Day By Day

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Life in 2008

Back in 1968 James R. Berry predicted what life would be like forty years in the future.

IT’S 8 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008, and you are headed for a business appointment 300 mi. away. You slide into your sleek, two-passenger air-cushion car, press a sequence of buttons and the national traffic computer notes your destination, figures out the current traffic situation and signals your car to slide out of the garage. Hands free, you sit back and begin to read the morning paper—which is flashed on a flat TV screen over the car’s dashboard. Tapping a button changes the page.

The car accelerates to 150 mph in the city’s suburbs, then hits 250 mph in less built-up areas, gliding over the smooth plastic road. You whizz past a string of cities, many of them covered by the new domes that keep them evenly climatized year round. Traffic is heavy, typically, but there’s no need to worry. The traffic computer, which feeds and receives signals to and from all cars in transit between cities, keeps vehicles at least 50 yds. apart. There hasn’t been an accident since the system was inaugurated. Suddenly your TV phone buzzes. A business associate wants a sketch of a new kind of impeller your firm is putting out for sports boats. You reach for your attache case and draw the diagram with a pencil-thin infrared flashlight on what looks like a TV screen lining the back of the case. The diagram is relayed to a similar screen in your associate’s office, 200 mi. away. He jabs a button and a fixed copy of the sketch rolls out of the device. He wishes you good luck at the coming meeting and signs off.
Read the whole thing here.

This is a fascinating glance back at how we thought about the future not so long ago. It illustrates an important aspect of our history. In the century before 1968 the technologies that had the greatest impact on the lives of ordinary Americans were concentrated in transportation and communications. From the telegraph to the telephone, to movies, then radio and TV a number of innovations vastly expanded the experiential world open to most Americans. From railroads to automobiles and airplanes and ocean liners Americans' ability to overcome the obstacle of distance increased with every decade. It was only reasonable to expect that the same trends would continue into the future.

What is perhaps most interesting is how a completely new technology -- computers -- is dealt with. The accuracy of the extrapolation here is impressive.

Check it out, and think again about our own expectations of what the world will be like in 2050 and beyond. Will our predictions turn out to be as accurate as this one? Probably not.