Back to the Future in 2011

Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy (+ Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]

Here's a little back to the future time traveling via an NPR blog post.

Back in 1931, the New York Times asked some people to predict what the world would be in 80 years - 2011.

W.J. Mayo, the clinic guy, had a pretty good prediction - and I'm glad that his future came to be:

Contagious and infectious diseases have been largely overcome, and the average length of life of man has increased to fifty-eight years... The progress that is being made would suggest that within the measure of time for this forecast the average life time of civilized man would be raised to the biblical term of three-score and ten...

I wish sociologist William Ogburn had been right, because he predicted the end of poverty. He also estimated our population at 160 million, but it's almost double that.

He wasn't totally off. His tech side was closer to the mark:

Labor displacement will proceed even to automatic factories. The magic of remote control will be commonplace. Humanity’s most versatile servant will be the electron tube.... the heterogeneity of material culture will mean specialists and languages that only specialists can understand...
He thought that technological progress (and abundant natural resources) would give us a higher standard of living (it did) and poverty and hunger would be eliminated (it didn't) - thereby taking away forces of revolution (we are too apathetic for revolution).

He was more on target with the sociology he saw and knew would continue:

The role of government is bound to grow. Technicians and special interest groups will leave only a shell of democracy. The family cannot be destroyed but will be less stable in the early years of married life, divorce being greater than now. The lives of women will be more like those of men, spent more outside the home.

How would you place scientist and inventor Michael Pupin's prediction in our current political landscape?

Its power for creating wealth was never equaled in human history. But it lacks the wisdom of distributing equitably the wealth which it creates. One can safely prophesy that during the next eighty years this civilization will correct this deficiency by creating an industrial democracy which will guarantee to the worker an equitable share in the wealth produced by his work.

The NPR blogger notes on this last prediction that income equality did increase for some decades after the prediction, but since the 1970s, the gap between rich and poor has grown.

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