Often looking back to the past for visions of the future can be hilarious, when you see how much they got wrong. Retronaut reproduces a 1950 Popular Mechanics article in which Waldemar Kaempffert, the science editor of the New York Times, did his prediction of what life would be life in 50 years and give it a decade or so, the surprising thing is a) how much he got it right; and b) how much not he, but we got it wrong in our politics and our inertia.
We visit the Dobson family in Tottenville, a new town built around an airport much like the aeropolises that are now being proposed. "it is a crime to burn raw coal and pollute the air with soot and smoke".
Power plants are not driven by atomic power as you might suppose. It was known as early as 1950 that an atomic power plant would have to be larger and much more expensive than a fuel-burning plant to be efficient….in tropical countries it cannot compete with solar power.
It's just like Barton Myers' Montecito house!
Housing has been industrialized, but surprisingly it is not prefabricated,
allthough all of its parts are mass-produced. Metal, sheets of plastic and aerated clay (clay filled with bubbles so that it resembles petrified sponge) are cut to size on the spot. In the centre of this eight room house is a unit that contains all the utilities- air conditioning, apparatus, plumbing, bathrooms, showers, electric range, electric outlets. Around this central unit the house has been pieced together.
(sounds like Aircrete to me)
It is a cheap house. Though it is galeproof and weatherproof, it is built to last only about 25 years. Nobody in 2000 sees any sense in building a house that will last a century.
There are no dishwashers because dishes are thrown away after they have been used, or rather they are dissolved by superheated water. The plastics are derived from inexpensive raw materials as cottonseed hulls, jerusalem artichokes, fruit pits, soy beans, straw and wood pulp. Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people. a few die-hards still broil a chicken or roast a leg of lamb…the expansion of the frozen food industry and the changing gastronomic habits of the nation made it necessary to install electronic stoves. In eight seconds a half-grilled frozen steak is thawed; in two minutes more it is ready to serve.
Of course the Dobsons have a television set, but it is connected to the telephones and the radio receiver, so that when Joe Dobson and a friend in a distant city talk of the telephone they also see each other. Businessmen have television conferences. Each man is surrounded by half a dozen screens on which he sees those taking part in the discussion. Documents are held up for examination; samples of goods are displayed. In fact, Jane Dobson does most of her shopping by television. Department stores obligingly hold up for her inspection bolts of fabric or show her new styles of clothing.
It goes on: factories are run by computer, with "only a few troubleshooters to responst to lights that flare up on a board whenever a vacuum tube burns out." Everybody is moving all the time, mostly to California. "Women will outnumber men by a glorious million for the first time in history." That is glorious for who?
Rich people will take rockets to Paris; the rest of us, slower jet planes. We have family helicopters. Mail has disappeared because of faxes. Medicine has advanced, but we still have not cured cancer, although "physicians optimistically predict that the time is not far off when it will be cured."
There are people who cling to the old ways, who prefer a down comforter to an aerogel blanket, but if you do, people will talk of your "queerness."
It is astonishing how easily the great majority of us fall into step with our neighbors. And after all, is the standardization of life to be deplored if we can have a house like Joe Dobson's, a standardized helicopter, luxurious standardized house appointments and food that was out of reach of any Roman emperor?
Then again, perhaps it isn't such a wonderful vision of the future. Read it all at the Retronaut