Tuesday 4 March 2014

Visions of the Future

"Nothing dates faster than visions of the future." Katherine Whitehorn

Future technology always seems to include recipes, shopping lists and turning on ovens or central heating “from the supermarket”. Or else your fridge will order food over the internet, and your TV will inform you that the washing machine has finished its cycle. And walls that change colour with your mood are a perennial.

In 1985 a pundit wrote: “Popular notions of the future [were] fantasy antidotes to the Depression. A gyroplane for every family! Aluminum sidewalks! Houses made entirely of Bakelite!”

William McGrath, chief executive at Aga Rangemaster says that the new range “can be turned on and off using a mobile phone… If you have a weekend place in Devon, you can turn it on on the way.” (Times, 2013)

We’ll probably get 3D printed furniture soon – but will it be repro “French provincial”?

1802 Channel tunnel proposed. Digging stopped in 1884. Tunnel opened 1994.

1890s Svante Arrhenius warns that CO2 emissions will cause global warming.

1923 Hermann Oberth predicts a telescope in space. (Hubble telescope launched 1990.)

1926 We could purify sewage with ultrasound (idea revived in 1978), and use tide power for energy (first tidal power station completed 1966, and one is being built in Swansea).

1927 Ettore Bugatti says he is developing a speed boat, cigar shaped, half submerged, that will cross Atlantic in two days.

1928 “Air trains” of gliders pulled by planes are predicted after successful experiments.

1928 Why not grow poplar trees as a crop to produce rayon?

1930 The Congress of Eugenics says “We must get rid of the idea of feminism… equality of the sexes is absolutely incorrect.”

1933 Wind power suggested.

1933 Dr Thomas Shastid predicts that future men will have one central eye.

1934 Jeannette Piccard ascends to the stratosphere with her husband's twin brother and a turtle called Fleur de Lys. (She was a scientist and balloon pilot who later became a priest.)

1935 In The Next Hundred Years, Clifford Furnas predicts television, smoke elimination, a leather substitute, breathable fabrics, superconductors, solar power and biofuel.

1937 Dr Julian Huxley predicts eugenics will be accepted within one or two generations.

1938 Sonic booms (“compressible burbles”) predicted.

1938 They didn’t have all these innovations in my day, says the UK’s Professor Joad: “To insert coins into metal slots, scan headlines, crowd through clicking turnstiles, turn on the radio, hurl ourselves over the surface of the earth in a mechanism propelled by petrol - these constitute the modern notion of entertainment.”

1938 “Virginity at marriage will reach vanishing point in about 20 years.”

1944 In the amphibious “car of the future”, you’ll be able to order a meal through a two-way radio.

1944 Amazing Stories publisher Hugo Gernsback has an idea for a robot mine detector.

1946 Movie stars wear jewellery made of “atomite” (aka atomsite or Trinitite): sand fused into glass by the atomic bomb test. They're advised not to wear it too often.

1948 Psychiatrist James Halliday blames our sick society on flush toilets, baby carriages, and the decline in religion.

1948 Maths geek Norbert Wiener says wholly automatic factories are just around the corner.

Inventions we can live without
Inventions we should reinvent


  1. A reference to Steam Punk seems in order. Our absurdist view of the past's view of the future applied to fashion...or something like that.

  2. That's meant to be a steam punk kitchen...