Predictions Of Today From 80 Years Ago
from the reverse-predictions dept
It’s the time of the year when nearly every media publication puts out some form of predictions. We’ve always avoided doing predictions posts, because it seems a little silly — and it’s rare that people really go back and look to see how good their predictions really were. However, a few folks sent over this fun post from Abnormal Use, which goes back and looks at a bunch of predictions some people made for the NY Times in 1931, trying to predict things in 2011 (apparently, in 1931, the NY Times turned 80 years old, so to celebrate, they wanted to predict 80 years into the future). The full articles are behind the NY Times’ archive paywall, but the blog link above has plenty of snippets. What’s surprising is that some of the predictions are actually a lot more correct than I would have expected. None are perfect, of course, and all of them get certain things wrong, but some really aren’t that bad in picking out some larger trends. Mayo Clinic co-founder W. J. Mayo talks about (what else?) advances in medicine, noting that the current life expectancy in 1931 was 58 years, but he imagined by now that it would be at least 70 (it’s actually 77.9). Not bad.
And while Abnormal Use disagrees, I actually think physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Compton’s prediction was pretty dead on:
With better communication national boundaries will gradually cease to have their present importance. Because of racial differences a world union cannot be expected within eighty years. The best adjustment that we can hope for to this certain change would seem to be the voluntary union of neighboring nations under a centralized government of continental size.
It’s not quite there yet, but there certainly has been some movement in that direction. There is much better communication, and more widespread travel between countries. Europe and the EU certainly demonstrates — to a limited extent — his prediction of a voluntary union of neighboring nations with a centralized government of continental size. That’s actually a pretty impressive prediction from 1931.
Then there’s sociologist William F. Ogburn, who was pretty specific with many of his predictions. And, as the story at the link notes, some were dead on, while others… not so much. But, still, a lot of this does seem pretty damn accurate:
Technological progress, with its exponential law of increase, holds the key to the future. Labor displacement will proceed even to automatic factories. The magic of remote control will be commonplace. Humanity?s most versatile servant will be the electron tube. The communication and transportation inventions will smooth out regional differences and level us in some respects to uniformity. But the heterogeneity of material culture will mean specialists and languages that only specialists can understand. The countryside will be transformed by technology and farmers will be more like city folk. There will be fewer farmers, more wooded land with wild life. Personal property in mechanical conveniences will be greatly extended. Some of these will be needed to prop up the weak who will survive.
Inevitable technological progress and abundant natural resources yield a higher standard of living. Poverty will be eliminated and hunger as a driving force of revolution will not be a danger. Inequality of income and problems of social justice will remain. Crises of life will be met by insurance.
The role of government is bound to grow. Technicians and special interest groups will leave only a shell of democracy. The family cannot be destroyed but will be less stable in the early years of married life, divorce being greater than now. The lives of woman will be more like those of men, spent more outside the home. The principle of expediency will be the dominating one in law and ethics.
You can check out the link for some of the other predictions (which may have been a bit further off…), and if you’re feeling brave, let us know what you think will be going on 80 years from now. If we assume Mayo’s life span expectancy advancements will continue, perhaps some of us will still be around to check back and see…
Filed Under: predictions