Future Predictions: Then and Now

By Emmett Bassen-Alexander

We tend to want to know what is going to happen in the future. Everyone wants to know what will happen in the stock market, in their life, in politics. Well, it turns out that people in the past wanted to know what would happen too. When we predict the future, we think we are making the best educated guess we can at the moment.  However, more often than not they are completely wrong. This article is going to look at a sample of future predictions from 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and now.

In 1921, the future was looking pretty good. The world had just made it out of the first world war, and new technology was being invented every day. They didn’t know that the nuclear bomb would be invented, they didn’t know that the great depression would start, they didn’t know that we’d need another few decades to get our act together. What they predicted, however, was very different. People in the 1920s thought that we would have, on the whole, much better infrastructure. They predicted large cities would have leisure centers for science and the arts, and that we’d have transportation lanes on multiple vertical levels. They also thought that we would have giant planes that could hold 600 people and would have reading rooms and lounges. Obviously, none of these things happen. Rhode Island can barely keep the highways functioning. One thing they did get right, though, was the idea of men all being outfitted with “telephone, radio, and containers for coins, keys, and candy for cuties.” While I may not carry candy for cuties on me at all times, I do have a phone and a wallet. So at least they got that part correct. On the whole though, they were very inaccurate.

As we move forward 50 years to the 70s, the predictions get more accurate. However, that doesn’t mean they start to make sense. While new inventions helped give people a better understanding of what’s possible, people still thought that we could do things like “the suppression of lightning,” and create “anti-gravity belts.” They were wrong about that, but one thing they did get right was that computers were everywhere. Since this era of history was leading up to the internet, things like fiber optic cables and systems analogous to the internet were predicted, as well as massive breaches of privacy caused by said systems. While they weren’t perfect, they did get a lot more correct than the 20s, which is to be expected. With all that said, how do we fare now? 

When it comes to 2021, our predictions of the future are much more dire than the past. With climate change and Covid-19, we don’t really have a lot in the way of great stuff coming down the road. For every major advance in technology, we seem to get worse in other areas. But that’s probably what the people in the 20s and 70s thought, and they predicted that we would eradicate lightning and create planes with libraries on them. In terms of what we predict today, we seem to be getting more and more connected. I predict that in the next 50 years, we will in some way become even more connected through the internet. I think that in line with smartwatches now, we’ll get more and more smart objects until we are all connected to everyone all around the world. I can almost guarantee that this won’t happen as I’ve described it, and probably a lot more bad stuff will happen along the way, but I can at least make a guess.

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