000, but I still haven’t got my hover car, my interplanetary holidays or my clothes made of milk. Yes, that was a prediction, so where are they? To solve this mystery, Retro LadyLand is travelling back in time to discover what the scientists of the past predicted for today, and how much did they actually get wrong... and right!

Henry C. Nicholas wrote an article for Greenville, Mississippi's 'Delta Democrat-Times' in 1952, entitled "Cheer Up!World Will Be Wonderful Fifty Years from Now!" Well is it??
His predictions range from medical: that scientists would have cured most of mankind’s diseases and that the average human will live will be the grand old age of 100, to scientific, that the world would be circled by many man-made moons, and that interstellar travel would be as common as 2 weeks in Benidorm.

He also predicted that there would be an increase in the world's wealth and prosperity, that water would be taken from the sea, purified and used to hydrate desert areas, creating what he termed ‘garden spots’ and helping increase a food supply that he believed "would increase 50 times over".

He further supposed that, due to a more relaxed attitude to birth control by both society and the church, over-population will cease to be a problem, thus leading to world peace. He even hinted at government control over childbirth, which seems ludicrous until one’s mind turns to China and its one child policy.

Although he did get an awful lot wrong, he did get a couple of things right, if not completely spot on. He predicted that solar energy would be popular, which indeed it is, he also said that there would not be another World War, again correct, but two lucky guesses are not enough to convince me that this man was a visionary.

The long running Popular Mechanics had its ideas too, some so ludicrous that they’re laughable, and some bang on!

My favourite is the waterproof house that - when dirty - the housewife can just aim a hose at and let all the dirt just drain away to a plug hole situated in the middle of the room. An interesting concept, yes, but not really a very practical one. They also hinted at new "synthetic, waterproof materials" that would withstand the hose, but plastic furniture on a hot day with bare thighs? Not for me.

But if waterproof furniture doesn’t float your boat, why not try a 'pneumatic suite', which can be stored away in the walls and brought out when needed. Not quite accurate, fold-away furniture is very popular though and, thanks to your local IKEA, is found in most homes, and no industrial machinery is needed to open it.

In 1935 Americans predicted that by 1955 more than half of all families in the future would be living in trailers. The last recorded statistic shows that the percentage of trailer-dwellers currently stands at only 7%, and the owners? Well, I don’t think America's trailer park community are quite the modern families that they envisioned.

Predicted kitchens of the future were astonishing affairs, with domed cooking stoves and self-cleaning appliances – a notion that is more or less correct, but why would we need a fancy kitchen if we were all going to be eating food in pill-form anyway?

It was also predicted that powdered grass would be added to foods to make it go further,sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? Humans eating grass?! But hold on a minute…

But enough of the nit picking, some prophecies were actually pretty exact. For the house, the microwave was predicted, as wasthe frozen meal. Houses were going to be built around technology and not the other way around, and now one only has to watch an episode of Grand Designs to see that they got that one right. 1940's scientists predicted the push button phone, andin ’54 it was predicted that TV's would be thin enough to hang on the wall, and that Joe Public would be able to create a whole indoor cinema experience in his own home, which was again spot on.

Other electronic predictions may not have the same names as we have today, but you cannot deny the similarities to today’s internet capabilities. The 'weather predicting machine': an idea from the 50s, the 1938 prediction that newspapers would be delivered by fax, and most prophetic, the claim that “...wristwatches in the year 2000 will be used for more than time measurement. They will be total communications centers, containing devices not only for accurate timing but also for voice and vision communication and recording—they’ll even contain simple miniaturized computers.” Spooky.

In the 20’s a prediction for the clothes material of choice was not silk, not cotton, not even a synthetic blend… no, it was Asbestos! Thank god that didn’t happen, just imagine the consequences. They even predicted clothing made of milk. Laughable you'd think...

But what about the classic idea of flying cars and jet packs? In 1951 a popular idea was that everyone would own their own personal helicopters in lieu of cars, but the “Flying Fan Vehicle” (pictured left) quickly replaced that ludicrous idea(!). In fact Futurists of the day predicted that these would be ready for the householder by the early 70's. So where’s mine again?

But my favourite, and seemingly most ridiculous prediction, was the 1905 prognostication that - by the year 2000 - people would be able to communicate with one another via the Electric Handshake: a machine thatwould allow two people to converse while separated by hundreds of miles, but with the added ability to be able to "feel the pressure of their hand whilst talking". Seems crazy? Well, it’s not quite a hand shake, but have a look at ‘Kissinger’ and see how close they were to being right?

They even predicted that, although the world would be a much better place in the year 2000, there would still be a few people bemoaning the passing of the “good old days”. 

My God, they even predicted Retro LadyLand…

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