Emergency cuff links

My kid coulda done that

Back to the future

There’s no future like the old future. Pick up any piece of sci-fi today, and odds are you’ll find some incredibly dystopic vision of the world to come: Slave-labor telepresence work, neurally-implanted advertising, blissed-out teens on dumbdrugs. Bleah. What happened to the old, superoxygenated, go-go dreams of a rocket-finned future?

Back in 1961 … now that was when the future meant something. That’s when some florid hack penned a piece in which he asked “Will Life Be Worth Living in 2000 A.D.?”, a question he immediately answered with a resounding HELL YES. Though the article is a total laff riot, it amazingly manages to get a few predictions half-right — it says that “there will be machines doing the work of clerks, shorthand writers and translators. Machines will ‘talk’ to each other”, and it argues that “mail and newspapers will be reproduced instantly anywhere in the world by facsimile”. But my favorite part is when the author gets to the irreplacable linchpin of any self-respecting postwar vision of the year 2000: Personal jetpacks. From a web-site reproduction of the article:

It will be the age of press-button transportation. Rocket belts will increase a man’s stride to 30 feet, and bus-type helicopters will travel along crowded air skyways. There will be moving plastic-covered pavements, individual hoppicopters, and 200 m.p.h. monorail trains operating in all large cities.

The family car will be soundless, vibrationless and self-propelled thermostatically. The engine will be smaller than a typewriter. Cars will travel overland on an 18 inch air cushion.


I also liked the final paragraph: “It’s the way they think the world will live in the next century - if there’s any world left!”

Ah yes: If there’s any world left. Gotta love the emotional whiplash course-correction, in which the cheery, pipe-smoking affability of the author descends, with no warning whatsoever, into completely sociopathic Cold War duck-and-cover nihilism.

(By the way, looking at the piece again, I’m half wondering if this is not in fact an actual repro of a real article, but a modern parody of one. Anyone out there know?)

(Thanks to Sean for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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