Tags: science-fiction

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Past visions of the future

This 1969 vision of a future household is remarkably prescient in some ways but unfortunately dated when it comes to gender roles:

What the wife selects on her console will be paid for by the husband on his counterpart console.

The Internet in 1969

By 1993, AT&T were showing a more equally balanced vision of the future.

AT&T 1993 “You Will” Ads

Given that those ads are a mere sixteen years old, it’s hardly surprising that they’re generally pretty accurate (although mobile phones are conspicuous by their absence).

Paul Saffo said we routinely overestimate short-term change and underestimate long-term change, but it’s those long-term predictions that are the most entertaining and fascinating.

Paleo Future is a blog by Matt Novak dedicated to A look into the future that never was. The archive is structured by decade, going back to the 1880s. The site is an orgasmofest of steampunk, retro-journalistic soothsaying and zeppelin-inspired musical theatre (calm down, Simon).

Meanwhile, looking in the other direction of the light cone, why has it taken me so long to discover Near Future Laboratory? Julian Bleecker and friends seek out design and cultural trends, often viewed through the lens of science fiction (see, for example, Design Fiction Chronicles: The Stability of Food Futures).

In some ways, science fiction is the safe route to future prediction. Paul Saffo again:

Wild cards sensitize us to surprise, and they push the edges of the cone out further. You can call weird imaginings a wild card and not be ridiculed. Science fiction is brilliant at this, and often predictive, because it plants idea bombs in teenagers which they make real 15 years later.

The expectations set by science fiction result in the hipster chic of wearing a T-shirt emblazoned in Helvetica with where’s my jetpack?

Ray Bradbury takes another tack:

People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.

Science fiction doesn’t just show us the future we hope for further down the light cone; it also shows us the design and culture we want to prevent.

Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) - Ministry of Information