A brief history of the future

Written by Stan

Topics: Coal

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If you’re like me, you wake up each morning wondering why my suitcase doesn’t unfold into a flying car like in the Jetsons. Where is the future we were promised? It’s the new millennium already and all I got is this lousy t-shirt.

It seems that the future has quite a history and there’s always been a buck to be made by telling it. While the science-fiction of the 50s and 60s gave us some great things to look forward to, like robot companions and jetpacks, 50 years later and we’re still looking forward to them. If we go all the way back to a Ladies Home Journal article from 1900, featuring predictions for the year 2000, certainly we’ll see things that have already come true, right?

As much as I would really enjoy commenting on each and every one of their predictions (as each one is a window into what was and wasn’t “imaginable” in 1900), I’m going to stick with a few of the most relevant.

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.

Yep, this one’s pretty much true. No specific mention of what they will run on, but back in 1900 electric vehicles were outselling gas engines pretty handily.

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.

This one seems to suggest the internet, or at least the transmission of data over phone lines, though certainly not as robustly as we’ve come to know it. It’s strange to think that in 1900, no readers of Ladies Home Journal had ever seen a color picture of an elephant, much less something like Planet Earth (which is amazing, and my roommate just got the series on DVD for her birthday).

Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles.

Oh wait… That one’s the internet.

Coal will not be used for heating or cooking. It will be scarce, but not entirely exhausted. The earth’s hard coal will last until the year 2050 or 2100; its soft-coal mines until 2200 or 2300. Meanwhile both kinds of coal will have become more and more expensive. Man will have found electricity manufactured by waterpower to be much cheaper.

Those numbers are remarkably accurate for one hundred years ago and, though we’d prefer wind and solar over hydroelectric plants, it’s nice to see that the move to renewable energy away from coal has been going for over a century now. This is one prediction that we can, and should, make come true today. Yet, banks continue to fund new coal plants. Sad.

Lest you think I’m being unfair by resurrecting an old article just to cheer on electric vehicles and beat the coal industry over the head with it, let me be clear. Some of these predictions, thank god, did not come true. What kind of prognosticator even suggests something like this…

There will be no wild animals except in menageries.


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