People find it easy to imagine vast technological changes, but almost impossible to envisage social change. Or so the futuristic dreams of the early- and mid-Twentieth Century teach us.
Here are The Jetsons, Hanna-Barbera’s ‘family of the future’ from the early 1960s. They’ve got a flying car, robot-helpers and other trappings of a tech utopia. But George is still head of the family, and works in an office. Jane Jetson gets housekeeping money from George and spends the day doing (robot-assisted) housework. It’s a stereotypical 1962 American TV family with different furniture.
115 years out
Here’s another set of predictions, a more thoughtful and accurate set this time, from an American civil engineer called John Elfreth Watkins way back in 1900. Watkins says he talked to the 'wisest and most careful men' of his generation to learn what was going to happen. Open up the image in a new tab - click on it - to have a closer look.
Watkins covers many areas of modern life in his article – and gets an awful lot right. Let’s just filter for the ones about transport and navigation to see how well he did.
Trains at 150mph. Check. Japan’s Maglev train has actually been tested at up to 375mph.
New York To England in Two Days. Check – though Watkins thought we’d still be doing this in boats.
There will be Air-Ships. There are. Check.
Everybody will walk 10 miles a day. Err. Not-so-much. Though our renewed interest in fitness and exercise, which is what Watkins was aiming at, arguably ticks the box.
Man will see around the world. Check. Heh. We guess live television broadcasts are actually closest to what Watkins was thinking.
Aerial War-Ships and Forts on Wheels. Bombers and tanks. Check.
Automobiles will be cheaper than horses. Depends. A standard-model new horse is actually still quite a bit cheaper than a new car here in the UK. Once livery is added to the bill, though, the cost gets a lot more even. However, second-hand cars are, in line with Watkins' predictions, very often cheaper than second-hand horses.
No cars in cities – Oops! Something seems to have gone very wrong here. However, futurologists like Bran Ferren still predict that autonomous vehicles will massively reduce traffic and that roads and parking will be far more compact and hidden than it is today.
Yet… like the Jetsons, dad is still in the office from 9-5 and mum is shopping or cooking. The revolution no one saw coming was the sexual one. What’s the next revolution we haven’t seen coming, we wonder?