What did people in the 50s & 60s predict about the modern world?
Looking back, however, it turns out there was a lot they got right. Sure, they were overly optimistic in some regards — sadly, no Jetsons-style flying cars for us yet — but we didn’t let them completely down on this end of the line. (Also noteworthy… they had one major blind spot.)
What they got right
On the one hand, futurism correctly predicted the widespread use of technology and automation in daily life.
Indeed, computers and automation are a huge part of our lives today, and it’s hard to imagine life without them. And the experts were nearly spot on about US population growth and shifting family dynamics, our geopolitical positioning, satellite technology, and increasing human life spans.
And while they didn’t quite conceive of the internet and social media as it exists today — not to mention the Patriot Act and all of its ramifications — they had a pretty good handle on the conflicts that exist at the intersections of ever-advancing technology, government power, celebrity culture, surveillance, and personal privacy.
As one prescient futurist put it: “…society will have lost its benign capacity to forget.” How uncomfortably correct.
What they got wrong
There were also predictions that didn’t pan out. For example, some futurists thought that by the year 2000, people would be living in underwater cities and traveling to other planets as a routine part of life — among other zany predictions one might expect from denizens of the Space Age.
While these predictions might have seemed exciting and futuristic at the time, they certainly haven’t come to pass yet.
Even more modest predictions, like wireless electricity (!) and the cure for the common cold, have yet to transpire. As for rocket-propelled or flying cars? Sigh. Those aren’t even on the radar yet (so to speak).
What they didn’t even think of…
The Y2K bug, for one thing! And another particularly glaring omission: Mid-century futurism didn’t consider the impact of climate change and its cataclysmic potential.
To be fair, the issue of climate change was not well understood nor widely recognized at the time. (It wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists really started to grasp the role that human activity plays in global warming.)
Without question, by the 1950s and 60s, humanity had seen an incredible amount of technological advancement and societal change over the first half of the century. It’s no wonder that they expected some truly amazing things would happen in the second half (and they did, just… differently).
Read on to journey back and explore even more predictions of the future (that’s actually now past) by those from the further-back past! – BB
How experts in 1951 thought we’d live in the year 2000
Syndicated article from the Racine Journal Times (Wisconsin) October 21, 1951
Amid war and rumors of war, new terrors grip the world, but hopes and dreams of the future prevail.
The year 2000 looms nearer in the accelerating pace of modern life than 1950 ever could have seemed at the beginning of this century.
If the past foretells the future, and present trends point the way, many millions of persons alive today will live to see peace, prosperity, health, longer life, more leisure and greater luxuries than ever were known. A woman may be President!
These are some of the rewards envisaged for the year 2000 by the Associated Press experts looking ahead.
Here is how they size up prospects.
Aviation: Foolproof flying
Civil aviation in AD 2000 will be accepted by the public as readily as mid-century’s automobile and train.
Flight will have the precision of control found in ground vehicles and should be more independent of surface weather conditions. Piloting will be as simple as driving a shiftless car and ringed with safeguards to reduce human error. Safety will be greater in commercial air transportation than in any of today’s travel methods.
Atomic engines for large civil aircraft will do away with the problem of range and speed. Electronic airways and landing systems, combined with electronic eyes in the planes, superior cabin pressurization, new structural designs and materials and complete aircraft anti-icing will eliminate weather factors in schedules.
Cruising speeds of 1000 miles an hour or higher are probable for deluxe travel. Air mail and high priority cargo are likely to move much faster, traveling in pilotless missiles controlled from ground stations.
New principles of lift and development of designs already begun will end mid-century’s struggle with giant airports. Combinations of rotating and fixed wings and conventional aircraft with high lift helicopters can eliminate long runways.
Detachable fuselages, interchangeable between types of aircraft, will provide door-to-door air freight service.
Combination automobile-planes will have been perfected.
Civilian scientists will have begun their study of the outer space and will be preparing for interplanetary explorations, using methods already understood in mid-century.
Television predictions: Walkie-talkie-seeing
Third-dimensional color television will be so commonplace and so simplified at the dawn of the 21st century that a small device will project pictures on the living room wall so realistic they will seem to be alive. The room will automatically be filled with the aroma of the flower garden being shown on the screen.
Radio broadcasting will have disappeared, for no one will tune in a program that cannot be seen. Radio will long since have reverted to a strictly communications medium, using devices now unheard of and unthought of.
Wireless transmission of electric power, long a dream of the engineer, will have come into being. There will be no more power lines to break in storms. A simple small antenna on the roof will pick up the current for lighting a house.
The telephone will be transformed from wire to radio and will be equipped with the visuality of television. Who’s on the other end of the line will seldom be a mystery. Every pedestrian will have his own walking telephone — an apparatus housed in a wallet-sized kit.
Film predictions: Fourth-dimension views
Some movie theaters of AD 2000 may be dome-shaped, with ceiling and walls arching together like the sky. These surfaces would be the “screen.” Most action would still be in front of you, as now.
But some could be overhead, some at the sides, and some even on the wall behind. A little girls steps into a street in the action before you — and you turn around and look behind you to see if an auto is coming.
Three-dimensional photography is likely — the kind of pictures with depth that parlor stereoscopes used to offer.
Almost all movies will be in color. People will still laugh and cry at the same things. Sex and Westerns will still be with us.
Population predictions: Growth will slow
The population of the United States, which rose from 76,000,000 in 1900 to 150,000,000 in 1950, may not double again in the next half century. US Census Bureau experts doubt that it will reach 300,000,000 by the year 2000, but they are not hazarding predictions that far ahead.
Population may reach 200,000,000 before the end of the century and will keep on increasing well into the 21st century. While population doubled in the last half century, it more than tripled in the previous 50 years between 1850 and 1900. Between 1800 and 1850, it had more than quadrupled.
Three shifts in US population that have been tremendous in the past 10 years are expected to keep going strong. These are: Movement of people from farms to town, migration from the center of the country to border states, particularly the Pacific coast and the South, and the movement of city dwellers to the suburbs.
These trends will be further stimulated by industrial production needed for the new, long-range defense program and by farm mechanization.
Science predictions: A man-made planet
The first man-made star will be circling around the earth by the year 2000.
This star’s light will be like that of the moon, reflected sunshine. It will be visible before sunrise and after sunset. It will circle 400 to 500 miles away from earth, or possibly farther.
This little planet is likely to be the first of the space ships, because there are a lot of practical reasons for building it, regardless of the future of interplanetary travel.
It will be the nose of step-rocket, one which fires in sections, each part dropping off to fall back to earth, until the final piece attains the speed of seven miles a second. At that velocity, the end piece will not fall back, but will become a satellite of earth.
Practical uses are numerous. One is a radar beacon. Another to reflect radio signals, for scientific study. Three of these small ships, high enough and evenly spaced around the earth might become relays to serve the entire world with television. The first ship is unlikely to be manned. But it may get power enough from the sun’s heat to drive electronic equipment indefinitely.
In 2000, we shall be able to fly around the world in a day. We shall be neighbors of everyone else on earth, to whom we wish to be neighborly.
The atomic age should be getting underway. Atomic power will become useful in those areas where coal and oil are expensive and where water power is not available.
Medicine predictions: A longer lifespan
Medicine by the year 2000 will have advanced the length of life of women to an expectation of nearly 80 and of men to over 75.
The record will be better if the cause and cure of cancer is discovered. Cancer is a form of growth. It is part of metabolism. Concerning growth, nothing is now known. Metabolism is not such a complete mystery, but is complex.
Most of the chronic diseases, except infections caused by germs and viruses, are based on metabolism gone wrong.
Growth, metabolism and cancer studies will make the first break into clearing another mystery, the causes of aging. After that is known it will be possible to control aging so that elderly persons will be healthy to nearly the end of their lives.
Hope is very good for restricting cancer’s attack before 50 more years, but not for eradicating it. For it now appears that cancer is not a single disease, but takes many forms.
The prevention of baldness depends on studies of growth, aging and death more than on any other know factor.
Public health will improve, especially the knowledge of how air carries infections, like the common cold, from person to person. Before 2000, the air probably will be made as safe from disease-spreading as water and food were during the first half of this century.
Surgery, which has been the fastest-moving side of medical science, will by 2000, be able to repair bodies damaged by disease, by accidents or by heredity so that the “lame and the halt” will nearly disappear.
Polio probably will be stopped well before 2000.
Agriculture predictions: A golden age
A golden age of agriculture — providing greater economic security for farmers and better eating for consumers — may become a major accomplishment of the last half of the 20th century.
Giving support to the possibility of attaining this goal is the remarkable progress made in agriculture during the first half of the century. At the start of the century, it required the efforts of two-fifths of the nation’s population to supply the demand for farm products.
Today — at the century’s halfway mark — it takes only one-fifth of the population. What has made it possible has been largely the work of science new and better farm machinery and biology.
Foreseeing a national population of 200,000,000 by the end of the century, these leaders predict less than one-tenth of the people will be needed to supply markets for farm products.
Through the extended use of better plants and animals, improved fertilizers, new growth regulators and more efficient machinery, it should be possible, leaders say, for farmers to produce future crop needs on much less land than today.
A major byproduct of the expected need for fewer farmers and for possible new scientific developments, leaders say, should be greater ability to stabilize agricultural production and supplies at levels which would provide and maintain greater security for those on the land.
[Ed note: It took until 2022, but autonomous tractors (controlled via smart phone apps) are finally becoming reality!]
World affairs prediction: Price of peace
Students of history in the year 2000 will probably look back on the 20th Century as the era of blood and money. Blood because the earth will still be reeking from the third world war. Money, representing the material resources of the western world, because it will have outweighed the unfulfilled promises of Russian imperialistic Communism in unifying the world, or at least will be on the way to that end.
More importantly, but bearing on both, will be the recognition that a new world unifying power — the United States — will have taken its place in the center of international affairs; forging a new “empire,” different from Britain’s, different from Rome’s, indeed not an empire at all in the old sense, but nevertheless a new core, a new catalytic force.
This central position of the United States will grow out of its already-demonstrated willingness to base its relations with other nations on a community of interest; out of its capabilities for lending aid to the underdeveloped out of its refusal to divide the world after World War II, into spheres of influence the great powers.
The Third World War — barring such a miracle that as has never yet happened in relations between countries so greatly at odds — will grow out of Russia’s exactly opposite attempts to unify the world by force.
By the year 2000, some sort of world federation should have taken real form, with the United States, because of its commercial interest in the development of other lands, because of the blood it will have shed in their behalf, holding a lot of votes.
Government prediction: Freedom will survive
How will this land of ours be governed in 50 years?
Much as today, perhaps — with two parties contending against each other and within themselves, with the people free to choose between them, with the winner pressured from all sides, yet curbed and guided by a constitution little changed since George Washington’s day.
And yet it is easy to scare ourselves with other possibilities.
Some see us drifting toward the all-powerful state, lulled by the sweet sound of “security.” Some see a need to curb our freedom lest it be used to shield those who plot against us. And some fear our freedom will be hard to save if a general war should come. What then?
A military dictatorship to restore the nation’s body, if not its soul, from the ravages of atomic attack? Some sort of Fascism? Or, in the name of Socialism, some mild or strong control of what we do; directives here, big red “Thou- Shall Not’s” there?
Some fear the worst, And yet: We’ve feared the worst, while hoping for the best, ever since we have been a nation. We’ve come through war and depressions. And we’ve come through — free.
Today, almost alone among men, we have the strength — as we may need to prove — to hold the course we choose.
Retrofuturism predictions – Push button education (1958)
Tomorrow’s schools will be more crowded; teachers will be correspondingly fewer. Plans for a push-button school have already been proposed by Dr. Simon Ramo, science faculty member at the California Institute of Technology.
Teaching would be by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines. Pupils would record attendance and answer questions by pushing buttons. Special machines would be “geared” for each individual student so he could advance as rapidly as his abilities warranted.
Progress records, also kept by machine, would be periodically reviewed by skilled teachers, and personal help would be available when necessary.
Amazing marvels of tomorrow: Flying saucers for everybody! (1956)
By Frank Tinsley – Mechanix Illustrated (1957)
IT IS a bright morning in 1965. At precisely eight am, Joe Lees emerges from the back door of his lakeside cottage, only 75 miles from his job in the city.
In the graveled center of his backyard, his jaunty new plastic saucer rests lightly on three tiny balloon tires.
Greeting his neighbor who rides with him, Joe lifts a flush flap in the saucer’s rounded nose. He turns a recessed locking handle and throws back the bubble-like windshield. Spring-loaded, like the hoods of today’s cars, the enclosure lifts easily. As it does, the interlinked nose cone swings down to form a handy step.
Joe’s neighbor steps up over the low instrument pedestal, and then across the folded pilot’s seat to his perch in the rear. Joe follows, slams the windshield shut, and turns the starter key. The two men fasten their safety belts as the engine comes to life.
As the fan-like inductor begins whirling with a high-pitched whine, the automatic servo-flaps pop open and a torrent of air is drawn inward over the circular wings. Faster and faster it flows, building up the lift pattern of a racing, fixed-wing take-off. For a moment, the trembling saucer remains stationary. Then, slowly and smoothly, it rises vertically into the air like an elevator ascending an unseen shaft.
At 450 feet per minute, the saucer climbs to the southbound traffic lane and the engine’s pulsing torque is shifted to the pusher propeller at the machine’s tail. As the prop takes hold, the inductor fan gradually slows to a halt and the servo-flaps clamp shut. Functioning now as a fixed-wing airplane, our saucer banks around and heads south at a comfortable 165 mph cruising speed.
As it tools toward the city, other saucers join the parade and there is a thick stream of aerial traffic. Soon, the downtown towers of the metropolis loom on the horizon and a whole complex of distant traffic lanes converge from the four corners of suburbia.
Over the business district, Joe turns out of the main stream and heads for the company’s building. He throttles back his prop, shifts to the air inductor again, and slowly descends to the landing pad. It is now 8:30 a.m. The 75-mile flight took only 30 minutes.
Mi’s saucer was conceived by Peter Nofi, an officer in the Merchant Marine. Nofi, a dedicated student of aerodynamics, has combined the downward jet thrust of the ducted fan with the proven principle of the high-lift airfoil. We know that the fan will work because using it, men and machines have been lifted bodily into the air by the modest power of outboard engines.
Nofi’s arrangement is inherently simple. He has merely taken the straight airplane wing and pulled the ends around to form a circle with the leading edge facing out. In the center hole of this doughnut-shaped airfoil, he has mounted a ducted fan which sucks a high-speed airflow in over the wing and, in the form of a compressed air jet, blows it out through the bottom of the hole.
According to Nofi, the negative (upward) pressure created by the passage of air over the top of the wing, plus the reaction (upward) pressure of the air jet, add up to a total lift ample for vertical flight.
The other unique feature of Nofi’s saucer is the pair of semicircular servo-flaps hinged to the top of the wing root on either side of the fuselage. These open automatically to permit inward airflow when the ducted fan is operating, then close to form the top curve’ of a large fore-and-aft airfoil when the machine is in forward flight as a fixed-wing airplane.
A twin control system is employed to provide for the differing conditions of vertical and forward flight. For vertical take-off and landing, compressed air from the inductor is piped to the aileron and flipper areas and expelled through differentially operated jet nozzles. These are built into the conventional control surfaces used in forward flight and are operated by the same wheel column.
In line with his low cost philosophy, Nofi plans to have the top and bottom surfaces of his saucer stamped out on a press, using a plastic material reinforced by glass “flock.” This technique, now successfully employed by small boat builders, will also be used on the servo-flaps, fuselage and other components.
Cemented together with the internal gas tank spar, plumbing, etc., in place, the hollow wing will then be filled with a foamed plastic compound which cures into a rigid, air-filled sponge. This replaces expensive interior structure and converts the wing into an unsinkable life ring for emergency water landings.
Mass-produced, the plastic saucer should cost no more than today’s medium-priced cars. Could be that by 1965 you’ll have one flying out of your backyard, too!
The future: Your own personal flying cars, powered by electricity
More power to you: Your own flying cars (1959)
America’s independent light and power companies build for your new electric living
Your personal “flying carpet” — Step into it, press a button, and if you go off to market, to a friend’s home, or to your job, take off or land anywhere — no parking problems. Plug into any electric outlet for recharging.
Tomorrow’s higher standard of living will put electricity to work for you in ways still unheard of!
The time isn’t too far off, the experts say, when you’ll wash your dishes without soap or water — ultrasonic waves will do the job. Your beds will be made at the touch of a button. the kids’ homework will be made interesting and even exciting when they are able to dial a library book, a lecture or a classroom demonstration right into your home — with sound. (Some of this is happening already.)
To enjoy all this, you’ll want a lot more electric power, and the independent electric companies of America are already building new plants and facilities to provide it. Right now these companies are building at the rate of $5,000,000,000 a year, and planning to double the nation’s supply of electricity in less than 10 years.
Wherever you look today, electric service makes good things possible. Imagine what it’ll do for you tomorrow. (1965)
Today, abundant electric service brings modern conveniences to the campsite.
Flying mobile camper of the future may be electric powered-plugging into any electric outlet for recharging.
It’s your desires and dreams that spur us on. That spirit has always been at the heart of our business. It’s helped us keep the average unit price paid for electric service coming steadily down over the years. And with your continued help, we’ll keep electric service one of the best household bargains you can get.
So go ahead and dream! You’ll never outdream your possibilities, with more than 300 investor-owned power companies working for you across the land.
The future: Electric driverless cars? (1956)
One day your car may speed along an electric highway, its speed and steering automatically controlled by electronic devices embedded in the road. Travel will be more enjoyable. Highways will be made safe — by electricity! No traffic jams . . . no collisions . . . no driver fatigue.
Your air conditioner, television and other appliances are just the beginning of the new electric age.
Your food will cook in seconds instead of hours. Electricity will close your windows at the first drop of rain. Lamps will cut on and off automatically to fit the lighting needs in your rooms. Television “screens” will hang on the walls. An electric heat pump will use outside air to cool your house in summer, heat it in winter.
You will need and have much more electricity than you have today. Right now, America’s more than 400 independent electric light and power companies are planning and building to have twice as much electricity for you by 1965. These companies can have this power ready when you need it because they don’t have to wait for an act of Congress — or a cent of tax money — to build the plants.
The experience, imagination and enterprise that electrified the nation in a single lifetime are at work shaping your electric future. That’s why in the years to come, as in the past, you will benefit most when you are served by independent companies like the ones bringing you this message — America’s Electric Light and Power Companies.
How life might be for you in the year 2000 (1960)
From the Lowell Sun (Lowell, Mass.) December 10, 1960
Brief reminder: As of New Years’ eve, it’s only 39 years to the 21st century. But in this immediate future, according to Ewen Dingwall, general manager of Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition, there are so many big things that it’s going to take 74 acres of exhibits just to hit the highlights.
Well, here’s how your life may change in these few years before 2000, according to one researcher for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. She is Jane Armstrong, a veteran science reporter, assigned by one of the fair’s major planners, Donald Deskey Associates, to find out what Mr and Mrs Consumer are in for.
Your day in the year 2000
It’s 3 pm — end of the work day. Irving Consumer of the Predictor Corp. closes his information retrieval unit.
Irving’s job is finding out what’s been done via electronic memory units about one or another problem so that his superiors can decide whether proposed inventions or discoveries can ever be invented or discovered.
At home, Gladys Consumer is getting ready for dinner. At her core units in the kitchen, she consults her home computer to find out how many calories, vitamins, etc. her family will need tonight and what kind of menu will supply it.
She is interrupted by the laundry man who has come to pick up the used paper sheets and clothing for re-pulping and remanufacturing.
At this moment, Irving arrives home in his inflatable airplane (it’s almost ready for delivery now). Gladys takes the frozen dehydrated food out of the closet — not the refrigerator — and puts them into the solar oven. She checks one part of the core computer for proper cooking and another to find out where the children are.
Then she comes into the living room to relax with her husband. They’ve given up smoking and drinking, of course. Instead, they use an electrothermal high-frequency stimulator — the size of a pencil — to massage their skins.
Irving places a coded card into the news machine to find out what’s been happening. And together they watch the sun set through the controlled weather. (There hasn’t been an air accident for years.)
Plans for the futuristic evening
Tonight, there’s a slight change in plans. The Consumers were going to visit Irving’s parents, grandparents. But because of the Christmas-New Year holiday, the community university has had to give a few extra lectures for students working toward their PhDs. So, the older folks are at school.
Irving decides that he’ll stay home and listen to his hi-fi — a small machine that fits into his ear. Gladys welcomes the chance to continue with her astronomy lessons at the civic observatory.
Junior, who did his homework by pill (it simulates learning centers in the brain depending on the subject to be studied), takes his skis and goes down to the powdered plastic slope, checking with the core computer first so that his mother won’t worry about him.
About midnight, the whole family reassembles (they don’t need nearly the amount of sleep 1961 man needs) and has a core computer-approved snack. Then it’s off to bed.
Lying there in their humidified, purified, weather-perfect bedroom, Irving and Gladys discuss briefly their plan for throwing out the east wing of the house and replacing it with completely new architecture and decor. They’ll do that on Saturday morning.
But meanwhile, tomorrow’s another busy day…
“It doesn’t frighten me at all,” reports researcher Jane Armstrong of the 21st Century. “But now and then I do get a little uneasy.”
Farms of the future: High-rise barns and plastic domed fields? (1967)
The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) October 19, 1967
Farmers of the not-too-distant future may have as much need for off-hour exercise as their city cousins. The farmer’s job may be as sedentary as that of the urban white-collar worker, according to the latest projections on what farming will be like by the year 2000.
A panel of university, industry and other agriculture experts has been assembled and their predictions are startling.
If the world survives population explosions, they say, the year 2000 will see tractors running without visible operators, carrot tops and pea pods will be turned into milk to supplement real milk supplies, and prize milk cows will produce as many as 1000 offspring.
Other predictions foresee plastic domes covering acres of cropland and corn plants that look like small pine trees with cobs of corn growing at the top of the stalks.
The projection of agriculture is part of a study conducted and led by the experts and sponsored by Ford Motor Company’s US tractor and implement operations department. Portions of the study were released last Sunday.
“The efficient farmer of the year 2000 is a super breed of farmer, with super skills and super tools,” says the report. “The heart of his operation will be a control center equipped with a wide array of electronic wizardry to help him produce crops two to five times as abundant as today.”
The unmanned tractors would be controlled by computer tapes, buried wires or sensing devices. Their courses would be plotted on units similar to airplane radar sets and set up in the agricultural center’s headquarters.
Crops and livestock predictions
The experts predicted that cows will quadruple their milk production by the year 2000.
Today’s average cow becomes a mother only about 10 times during her lifetime. In the future, fertilized eggs will be transplanted from superior cows into common incubator cows, allowing the superior animal to mother as many as 1000 calves during her life.
Plant growth will be automatically recorded so that the farmer can provide proper light, water and nutrients, just by turning a dial. The dial will regulate influences on growth within a huge plastic or glass dome covering 10 acres or more.
The Ford report predicts that new machinery will include huge four or six-wheel drive tractors with cabs that have air conditioning, food warmers, coffee makers, refrigerators, television and sinks. It is assumed that at least some tractors will have to be steered by humans.
Other predictions by the panel call for “chain-reaction” machines which harvest one crop and plant another right behind, in one operation. A combination hovercraft-helicopter will be used for spraying.
The report also projects staggering crop yields: Three hundred bushels of wheat per acre, compared to today’s 27; 175 bushels of soybeans, compared to today’s 25; 30 tons of forage compared with three; 30000 pounds of milk per cow per year, compared with 8000, and beef cattle which grow to 1000 pounds at 10 months of age, compared with 750 today.
Current trends continuing
Based on the consensus of today’s leading world farm experts, the report estimated that if present trends continue for the next 30 years, the world population will increase by as much as it has in the past million years to more than six billion.
John A Banning, general operations manager of Ford’s tractor and implement division, said that the public presentation part of the report only partly covered all of the experts findings.
He explained that some of the items investigators covered, but not used in the public report, included such subjects as roles to be played by the government and land grant universities in developments of the agricultural future.
Among studies to be made are the possibility of using solar energy for power, the use of sewage for fertilizer, desalination of seawater, and new food processing methods.
Ford’s study, headed by Prof Carl Hall, chairman of agricultural engineering at the University of Michigan, and Prof John Harris, an associate professor of economics at the same school, represents a trend being set by many big businesses and educational institutions in the United States. University of Wisconsin agricultural experts have made predictions similar to Ford’s report.
Last year, a large electric equipment firm predicted that farms of the future could be housed in a skyscraper complex which would include dairy and beef cattle, vegetables, cattle food and processing divisions on separate floors. The electricity experts said that such a farm could be built amid the forest of tall buildings in American cities such as Manhattan.
The Ford study concluded that, “All the evidence shows there is no need for hunger in the world tomorrow. But we must gear immediately for the gigantic job ahead. Zero hour is now!”
Predictions from 1968: What the future might be like in the year 2000 for families, business & beyond
By Andrew Squibb, Jr. in the Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ) January 2, 1968
Today’s family may fade away, like horse and buggy
By the year 2000, Americans may travel by ballistic missile, swallow a pill for a meal, wear tights and helmets like people in science fiction comic strips. Or they may not. There’s no way of telling, and perhaps it doesn’t make much difference.
What matters is the quality of life: What will it be like to live in the year 2000? No one can draw the complete picture, but members of the Commission on the Year 2000 took glimpses from special points of view.
Will people be able to learn and remember what they need to know in the complex world of 2000? Not without help, predicted psychologist George A Miller of Harvard University.
How will new biological techniques affect relations between the sexes? Perhaps by eliminating marriage and the family, suggested anthropologist Margaret Mead of New York’s Museum of Natural History.
What will earning a living be like for Americans? Easier, Herman Kahn and Anthony J Wiener of the Hudson Institute calculate. Maybe too easy.
Will there be any privacy left? Only if society takes steps to preserve it, warned law professor Harry Kalven, Jr of the University of Chicago.
So much to learn
George Miller has specialized in human memory and the way the mind processes information. There is an upper limit, he says, to the number of things a person can pay attention to at any one time. There is probably also a limit to the capacity of a person’s memory.
In the Year 2000, society will be more complex, as well as more crowded. Every individual will know more people, be exposed to more facts. A child will have to learn more things just to grow up; a citizen will need to know more to function in society.
As more and more technical competence is required to earn a living, each person will have to give over a larger proportion of his learning capacity to his occupation.
The gap between professionals and technicians on the one hand and unskilled labor on the other will grow. Already, Miller points out, there is unemployment in the unskilled group, and at the same time a shortage of people with advanced skills.
Increasingly, even competent people will have to be supported by information-gathering devices: digests of literature, libraries, computer memories and ingenious display systems. Finally, more and more jobs will simply become too much for one man to handle. The team will take over.
In many laboratories and in the technologically-advanced industries, this has already happened. Teams or task groups are formed to solve a specific problem and are then dissolved, and new groups come together to attack new problems. This approach will become increasingly common, not only in industry but in universities and government.
Miller poses the question: “How are these experts to be rewarded?” Who gets the credit? What will replace the sense of personal satisfaction, the individual reputation and fame that can be won by someone who accomplishes an important task? Can a task group become famous?
Even the expert’s pleasure in knowledge itself may be soured by his awareness that his specialized knowledge is valuable only as it serves the group’s purposes. Only strong motivation can push a person to the limit of his capacity, Miller says; a society increasingly dependent on an intellectual and technological elite will have to devise rewards to keep the anonymous genius at work.
Margaret Mead is an anthropologist who has concentrated on the different roles of the family and of the two sexes in various societies ever since the publication of her celebrated “Coming of Age in Samoa” in 1928. For the commission, she considered “the nature and quality of relations between men and women, and the decisiveness of sex as a determinant of social roles.”
The “contemporary American style,” Dr Mead wrote, has such characteristics as early marriage; early parenthood for all couples; a separate home for each parent-and-child family, with relatives — including grown children — generally excluded; increasing involvement of men in domestic duties and increasing job-holding by wives to support ever-higher standards of consumption.
If this pattern continues as the desired objective in the affluent countries, she predicted, there will be a significant result: It will become the objective in less-developed countries as well, and it will tend to counteract efforts to control population.
Sex may matter less
But the pattern may not persist. Partly in order to meet the population problem, the affluent societies may decide to take advantage of the current and developing biological revolution and to make full use of contraception, artificial insemination and even “extra-uterine gestation,” in which the test tube and incubator would take the place of natural pregnancy.
That would lead to an emphasis on small families, to many childless marriages and even to a situation in which child-bearing and child-rearing are restricted to a few specialized couples; “the rest of the population would be free to function — for the first time in history — as individuals.”
Then what? The sexes would be less differentiated. Boys and girls would be brought up and educated alike; men and women would have the same set of demands made on them. Temperament, talent and capabilities — not sex — would determine occupations and ways of life. Indeed, the “two-sex exclusive pair” (husband and wife) would no longer be the basic human relationship. People could live together in any combinations they like.
Perhaps the change would not be quite so radical. There might be efforts to maintain distinctions between primarily male and primarily female occupations, even though women are no longer mothers or housewives; couples might still live together as man and wife.
This might not last long, however. There would be rebellion against a “sex-typing” that ignores individual differences and is no longer supported by the age-old basis of sex-differentiation: the economic necessities of the home and the rearing of children.
All this, Dr. Mead points out, represents an enormous change, not only to social habits but also to the beliefs that underlie them. The new style of behaviour might prompt counter-revolutions that would limit sexual freedom, turn people back into the home and subordinate individual creativity to society’s need for “docile parents, workers and citizens.”
Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener probe the future primarily by extrapolation — studying trends and projecting them to the Year 2000 while making allowances for probable developments.
Adding large doses of sociology, military, gamesmanship and psychology, they produced a major study, “Toward the Year 2000: Framework for Speculation,” that was published by the Macmillan Company in the fall. It included a look at the economic American in 2000.
Of a total population of 318 million, they think some 60 percent will be in the labor force, a slightly higher proportion than now. The rise will be due to an increase in the percentage of women who work, largely because part-time and intermittent jobs will be more available and attractive. Fewer men over 65 will be working (pension plans) and fewer boys of 18 and 19 (longer education).
Fewer Americans will be working in factories (manufacturing will account for a fifth of all non-farm jobs, compared with almost a third today). More will be working in stores, pared with a third today).
Less work, more pay
In all industries, wages will be up sharply. Average hourly gross earnings in manufacturing will be up from $2.61 (in 1965) to $11.50; in retail trade from $1.82 to $7.40; in agriculture from less than a dollar to $5.10.
People will work less — seven-hour days, five-day weeks, 10 holidays, four-week vacations — about 1,600 hours a year. The standard of living will nevertheless be between three and six times as high as now. The average personal income per family will be about $20000; 27 percent of all families will have incomes over $25000 a year.
These projections are for what Kahn and Wiener call a “standard society.” What if we go off the standard? Perhaps the increased incomes, reduced work week, earlier retirement, longer vacations, better public services, and a general decrease in tension as living gets easier and even the international situation cools down, will change people’s attitudes.
There would be a new emphasis on leisure and recreation, and the “leisure-oriented society” would make its appearance. Fewer people would work — say 56 percent of the population. They would average about 21 hours a week, or 1100 hours a year (four-day weeks, 13-week vacations).
Provided individual productivity increases sharply over the next 32 years, the national output in a leisure society could still be three times today’s; incomes would remain high, and people who chose not to work could probably get help from family and friends; public services would keep a floor under living standards; the economic and social pressure to conform, to work, to make money might diminish. It would be a different kind of America.
Someone is listening
Some of the pressures that law professor Harry Kalven expects to assault our privacy in the year 2000 are already in evidence; others will come with new technology and social attitudes.
The most obvious danger is that the almost limitless refinement of eavesdropping and surveillance techniques may make it impossible ever to be sure that one is not being watched or overheard — by the government, by a business competitor, by an insurance company lawyer, or by a curious neighbor.
As people accumulate insurance, pension plans, medical plans, there will be a sharp increase in the amount of facts being collected about everyone. The computer’s vast memory capacity will facilitate the collection of unerasable records: kindergarten intelligence scores, high school deans’ reprimands, medical checkups, traffic violations, memberships, job evaluations. As Kalven says, “the society will have lost its benign capacity to forget.”
Changing standards may force increasing disclosure of the private lives of prominent people. The public taste for peeking as a form of amusement may spur new forms of entertainment like “Candid Camera.” Research in the social sciences will continue to lean on interviewing, personality testing, surreptitious observation and listening — and neat computerization of the findings.
To retain privacy
Finally, Kalven suggests, the decline of religious observance, of the family group and even of the habit of reading may deprive people of three traditional ways of being separate and private.
Are countermeasures possible? Psychologists and psychiatrists may have to devise therapy for loss of privacy. Lawyers and legislators will have to develop legal remedies, not only to curb eavesdropping, but to establish guidelines as to the limits of public interest. Perhaps public opinion can be made more sensitive to the values of being left alone — through a program of education for privacy, for example.
It may even be possible to develop new social devices that will insure some moments of privacy, such as some kind of secular version of a religious retreat. Things may be so bad in the Year 2000, Kalven suggests, that someone will make a fortune “merely by providing, on a monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis, a room of one’s own.”