Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today… Or Not

2 comments January 17th, 2012at 07:22am Posted by Eli

This is a very entertaining list of predictions about the 21st Century from 100 years ago.  Some of the things it got more or less right:

  • United States Population will be 350-500 million.  Currently it’s around 307.
  • HVAC.  Described as hot and cold air “spigots”, as opposed to, say, thermostats.
  • TV dinners.  Sort of.  Instead of prepackaged meals, they envision a sort of superdelivery system with pneumatic tubes carrying hot meals to the home and dirty dishes back to the restaurant afterwards.
  • Instantaneous global transmission of sound, images, and moving pictures.  Although the idea of people going to concert halls to listen to instruments being remotely played by musicians elsewhere was probably never going to catch on, even if it were technically feasible, which it probably is.
  • Air-conditioned bullet trains that don’t run on coal.
  • Cars will replace all horse-drawn conveyances.  Not so sure about them being cheaper than horses or having one-pound motors, though.
  • Bombers, long-range artillery, and tanks.  Not so much fighter planes, and they don’t envision airplanes replacing cars, bullet trains, or ocean liners (which will by superfast hydrofoils that can cross the Atlantic in two days).

Needless to say, they missed a lot of things, as well as not having the how down exactly for the things they got more or less correct, but they couldn’t have even conceptualized technologies like nuclear power/weapons, genetic engineering, GPS, laser technologies (i.e., DVDs, surgical applications, etc), cellphones, computers, MP3 players, the internet, or even videogames.  They should have seen space travel coming, though.

The most heartbreakingly wrong prediction has to be their progressive, utopian view of education:

A university education will be free to every man and woman….  Poor students will be given free board, free clothing, and free books if ambitious and actually unable to meet their school and college expenses.  Medical inspectors visiting the public schools will furnish poor children free eyeglasses, free dentistry and free medical attention of every kind.  The very poor will, when necessary, get free rides to and from school and free lunches between sessions.  In vacation time poor children will be taken on trips to various parts of the world….

Sigh.  Apparently there are some things that we can’t conceptualize anymore.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Education,Technology


  • 1. Woody  |  January 18th, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Well, as to space flight, Verne imagined it already in the 19th Century, dinne?
    From Earth To the Moon — wiki is currently observing the SOPA dark, so I cant look thew date up…drat it!
    On that whole “can’t conceptualize” thing, Foucault’s got a whoe book about it: “The Order of Things.” It’s pretty accessible, for Foucault/French intellectuaslism…

  • 2. Eli  |  January 18th, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Hey, I’m agreeing with you on space travel – it *should* have been on the list.

    I’ll see what I can find on the Foucault, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s hard to conceptualize something when you don’t even know about its building blocks yet – like, say, DNA. I think nuclear physics existed in 1911, but was new enough that I don’t think the possibilities were widely (if at all) understood yet.

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