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100 Years Hence

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I’m fascinated with how our world changes over a relatively short time.  Technology, infrastructure, culture and fashion just can’t stay put for long.  Humans are so amazing because they have a habit of completely reinventing their habitat every generation or so.

Undoubtedly this is also a big reason why we are so troubled.  Every generation is faced with an environment for which their parents could not prepare them because it never existed before.  Old-fashioned values don’t always work so well when the world is continually being fashioned by the new.  “Always eat everything on your plate” may not be such great advice when today’s average portion size is triple what it was in 1950.

I guess what is most interesting to me is that the human being — the animal itself — stays more or less the same, but its tools and toys and general way of life change so completely.  I wasn’t around before 1980, but even in that short time, technology has completely revolutionized our lifestyles, with some interesting complications.  For example, who in 1991 could have predicted that by age 28 I would be spending twelve hours a week and writing on a “blog”?

Imagine this for a moment: Some midsummer evening in 1983 in the middle of a Tears For Fears concert, amidst an explosion of electricity and smoke, a time machine appears out of thin air.

As the stunned crowd backs away, a young man stumbles out, wearing a T-shirt that says “Bonnaroo 2009” and blue rubber shoes with holes in them.  He has plugs in his ears, with slender white threads that hang from them and disappear into his pocket.

“I’ve come from the future,” he announces ominously, “and I’ve seen what happens to you.”

“You, with the Flock of Seagulls haircut, you’ll work as a team leader for one of the biggest companies in the world, called ‘Google.’  Don’t laugh, it’s true.  On the weekends you’ll take Qi Gong classes, and you will only drink fair trade coffee from Ethiopia.”

“You, with the blue tights and yellow legwarmers, you’ll make a living as a ‘life coach’, and will also be ‘blogging’ part time.  You’ll spend your spare moments tweeting your friends with a blackberry, and you’ll develop a red bull addiction for which you will require an intervention.”

“You, with the Motorhead t-shirt, you’ll die in when your smart car collides with a Saturn.”

“And gas will be three bucks a gallon.”  Gasps and boos.

How could they have guessed?  It’s only twenty-some years down the road, but it doesn’t even make sense to our young Gen-Xers.  Their predictions, if they were brash enough to make any, could only consist of different versions of what they already knew.  Faster tape decks?

How could we possibly know what lies ahead in twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred years?  People make predictions all the time but most of them are going to be way off the mark.

Even “way off the mark” is going to be an understatement in most cases.  Nobody has the information required to make a close prediction, because most of that information doesn’t even exist yet.

Predictions From 100 Years Ago

This week I came across an incredible relic from the dawn of the twentieth century.  It came courtesy of my favorite invention ever, the internet, via another impossible-to-predict innovation called StumbleUpon.

In the December, 1900 issue of the magazine The Ladies Home Journal, there was an article by a man named John Watkins Jr, entitled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years.”

He proceeded to make twenty-nine confident and detailed predictions about life in the year 2000.

Naturally, most were completely out to lunch:

  • The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal. The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare.
  • There will be no street cars in our large cities. Underground or overhead streets will teem with capacious automobile passenger coaches and freight with cushioned wheels.  Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.
  • No mosquitoes nor flies.  Insect screens will be unnecessary.  Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated. Boards of health will have destroyed all mosquito haunts and breeding-grounds, drained all stagnant pools, filled in all swamp-lands, and chemically treated all still-water streams.
  • Strawberries as large as apples will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence.  Raspberries and blackberries will be as large.  One will suffice for the fruit course of each person.

Some were actually pretty close (kind of):

  • Hot and cold air from spigots. Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house as we now turn on hot or cold water from spigots to regulate the temperature of the bath. Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times.
  • The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs.
  • Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today. They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking. Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where they will be washed. [Hah! -D.]
  • The piano will be capable of changing its tone from cheerful to sad. Many devices will add to the emotional effect of music.

And some were eerily correct:

  • Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. By an automatic signal they will connect with any circuit in their locality without the intervention of a “hello girl”.
  • Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known. There will be, as already exist today, automobile hearses, automobile police patrols, automobile ambulances, automobile street sweepers. The horse in harness will be as scarce, if, indeed, not even scarcer, then as the yoked ox is today.
  • The living body will to all medical purposes be transparent. Not only will it be possible for a physician to actually see a living, throbbing heart inside the chest, but he will be able to magnify and photograph any part of it. This work will be done with rays of invisible light.
  • Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Even to-day photographs are being telegraphed over short distances.  Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.
  • Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span. American audiences in their theatres will view upon huge curtains before them the coronations of kings in Europe or the progress of battles in the Orient. The instrument bringing these distant scenes to the very doors of people will be connected with a giant telephone apparatus transmitting each incidental sound in its appropriate place.

The full article is here.

I guess the bottom line is that predictions, if hit-and-miss, will always be mostly miss.  The information necessary to make an accurate prediction just isn’t there most of the time, and that’s because human minds everywhere are constantly generating new ideas out of thin air, rather than just refining and extending old ideas.

As imaginative and clever as we are, we just don’t have a freaking clue where technology is taking us and our lifestyles.  Your kids will be (and may be already) adopting an utterly different lifestyle than you, because the environment in which they grow up is already different than yours was.  They’ll be working jobs that don’t exist yet, in industries that are currently just a pipe dream, at companies that sound like nonsense words, for bosses who just graduated the third grade.

We can’t even predict the outcomes of next-day football games, when we know who will be playing, how good they are, how many points they typically score, and what happened last time when they played.  Any sports fan knows there are just too many factors, even with known rules and participants.

Do you care to take a stab about predicting what life will be like 100 years hence?  Could you even be close?

What about twenty years? One?  Next week?

I would bet money it will be mostly surprises for all of us, across the board.

I think this is a good thing.  It makes fear rather ridiculous, because fear is really just a prediction, and it seems that we can’t make a dependable prediction to save our lives.

The things you really should be fearing will probably never cross your mind at all.  So take comfort in that, if you can :)


Photo by presquilien

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Jay Schryer July 13, 2009 at 7:44 am

Hah! Those kids from 1991 would be more amazed than you realize! I was a senior in high school in 1991. Forget “blogging”, we barely even knew what the internet was, and only a few of my friends had used it…and only then because we were geekier than most folks :). There was no such thing as a graphical browser yet, although we had heard that “they” were working on one. None of us had tried email yet, although we had heard that the college just opened accounts for the students and faculty there….
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..True Confession =-.

Lisis July 13, 2009 at 8:31 am

I love this post! Thoroughly enjoyed reading those “predictions”.

The fact is, we have NO idea what the future holds, and “the future” is anything that hasn’t happened yet. Never mind 100 years, or 1 year, or a month or a day or an hour! Everything we think we know can change in the blink of an eye.

I was just talking to Hunter about this today… we have NO idea what our life will look like as of August 1, but not knowing is what makes it exciting because it means anything is possible.
.-= Lisis´s last blog ..Adventure: Stop Dreaming and Start Doing! =-.

Nadia - Happy Lotus July 13, 2009 at 10:08 am

Hi David,

I laughed out loud at what you wrote about people in the 80s being told about what life is like now.

I remember actually having to get up to turn the dial on the television and there were only 5 channels. I grew up in the 80s too and it is amazing to me that now we all have little phones with us and I have friends from all over the world who I can reach within seconds. I used to have to write letters and now I hardly do that because I just write emails. Time sure have changed.

As for what the future holds, who knows and that is kind of exciting. Like Lisis said, who knows what tomorrow will bring and it is kind of nice to be open to whatever is possible. Liiving in the moment, in my opinion, is the best way to go. :)
.-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..Hanging Out With the Saltwater Buddha =-.

John July 13, 2009 at 10:32 am

Great stuff, David. Comparing how the human evolves with technology is very eye-opening. I can’t even imagine the next hundred years. There still won’t be any flying cars…

This is going to be on my mind for a while now. Thanks for the intriguing post.

*Helpful comment* Typo in “As imaginative and clever as we are, we just don’t have a freaking clue were technology is taking us and our lifestyles.” ‘Were’ should be ‘where’.
.-= John´s last blog ..20 Steps You Can Take Today to Be a Success =-.

Marie July 13, 2009 at 11:45 am

It’s interesting how close some of the predictions were and how far away others were. I think we make our predictions based on what is important to us today and what our largest problems are. In 1900 urban sprawl, health, food, and communication were big issues (see any legislation for that time period for backup.) I think many predictions today would have to do with environmental issues, technology storage or organization, health, and diplomatic conflicts.
.-= Marie´s last blog ..Lock =-.

David July 13, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Jay Schreyer — I remember just starting to play around on the internet with my dad back in 1992 or 1993. We spent a whole afternoon downloading some game with fifty different files that we had to go out and search for and piece together. It was such a boring little game but I was amazed that it came from “out there.”

Lisis — Yes, unpredictability is good news. Many times I’ve felt like I’ve thought myself into a corner, by believing I’d identified all the possible outcomes. But I know I can’t really know what is going to happen, even if it seems obvious.

Nadia — I think I had nine channels growing up, then thirteen, then thirty, then sixty and a hundred, and now I have none :)

John — I’m still waiting for those Jetsons cars. I love how depictions of the future from the 60s and 70s were always so hopelessly stuck in the 60s and 70s :) And thanks for the typo warning.

Marie — Hi Marie. I think you’re totally right. The real problems of 2109 will probably have a lot to do with areas that nobody is currently talking about or even aware of. We just can’t escape our current perspective, I guess.

Shamelle- TheEnhanceLife July 13, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Thought provoking post..

I remember when I was school we had to write essays on what life would be like in “2010” etc .. gosh.. we had our imagination running wild.
Technology has changed and shaped the world a lot during the past decades and I can guarantee it will continue to dominate in the next 100 yrs as well.
.-= Shamelle- TheEnhanceLife´s last blog ..6 Life Lessons Hollywood Repeatedly Tries To Teach You =-.

Jannie Funster July 13, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Really? The life-span was 35 back then? Holy cow. We’ve come a long way, Baby.

My biggest concern is that we will evolve into blobs for lack of physical exercise. Obviously you and I won’t be around to see that. But it could happen as we get further and further from actually having to get off our butts and do stuff.


David July 14, 2009 at 6:40 am

Shamelle — I remember being quite let down that we didn’t have conveyor belt sidewalks and sarcastic robot servants when the year 2000 came around.

Jannie — I watched a show on where scientists thought we were headed in terms of biological evolution, and what they came up with wasn’t pretty. Our legs got shorter because we didn’t walk very much, and I think we grew wings for some reason. We ended up looking like Fred Flintstone meets Batman.

suzen July 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm

This was fascinating, David! The fact that he got ANY predictions (and those were really right on!) correct at all certainly says a lot about his imagination! Changes to our lives seem to be on warp speed now, no doubt due to technologies. With a pack of 6 decades behind me, folks my age are all saying how speedy everything is today versus the 60’s and 70’s – it’s hard for us to keep up because we were not raised with computers. Heck I can remember seeing someone with a transistor radio when I was about 10 thinking man, isn’t that a miracle! Yeah, just a “few” advancements since!

It was all the fascination to read 1984 back then. Wow, seemed so futuristic! Now look – it’s all old-fashioned stuff. As for making future predictions now, I’m too flabbergasted in the present! :)

Evelyn Lim July 14, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Your post is thought provoking and funny at the same time. An excellent read! From your list, I’d rate the guy John Watkins Jr as pretty accurate, even if he had a couple of misses.

I sometimes wonder too how things will be like when my kids are all grown up. While there can be a multitude of changes in our environment, I decided that I must not fear but learn to be adaptable.
.-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Life Between Lives Regression Therapy Review =-.

David July 15, 2009 at 8:10 am

Suzen — MY dad used to tell be about when he was taking computer programming in university. The programs were all stored on punch-cards, and you had to book ahead just to get a chance to run it once. Back in 2000, when I was studying computer programming, we all had laptops and could run our program in seconds whenever we wanted.

Evelyn — Yeah, not bad for 100 years. I think it would be even harder to predict today, because there are many more people and areas of technology to account for.

Jess July 16, 2009 at 3:22 am

Once again, loved your post!

What I find most interesting about what you said is how many of the things in the years to come still haven’t been invented. Your example was of ‘faster tape decks’, and that is similar to us thinking of smaller iPods etc. But really, how small can they get?! It’s just bizarre to think of what’s still out there, yet to be fabricated.
.-= Jess´s last blog ..Peas Today, Potatoes Tomorrow =-.

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