Home Tech Science Fiction in Hindsight: How our ancestors imagined life today

Science Fiction in Hindsight: How our ancestors imagined life today

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  Moving walkways as envisaged by the chocolate visionaries from Hildebrands Deutscher Kakao. It
Moving walkways as envisaged by the chocolate visionaries from Hildebrands Deutscher Kakao. It’s all change, and pretty accurate, except for fashion

Predictions of the future, especially of the near future, in science fiction are often ridiculously inaccurate, but it is still fascinating to see how our ancestors imagined life today. In some cases there is a rare degree of accuracy. But all too often they attempted to predict the future while assuming aspects such as dress and fashion would remain the same.

I was reminded of this when I saw a collection of postcards produced in 1900 by German chocolate manufacturer Hildebrands. They were reproduced in some newspapers earlier this week. Several of these drawings were remarkably prescient, not least being the prediction of television outside broadcasting. But all of them assumed that people in 2000 would dress exactly like contemporaries at the end of the nineteenth century. Interesting, too, that they failed to predict the demise of the old German Fraktur script.

  Television: Another idea that came true just over 26 years later when John Logie Baird demonstrated his Televisor in a room at 22 Frith Street in London
Television: Another idea that came true just over 26 years later when John Logie Baird demonstrated his Televisor in a room at 22 Frith Street in London’s Soho
  Railway boats, not such a good idea
Railway boats, not such a good idea
  One that got away, the good-weather machine pumping kakao into the atmosphere in the hope of a sunny day. But could this be the first prediction of The Cloud?
One that got away, the good-weather machine pumping kakao into the atmosphere in the hope of a sunny day. But could this be the first prediction of The Cloud?
  X-ray surveillance through brick walls. Another winner for Hildebrands
X-ray surveillance through brick walls. Another winner for Hildebrands

While researching Hildebrands I found the source, a wonderful website called Paleofuture, It collects future predictions from the past and is required reading for anyone with a fascination for finding our what people thought life would be like today. 

We can cut the chocolate visionaries of 1900 a bit of slack. They were looking a century into the future and, when all is said and done, they got it right in several instances. But we don’t need to look far back in our own lifetimes to see how we failed to predict developments that are now commonplace. Fifty years ago the idea of mass ownership of computers was thought impossible because no one envisaged the plummeting cost and miniaturisation of computing power. Ten years later the concept of cellular phones and their current dominance in communications was not predicted. Without doubt, however, the biggest non-prediction of all time is the Internet and the www. No one, even in their wildest dreams, could have imagined the world-wide web and the impact it would have on all our lives.

There are undoubtedly similar disruptive technologies just around the corner. We remain blissfully ignorant and is is perhaps as well. Possibly we could gain insight by polishing off a few bars of Hildebrands celebrated dark chocolate. Then again, we’d surely get it wrong.

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