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“The future ain’t what it used to be”*…

 

People in the early 20th century were hopeful about the future innovation might bring. The technology that came out of World War I, and the growing potential brought by electricity (half of all U.S. homes had electric power by 1925) had many looking ahead to the coming century. Futurists of the early 1900s predicted an incredible boom in technology that would transform human lives for the better.

In fact, many of those predictions for the future in which we live weren’t far off, from the proliferation of automobiles and airplanes to the widespread transmission of information. Of course, the specifics of how those devices would work sometimes fell broad of the mark. Yet these predictions show us just how much our technology has progressed in just a century — and just how much further more innovation could take us…

Further to yesterday’s collection of charts that might serve as a dashboard for us as we look to 2018, a consideration of how 2018 looked to scientists, inventors/technologists, and forecasters in (and around) 1918: Does Life In 2018 Live up to What We Predicted a Century Ago?

* Yogi Berra, The Yogi Book, 1998 (though the phrase “the future isn’t what it used to be” was used in 1937 by Laura Riding and Robert Graves in English, and by Paul Valéry in French)

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As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Kenneth Patchen; he died on this date in 1972.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

– from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The future ain’t what it used to be….”*

Just over a hundred years ago, in 1910, the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette in Iowa published a list of advances and innovations that they believed would appear during the century, a fascinating list of things scientific/technical and social/political:

  • Cure for cancer.
  • Discovery south pole.
  • Prevent or cure insanity.
  • Influence sex by parental treatment.
  • Create living organisms by artificial means.
  • Phonograph records substitute for letter.
  • Rationing clothing reform, health, comfort, durability only considerations
  • Settle question of communication with Mars. Wonderful astronomical discoveries.
  • Power of mind over matter a practical science devoid of superstitious elements.
  • United States constitution rewritten, providing improved means for conservation of original democratic principles.
  • Marvelous progress in transportation, largely aerial; airships and dirigible balloons crossing oceans and continents in remarkable time. Racing planes make five miles per minute. Inland waterways carry slow freight by improved methods. Monorail supplants two tracks. Electricity replaces steam. Convenient, economical city traffic system broadens city areas, opening suburban lands to householders. Pneumatic tubes for mails and express. Horses curiosities. Automobiles relegated to short distance burden bearing. Ocean steamers for freight, improvement toward speed rather than size.
  • Produce rainfall at will.
  • Temper gold and copper.
  • Roads of nation paved.
  • Conservation of sun’s heat and power.
  • Cure for and elimination of tuberculosis.
  • Development psychic research with fraud eliminated.
  • Movements for universal language, universal religion, universal money.
  • Non-existence of blindness by eliminating causes except accidents.
  • Construction largely of concrete and metal or newly discovered materials.
  • Electricity will move world’s wheels. Later radio-activity may substitute.
  • Terrors of war so multiplied by death dealing inventions, chances of war minimized.
  • Utilization of all energy, reducing consumption of wood and coal. Many fuel substitutes.
  • Population of United States based on present ratio of increased, 1,317,547,000 at opening of twenty-first century.
  • Rational diet with greatly reduced consumption of matter with increased nourishment from proper mastication and choices of foods.
  • Machinery largely substituting manual energy, will promote pursuit of finer arts and sciences; give ample opportunity for relaxation and amusement; emancipate wage slaves. Three-hour work day predicted.
  • Sea water for irrigation.
  • Photographs in natural colors.
  • Women’s political equality.
  • Government control of corporations.
  • Animated pictures in natural colors, transmitted by wireless.
  • Substitution of heavier metals with aluminum, etc.
  • Natural colors reproduced in newspaper pictures.
  • Reduction of elimination all forms of gambling, including stocks.
  • General acceptance of public ownership or control of public utilities.
  • Government operation banking system, elimination of private banks. Postal savings banks.
  • Moral, intellectual and economical awakening in dark sections of Africa, China a world power.
  • Beautiful and healthful cities, offering with homes and work places all forms of free amusement, culture and recreation.
  • Greater premium on brains with corresponding decreased in respect for position not gained by individual achievement.
  • Revision judicial system, deciding causes on improved scientific plan, insuring equal justice. Pathological and psychological treatment for criminals. Crime reduced.
  • Due to universal education, with special reference to hygiene, doctors and drugs be largely eliminated; average age to be near 60 years; men taller, stronger, higher intelligence and morals.

Some of their predictions were spot on (“Natural colors reproduced in newspaper pictures”); some, sadly as yet unrealized (“Cure for cancer”); and some, ironically backwards (“Government control of corporations”). But overall, it’s consoling to be reminded that things that seem wild, even radical at one moment in time– in this case, things like women’s rights and child labor laws– can, with the passage of time, become so obvious as to become human rights that we take for granted.

[TotH to Paleofuture, from whence the illustration above; via the always-excellent Next Draft]

* Yogi Berra

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As we live in the past, we might send twisted birthday greetings to August Ferdinand Möbius; he was born on this date in 1790.  A mathematician and theoretical astronomer, Möbius was so important to the fields of analytic geometry, topology, and number theory that several mathematical concepts are named after him, including the Möbius configuration, the Möbius transformations, the Möbius transform, the Möbius function μ(n), and the Möbius inversion formula

But he is best remembered, of course, as the creator of the Möbius Strip— a two-dimensional surface with only one side…. more specifically: a non-orientable two-dimensional surface with only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space… It can be constructed in three dimensions: Take a rectangular strip of paper and join the two ends of the strip together so that it has a 180 degree twist. It is now possible to start at a point A on the surface and trace out a path that passes through the point which is apparently on the other side of the surface from A.

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Written by LW

November 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

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