In 1935, Nikola Tesla predicted that “within a century coffee, tea, and tobacco will be no longer in vogue. Alcohol, however, will still be used. It is not a stimulant but a veritable elixir of life.”
It’s hard to imagine us giving up coffee within the next 20 years (or finding it unfashionable to drink). Tesla was a technological visionary, but his dietary visions were always a bit off. In the last part of his life, he ingested only milk and honey, wasting away because he believed them the “purest form of food.”
I once wrote about how some of the great sci-fi authors treated future prediction—and that as long as you manage to write a great story, it probably doesn’t matter whether or not you get it right. For one, it’s just entertainment.
Even better, you may be (and probably are) wrong, but no one can know at the time. Play in the future all you want! Hoverboards won’t seem unrealistic until you see them “hovering” around on wheels thirty years later.
Professional prognosticators enjoy similar protections—they predict in the now, but answers won’t come for a while. Sadly, if your predictions are in print (like on a blog L), then people can have fun reading them a century later.
So let’s enjoy.
In 1901, Thomas Edison predicted that the growing popularity of concrete would bring a revolution in house construction. When people wanted a new home, he argued, they would simply pick one of 20 or so predefined shapes and have builders “pour” the entire house.
This one hasn’t worked out, but it sounds pretty great. You would have to let go of all aesthetic considerations, but the time between hiring the contractor and moving into your new home would be… what, about 48 hours? Aces!
Scientific American recently had some fun with predictions that appeared in their own magazine over the decades.
In 1918, Scientific American predicted that the car foot break would disappear within a handful of years, to be replaced by a lap-held control board. You would guide the car by a small finger lever.
Sadly, no. Looks like we will be going straight from wheels and foot brakes to no human control whatsoever.
In 1943, Scientific American predicted that the television would soon be “technically ready” to provide “adequate” programming to most Americans.
In 1925, British scientist A.M. Low made a number of confident predictions for next century. They are AMAZING. Some of my favorites:
All adult men and women will wear “synthetic felt one-piece suits.”
Please let this come true. Please, please, please.
“Everyone will be bald.”
Nope, just the most attractive ones.
“Noise will have to be eliminated.”
Close? I wrote just two days ago about a new “cone of silence” machine soon available to consumers.
“Breakfast may come from the communal kitchen by tubes.”
We can only hope. I waste precious time out of my day making breakfast every morning. I could do great things with those three minutes.
In 1876, the chief engineer of the British Post Office declared that “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”
He was half right.
Foretelling the future is fun, but it’s even better when you live to see your predictions become reality. I know this from personal experience. At just ten years old, I predicted the rise of cats, our continued reliance on shoelaces, and the longevity of the donut.
It’s been a joy to see myself proven right again and again.
This post is at least partially a tonic against my own fears. Any casual glance though this blog shows that my thoughts about our biotech-riddled future tend toward the “fetal position-inducing nightmare” variety. So I enjoy reading about how the best minds of the past often got things wildly wrong.
What about you? Have you seen anything coming before it happened? Did you know cuffing jeans was going to come back around just 30 years after its first pass in the 80s? Or that giant 19th-century beards would be considered hot?
Try it out. Make a prediction, just one, something small. It’s fun.
“X-rays are a hoax.” —Lord Kelvin, ca. 1900.