Thursday, January 19, 2012

One hundred years from now

I don't know where--or how--my brother finds all this stuff. Though I consider myself a fairly apt searcher and discoverer of fascinating and unique facts and material on the world wide web, he tops me fairly consistently, posting links to a veritable plethora of good and interesting stuff.
Recently, a note via his Facebook page led me to a 1900 Ladies' Home Journal article entitled, "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years."
The article was written by one John Elfreth Watkins, an engineer, novelist and journalist who, based on his predictions, became known as "the seer of the century."
The beginning of the 20th century was an exciting time, with the world teetering on the brink of technological advances that almost make some of our own big ideas seem a little silly in comparison.
Some of what was new in 1900 included phonographs, light bulbs, typewriters, skyscrapers, diesel fuel, aspirin and the first overseas telephone call. In 1900, a train could cover the same distance in six days that a covered wagon traveled in six months, and the idea of the automobile was just beginning to catch on. Though they traveled twice as fast as horses, only 8,000 cars and about 10 miles of paved roads existed in America in 1900. The 1900 Paris Exposition displayed amazing things like moving sidewalks, a wireless telegraph, powerful telescopes, and the first escalator. And back in the U.S.A., two brothers named Wright made their first trip to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to begin manned glider experiments.
Given the tone of the times, it's easy to understand how Watkins and his collaborators would come up with some of the ideas listed in the article.
Though some of the technical details differ, he was spot-on in predicting technologies very similar to modern-day television, cell phones and digital photography, but missed the boat a tad by promising "peas the size of beets" and strawberries as large as apples. He got it right when he predicted electricity would be used to provide light and heat to speed up the food growing process, and also accurately called for central heating and air conditioning systems, though he thought the hot and cool air would enter homes via "spigots" connected to a centralized HVAC plant. He was a little overcautious when he speculated that the average lifespan would increase to 50 years, but wholly overestimated the energy of folks of the future when he said "everybody will walk 10 miles" daily as part of a lifetime program of exercise and fitness. Water power was his suggested mode for a electricity generating system that would completely replace coal, while automobiles would be cheaper than horses, and "airships" mostly limited to military use.
Watkins also declared an end to flies, mosquitoes, mice and rats by the year 2000, while also predicting near extinction for horses and virtually every sort of wild animal, except those in zoos. And while he might have been wrong about bugs and beasts, he came much closer when he guessed at our dependance on take-out meals, refrigeration and hermetically sealed foods.
But perhaps most interesting to me was his prophecy that spelled an eventual end to the letters C, A and Q.
"They will be abandoned because unnecessary," he stated. "Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas."
Gosh, sounds an awful lot like texting to me.
But here's the thing.
What would you say if you were asked to predict the future? What do you think will be going on a hundred years from now?
Some say we'll travel to Mars, and it seems almost certain that there will be increasing climate changes here on earth. Other predictions deemed likely by some sources and/or experts include ocean farming for both fish and algae, communication through thought transmission (synthetic telepathy, yikes!), immortality technology (whatever that means), control over the weather and brains wired to computers for faster, more efficient thinking.
Well, good enough, I guess.
But I'd like to think we will have used those computer-aided brains for a few other reasons, as well.
Like a solution for worldwide hunger and an end to unending war. For universal healthcare, with real breakthroughs in medicine that are available to all. For clean air and water and sustainable, non-polluting forms of energy. And, most of all, for a world society that finally has the good sense to get along.
Seems like maybe that was the plan, all along.
Maybe, in a hundred years or so, we'll get it right.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished Ray Bradbury "Farehneit 451" and looking around me, will I walk or go by in the train to work can only think that the way mankind is travelling is to a world fully dependable on gadgets. I can not imagine how one would fell to travel one hundred years from now! But can imagine the shock of for instance Jules Verne if he travelled in time for the 2012's!!
    If I had to be a book I would have a hard time choosing one.....
    Paula Nunes Lima