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Life in the Future
March 24, 2008 9:57 AM   Subscribe

40 Years in the Future - Another "what will life look like in the future" article. This one from Mechanix Illustrated, 1968. (via Boing Boing)
posted by caddis (50 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I still want my flying car,
and four hour workday.
posted by caddis at 9:57 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Site trampled on?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:59 AM on March 24, 2008


The article describes a day on November 18th, 2008... so we've still got some time to catch up.
posted by wabbittwax at 10:09 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think there's a page missing from the scan. I saw nothing about the raging Islamofascists who want to kill us. Also:

"Recycling will be so pervasive that nary a pop musical outfit will need to create its own 'sound' in 2008 -- they will simply pick and choose among the riffs of the past, assembling their latest release with the push of a button."

That part would be on the nose, if it were in there.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:09 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


If you learn anything from these, it's how utterly incapable we are of predicting life in the future. Particularly when you ignore non-technological issues, like politics and pop culture.
posted by tommasz at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2008


I dunno, the internet prediction seems pretty accurate.

I'd like to know what the flying car of 1968 was. Like, what were people in 1928 predicting we would have 40 years in the future that we never got?
posted by DU at 10:19 AM on March 24, 2008


I love the combination of overpredicting and underpredicting in these sort of things.

"After your robot-driven space car lands and the DNA-detecting force field lining your front door lets you in, you'll sit and listen to the latest big band recordings on unbreakable hyper-plastic records."
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 10:20 AM on March 24, 2008 [10 favorites]


I used to love to read these articles when I was a kid in the seventies and really expected most of them to happen. But, it seems like progress, in the sense that the writer of this article would use it, has slowed down instead of speeding up in the last forty years. Compare the differences between 1928 and 1968 to the differences between 1968 and now. From '28 to '68 we went from biplanes to 747s and from '68 to now we went from 747s to 747s. Similarly Radio -> Color TV -> somewhat bigger Color TVs. Culturally we've gone from Al Jolson -> Led Zeppelin -> Led Zeppelin (at least that's what my teenage kid listens to). Yea, you can come up with lots of things that have been developed in the last forty years, the Internet most obviously, but subjectively for this 43 year old, I was expecting more.
posted by octothorpe at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2008 [9 favorites]


"Here in the technical vastness of the future, we can guess that surely the past was very different."
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:33 AM on March 24, 2008


I've always liked Rushkoff's take on futurists: they suck.

Q: How do they (futurists) get inside our consciousness and make us fear being left behind, or not being cool enough, or being too fat, or being too ugly. How do they do that through the Internet?

Douglas Rushkoff: Well one way is they remystify the media that we've just demystified...(i'm not gona copy and paste the whole article)

People predicting the future = BASTARDS!
posted by pwally at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Highly entertaining! Especially that part about heart disease being eliminated by diet and medication. HA!
posted by geeky at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2008


retrofuture tag, please!
posted by Eideteker at 10:42 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have a large collection of Popular Science and Popular Mechanix magazines from the mid 1950's to the early 1970's. I tell you, the classified ads are just as much fun as the main features. It seems that the man of 1964 needed more muscle, and so would write off for Charles Atlas' latest "dynamic tension" brochure. If more muscle wasn't enough to defend himself against muggers, he could buy a small revolver loaded with CN tear gas, the same tear gas they use in Vietnam. If that wasn't enough, he could learn JuJitsu, Gung-gu, or Karate, all by mail order course.

Assuming he got home safely, he would go to work, as working at home was the goal of all classified ads of those days. If not making ornamental concrete blocks from special molds, he was raising nutria. Unfortunately lifting heavy ornamental concrete blocks could be quite straining. Thankfully, he could buy the necessary truss from the classified ads, too. Usually the truss ads left no room for ambiguity:

HERNIA?

The Popular Mechanix man of 1964 was also a backyard mechanic, and would study the ads for piston rings and capacitive discharge ignitions carefully before buying. Some day he would retire, and thankfully he could buy cheap land now, long before it became expensive. Unfortunately the ads for land in Florida and Alaska didn't come with photographs, so he had no way of knowing that he was buying "wetland". Before wetlands were recognized as fragil ecosystems to be carefully preserved, they were known as "swamps".

The Popular Mechanics man of 1964 was also a curious man, and wanted to know more about "The Wisdom of the Ancients", and so sent off for a book about the mysterious Rosicrucians.

Yes, a man could live a full and meaningful life back then if only he bought stuff from the classified ads of Popular Mechanix...
posted by Tube at 10:53 AM on March 24, 2008


Probably the quaintest thing mentioned is the repairman:

"Sensors in kitchen appliances, climatizing units, communicators, power supply and other household utilities warn the computer when the item is likely to fail. A repairman will show up even before any obvious breakdown occurs."


Did we not see the disposable future coming? Anything broken is replaced, not fixed.

"Medical research has guaranteed that most babies born in the 21st century will live long and healthy lives."

The United States has (one of?) the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world. That's the bad kind of irony.
posted by Eideteker at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2008


When you see what you want, you press a number that signifies “buy,” and the household computer takes over, places the order...

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have discovered prior art that invalidates Amazon's one-click buying patent.
posted by zsazsa at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2008 [9 favorites]


Harlan Ellison said it better than Rushkoff: after agreeeing to appear in an ad for the Geo Metro, Ellison learned the sponsor had included a caption identifying him as a "noted futurist"; Ellison's response was that "professional liar" would've been more accurate.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:58 AM on March 24, 2008


From '28 to '68 we went from biplanes to 747s and from '68 to now we went from 747s to 747s.

No, we went from 747 to A380. And by November, the first 787 should have its maiden flight. 787s rely heavily on carbon fiber composites, a technology unheard of outside of the lab in 1968.

Similarly Radio -> Color TV -> somewhat bigger Color TVs.

No, Color TV to Internet as media source. 40 years ago, very few people had home VCRs. Now the VCR is dead and the DVD may be on its way out too, replaced with Internet delivery of media.

40 years ago, a home theater meant you had a white sheet, an 8mm projector, and home movies. Now you can buy a high-end home theater setup for the cost of a 1968 VCR/TV in today's dollars -- $6000.

Culturally we've gone from Al Jolson -> Led Zeppelin -> Led Zeppelin (at least that's what my teenage kid listens to).

No, Led Zep to a multitude of musical options, along with the painful adaptation of the music industry to the Internet. And along the way over the last 40 years, we've been through prog rock, hard rock, heavy metal, disco, new wave, hip-hop, rap, gansta rap, Eastside Westside, acid jazz, smooth jazz, folk, folk-rock, alt. country, hat country, hair metal, grunge, emo, faux emo, slow jamz, nerd rock... and back to Zeppelin again. But the variety is much, much greater than it was back then.

When I was in high school in the late 80s, all the "alternative" music we got was either from 120 Minutes or our friends' older, college age siblings. Now, there are kids in Oklahoma downloading music on iTunes from bands that they never could have heard of in 1988.

So next time your kid is ripping through Physical Graffiti on his/her iPod, remember that they made that choice from the millions of options out there, options that would have been impossible to choose from just 20 years ago.

Things have changed. Just wish I could have a flying car with an iPod adapter, though.
posted by dw at 10:59 AM on March 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


What I find bizarre about this particular set of predictions is the amount of infrastructure that was supposed to have been built in 40 years. Bubble domes over all cities? Moving sidewalks everywhere? Tube-trains between major transit hubs?

You can easily forgive an author for getting the pace and even the direction of advancement wrong. But what could possibly spur that kind of proposed focus on infrastructure?
posted by gurple at 11:01 AM on March 24, 2008


Despite the fact that all of the workings of the home are automated, 'housewives' still need to be present to prepare prepackaged meals for their hardworking husbands.

Interesting. Seems like they would be outmoded, somehow.
posted by miss tea at 11:08 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apparently they had never eaten microwaved frozen food because eating that every day is dystopian and not very utopian at all.
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Where may I place an order for intelligence pills, please? In bulk, if possible.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 11:17 AM on March 24, 2008


Living in the future is a lot like having bees in your head!
posted by Yer-Ol-Pal at 11:39 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Not bad. They missed a few things, but like, in 1968, who could have predicted that it would be raining Cory Doctorow.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:57 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Employers deposit salary checks directly into their employees’ accounts. Credit cards are used for paying all bills. Each time you buy something, the card’s number is fed into the store’s computer station. A master computer then deducts the charge from your bank balance.

Not too far off, that one.
posted by dontoine at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


dw: "...options that would have been impossible to choose from just 20 years ago..."

dw, you are right but all those improvements that you site seem so incremental and non-tranformative. I'm sure that the A380 is a great plane but what does it do that's all that different than a 747? It's little bigger and more efficient. Woopy! It doesn't really change the way that you get to Europe in the way that the change from taking the Queen Mary to taking one of the early Jets did. Again, I expected more.
posted by octothorpe at 12:45 PM on March 24, 2008


One thing these predictions always got wrong is the energy to make it all work. Many of the predictions assume abundant, cheap, clean energy. While there may be more energy now than there was in 1968, there is also much more demand and competition for it. And the different forms of energy are still mainly produced from petroleum and coal, not clean, safe nuclear fusion or sunshine. Who predicted biodiesel? No one!
posted by Daddy-O at 1:13 PM on March 24, 2008


But what could possibly spur that kind of proposed focus on infrastructure?

During the '50s and '60s Eisenhower built the interstate highway system and America and the Soviet Union were launching rockets into space. Big advancements had been (and were being) made in transportation and infrastructure; with the money and sweat and excitement involved, you probably would have been a little crazy not to think it would continue. Kinda like the dot-com bubble or the terrorism boogeyman these days, y'know?
posted by xbonesgt at 1:15 PM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


In the late 1960's the future of TV was going to be 3D, not just bigger screens. Though to be fair, the "flat panel" thing was predicted long ago.

As far as aircraft, the future was going to be SST's, which happened, but on a much smaller scale.

"Transformative" is a useful term, and in my lifetime the obvious examples are computers and the Internet.

Another example I can think of is small arms, whose technological maturity occurred in the early part of the 20th century. From there you see incremental advances in materials technology, like composite receivers and stocks. A transformative advance would be rail guns or phasers.

By and large, I think we are seeing incremental advances in aircraft and TV.
posted by Tube at 1:17 PM on March 24, 2008


gurple: "But what could possibly spur that kind of proposed focus on infrastructure?"

In 1968, the Interstate Highway System was about a decade old; adjusting for inflation they eventually spent half a trillion dollars on that bit of infrastructure. The "bubble dome" ideas may have been a bit over-the-top (pun not intended), but imagining a few more multibillion dollar transit projects here and there doesn't sound too unreasonable. It would take a lot of foresight to have realized that cheap fuel and wide government-subsidized roads lead to urban development that isn't nearly dense enough to support subways, much less wide government-subsidized slidewalks.
posted by roystgnr at 1:18 PM on March 24, 2008


octothorpe, why did you expect more? I know it's hard to recognize our limitations, but we have reached them (or nearly so). We will never leave the Earth in notable numbers—this is what we've got—and honestly the obsession with progress progress progress more more more is what is most likely to make our ending a bit more explosive than elegiac.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2008


Actually, as far as aircraft go we've gone from having supersonic passenger service (at least for the rich) to not having it.

In all fairness, there is a consistent direction to the misdirection; the futurist saw that the curve had been leading toward ever bigger and higher-energy projects, and saw that continuing. Instead the future took a turn toward miniaturization, energy efficiency, and information technology.
posted by localroger at 1:40 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


yea, were just a couple bad moves away from being back to chasing each other around with sticks.
posted by freshundies at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2008


I want to EARN 20 DOLLARS an HOUR assembling MINI-DOZERS.
(Think that p.o. box still works?)
posted by Dizzy at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


During the '50s and '60s Eisenhower built the interstate highway system and America and the Soviet Union were launching rockets into space.

Sadly, while fear of an enemy in the 50s and 60s got us to the moon, today fear of an enemy just gets us taking our shoes off in the airport. The quality of fear-based technological advancement has greatly declined in four decades.
posted by tommasz at 1:53 PM on March 24, 2008 [9 favorites]


sonic meat machine: "octothorpe, why did you expect more? I know it's hard to recognize our limitations, but we have reached them (or nearly so). We will never leave the Earth in notable numbers—this is what we've got—and honestly the obsession with progress progress progress more more more is what is most likely to make our ending a bit more explosive than elegiac."

Mostly because I was a little kid and thought that people writing magazines like Mechanix Illustrated wouldn't BS me. Also because I remember my dad being totally blown away by the moon landings as being something that he never expected to happen in his lifetime. It seemed like we were living in a science fiction world and that that pace of change would continue. I know that it's a good thing that we never built domed cities and such things but the ten year old kid in me is still a little disappointed.
posted by octothorpe at 2:04 PM on March 24, 2008



Rules for Technology Futurists

1. Consider only technologies that interest you and which are currently undergoing rapid change.

2. Accentuate technological change over social/political change. Assume the influnce of the former on the latter, but not the reverse. Do not plug real people into the scenario until the technology is in place.

3. Assume inevitable adoption. Either a benevolent dictatorial government or the invisible hand of the marketplace will ensure that the technologically possible becomes reality.

4. Ignore all true costs of adoption. Supporting physical infrastructure and financing will magically appear.

5. Conflate science and technology.

6. Conflate technological change and 'progress'.
-
posted by Herodios at 3:03 PM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Was an even climate the only reason a city needed to be domed? Did they think through what that would entail and the consequences? Maybe that's why they were hoping for intelligence pills in the future.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2008


Wow. I needed that.

I laughed when they were wrong, and as a result I laughed even harder when they got one right.
posted by Inversehelix at 3:51 PM on March 24, 2008


God damn it - I told my boss I didn't want anymore business travel this year!
posted by Flunkie at 3:51 PM on March 24, 2008


the Interstate Highway System was about a decade old

the FAA air traffic control system would have been another extrapolation starting point, plus Japan's new-ish shinkansen service.

nice to know instead of all those civil goodies we got 4 more years in Vietnam, Ronnie Raygun's "600 Ship Navy", and now 5 years running around blowing up bad guys in Mesopotamia.
posted by tachikaze at 4:00 PM on March 24, 2008


You guys don’t have flying cars?
*checks watch*
oop, posting this in the past, sorry.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:13 PM on March 24, 2008


"Probably the quaintest thing mentioned is the repairman:

"Sensors in kitchen appliances, climatizing units, communicators, power supply and other household utilities warn the computer when the item is likely to fail. A repairman will show up even before any obvious breakdown occurs."


Actually, this technology is being furiously developed in my industry (appliances), and in some cases, already rolled out. Everything is networked and it callls home with problems as or before they develop and magically, you will get a call to schedule service.
posted by UseyurBrain at 4:28 PM on March 24, 2008


In the archives of this site there's a story of copper being used as a cheap replacement for paper.

So, this feeling I'm feeling. That's what my grandchildren will feel when they hear that I thought nothing of loading a trash bag made of petroleum products with other disposable petroleum products, right?
posted by bunnytricks at 4:41 PM on March 24, 2008


This makes me kindof want to write one for 2048.

Or maybe just for 2012.
posted by lunit at 6:41 PM on March 24, 2008


Jetpacks be damned!

We are LIVING THE FUTURE right NOW!
Space shuttles.
Stents.
Polymers.
Soy products.
Quanta.
iPhones.
Drones.
Patriot Act.
Fear.
In Vitro.
Data storage.
Yaddayaddayadda.

My Grandpa would be so proud.

Take a second to enjoy it.
posted by Dizzy at 8:35 PM on March 24, 2008


Stupid thing is we WOULD have the funds to do a lot of the infrastructure needed for these ideas IF we didn't go to war with Iraq or had Bush in office....

Wacky idea here... Republicans are to blame for there not being a 24 hour work week! or robot servants!!!!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:32 AM on March 25, 2008


Your comment presumes that we had the money to fund the war in the first place.
posted by Eideteker at 6:39 AM on March 25, 2008


we WOULD have the funds to do a lot of the infrastructure needed IF. . .

Having the technology and the funds available still doesn't mean we'd build the infrastructure.

I was introduced to working video telephones (monochrome) in 1964, yet more than 40 years later, despite near ubiquity in visions of The Future(tm) from the 1930s on, they remain a novelty. It turns out that regardless of cost, we only want video phones under very specific circumstance.

These Popular-Mechanics-type 'right around the corner' techno fantasies are alway amusing because they so clearly express the occupational disease of technology futurists -- frst extrapolate from technological developments, THEN populate the fantasy.

Getting there is the hard part, and once there we always find that
the future isn't what it used to be.
-
posted by Herodios at 7:14 AM on March 25, 2008


Maybe a better example is health care IT.

Despite the high-tech image of medicine, that industry lags behind hospitality and even junkyards in applying IT to its most fundamental information.

A technology futurist who jetsets around the world, booking airline reservations, auto rentals, hotel rooms, and the like while never touching cash or speaking to a human being -- a person bathed in information in digital, electronic form -- might DIE because a pharmacist couldn't read a physician's handwriting on a prescription or because a vital sheet was missing from a paper medical file.

There is no technological barrier here and most of the necessary technological infrastructure already exists at near commodity levels. The barriers are primarily social and political. Despite the evident overall social good, individuals in positions of responsibility in health care see little or no benefit to themselves, their organization, or their profession in embracing electronic patient data until it is mandated.
-
posted by Herodios at 7:39 AM on March 25, 2008


When I think of the future, I see a robotic boot robo-stamping on a robotic face forever.

VIVE LA ROBOLUTION!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:15 AM on March 25, 2008


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