Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University
Millennium Predictions: Past Thinking About the Future
January 4, 2001
Flying houses. Talking dishwashers. Undergarments turned into candy. That's what people 100 years ago thought we would be enjoying today.
Far from the predictions of a tarot card reader or psychic hotline, these forecasts came from engineers, scientists and writers who study social and technological trends to predict what daily life might be like in the future. They call themselves "futurists."
For more than a century, futurists have looked at the year 2000 as a turning point for human civilization. Maybe it's because the year ends in zeros, or because the turn of the millennium is so much grander than the rollover of a mere century. According to Laura Lee, author of the book Bad Predictions, 150 novels were set in the year 2000 between 1888 and 1900 alone.
Predictions for 2000
If all past predictions
true, we would have things like self-cleaning clothes or underwater
Two of the most famous novels predicting our future were George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Published in 1949
as a warning against the dangers of a totalitarian
government, Orwell's book described a future government called "Big
Brother" that constantly rewrote history and watched citizens' every
move on TV cameras that couldn't be turned off.
The Ladies' Home
Journal published a collection of predictions in 1900 by journalist
John Elfreth Watkins Jr. He was suprisingly correct about air conditioning
and direct-dial long distance telephoning, but wrong about a free university
education and "strawberries as large as apples will
be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners
a hundred years hence."
One of the magazine's more interesting predictions was that we would use paper tablecloths and wear thin rayon underwear that chemical factories would buy to convert into candy. (It certainly gives new meaning to Bart Simpson's favorite phrase "Eat My Shorts!")
In 1951, inventor and designer Buckminster Fuller came up with an idea to use the natural rotation of the Earth for easier travel. A man-made space ring would encircle the Earth above the equator. People would go up to the ring and ride in it while the Earth rotated beneath them. When their destination came into view below, they would descend.
The Future With Technology
The futuristic displays at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair lured visitors with visions of a bright future aided by technology.
"Futurama" exhibit showed a city
10,000 feet under the ocean reached by atomic submarines. It also featured
a lunar colony with all-terrain vehicles for exploration and pumps sending
ocean water to deserts. Cars drove themselves along automated highways,
as drivers let computers set their speed and course.
In 1966, Arthur C. Clarke wrote in Vogue magazine that houses would fly by 2001. He thought entire communities would head south for the winter or move to new locations for a change of scenery.
Many scholars of the past believed that the advances in technology would make life easier, and that by 2000, most adults would work only a few hours every week. Most daily tasks would be automated and computers or robots would be intelligent enough to complete them.
Although robots do help now with many things like making cars, they are not as popular as many science fiction books and movies once led people to believe. They thought robots would be helping students with homework, doing housework and thinking independently enough to write books or music. (Where's a good homework robot when you need one?)
Here are a few other bad predictions from Laura Lee's book:
Now the year 2000 is almost over, and current futurists are writing about a more powerful Internet, a longer human lifespan (up to 300 years), superhighways connecting distant cities like Hong Kong and Paris, and lunar housing as an escape from an overcrowded Earth.
What do you think? What do you think will the future will hold in ten years? In 100 years? Write us and we'll post your responses.
By Samara Aberman, NewsHour Extra
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