Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The future was supposed to bring us some crazy things, such as underwater cities and 200-year lifespans. We're still waiting. Author Paul Milo discusses the ridiculous, bizarre, and just plain wrong predictions of the Twentieth Century in his book Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century (Harper Paperbacks, 2009).

What were you hoping for? Post your ode to that never-got-invented technology below!


Paul Milo

Comments [24]


If you haven't seen it already, then Brian Fies' wonderful graphic novel, "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow" is definitely worth a look:

Dec. 09 2009 02:35 PM
Elizabeth from Montclair

I remember a class discussion in sixth grade, circa 1965, about food of the future. Everyone thought it was going to come in pill form.

One boy said, but which end of the pill would you eat first? Everyone laughed at him for wanting to save the dessert end of the pill for last.

He was the only epicure.

Dec. 09 2009 12:20 PM
Fred from Brooklyn

I was hoping we would be wearing some really cool clothes. However, everybody seems to be wearing clothing that could have been bought at Montgomery Ward in the seventies.

Fashion was so great during the could actually see how it evolved from the fifties. But since the seventies, fashions for men and women have gotten stupider and stupider.

Dec. 09 2009 12:05 PM
bk from nyc

brian - I thought it was pretty ironic when you closed your show - "at least we have the internet." I don't know if it was just me but I couldn't connect to the WNYC site for about an hour this morning (the rest of the WWW was at my finger tips).
it's always something....

Dec. 09 2009 12:05 PM

I had a buddy in the mid seventies who was investing in a cordless phone! How far out we thought that was!

Dec. 09 2009 12:02 PM

i seem to recall that in the backs of the comic books i read as a kid, next to the ads for sea monkeys, there were ads for hovercraft...small cars that floated.

Dec. 09 2009 11:57 AM

The miniature communicator devices on the original 60's Star Trek show, set in the 22nd century, have been surpassed already.

Dec. 09 2009 11:57 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

Could it just be that we never know what will actually be important inventions? In 1890 I'm sure people would have killed for a hover-horse, but did they imagine we'd have mag-lev trains?

Dec. 09 2009 11:57 AM
peter from crown heights

The thing that I find fascinating is how our furures of the past are so wrong, but also miss the technologies that really changed the world.

What past future vision predicted the iPhone in my pocket and everything that it can do.

Or the possibilities of genetic engineering and stem cell medicine.

Dec. 09 2009 11:56 AM
Mitch from NY city

Phonovision! I saw phonovision - talking and seeing at the 1962 World's Fair. On a wired phone it's still impossible. Using Skype, etc, we can talk and see, with questionable video quality, but it's pretty cumbersome.

I expected a Dick Tracy-sized wrist phone-video back in the 1970's!

Dec. 09 2009 11:56 AM
Gerry Lesk from Manhattan

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1961,
and was told that there would soon be a cure
for the disease. Though there have been many amazing improvements in care for those of us
with this chronic condition, there is still no

Dec. 09 2009 11:56 AM
Sarah from Brooklyn

Ok, so we didn't get jet packs, but could anyone have predicted the internet in the 1950s? I mean, with Google, facebook and twiter? What about the iphone? That would be mind blowing to someone in the 1950s.

I still want a car that folds into a suitecase though. I feel that time should more parking lots!

Dec. 09 2009 11:54 AM


Dec. 09 2009 11:54 AM
John Celardo from Fanwood, NJ

Frank Lloyd Wright published a design for Ellis Island in a newspaper in the 1950s. It included a helicopter pad, domes and office buildings. We had a copy of the newspaper at the National Archives across the street from your new location.

Dec. 09 2009 11:54 AM
Meaghan from Hawthorne NJ

I want those cool uniforms! In the future everyone wears matching jumpsuits - personally I would like a tunic and slacks but how much easier would this be if we all had matching outfits! :)

Dec. 09 2009 11:53 AM
Gerald Fnord

'BeliefNet'? That's part of the problem, _very_ broadly speaking, and not as a cause. Increased interest in religious superstitions is, however, both a symptom and a cause of the increased lack of faith in the utility of progress that has helped to keep our progress down.

Flying cars and push-button kitchens are kind of stupid (self-directed ground-cars---true 'auto'mobiles, would be better), but better health, less work, and less religion would have been much better for any of us. Say what you will about appliances, no-one thinks their worth blowing-up building over...and piped or even bottled gas and running water would do more to liberate the female half of Afghanistan than anything else our troops could do.

And don't get me started on getting nearer to physical immortality, the only sort possible....

Dec. 09 2009 11:52 AM

Maybe there just factors involved that they couldn't predict. Flying cars are a nice idea but what if a drunk driver gets behind the wheel of one? He might fly into a house.

Dec. 09 2009 11:52 AM
michael from brooklyn

i was just thinking the jetsons! i feel i was promised a jetpack by now, and i still don't see that?!? I actually just went down to orlando for the first time in 20+ years and both the "house of the future" and the tupperwear museum are gone. Goodbye future of the 1960s.

Dec. 09 2009 11:52 AM
hjs from 11211

these things might have happen had reagan NOT pulled the solar panels off the white house roof and in general defunded science and education. instead he fought wars in central america and afghanistan!

Dec. 09 2009 11:52 AM
chris from washington heights

for some reason, i suppose because of star trek, i always envisioned a world with transporters! i.e., "beam me up, scotty" becomes "beam me to barbados for the weekend".

Dec. 09 2009 11:51 AM
Bobby G from East Village

I thought there was going to be a 2nd Ave. subway.

Dec. 09 2009 11:51 AM
Karen from Manhattan

Not flying cars; flying me. As per maybe the Jetsons or Superman, I wanted a little rocket backback that I could strap on -- and just take off. I also wanted a robotic housekeeper.

Ah, well. 2109!

Dec. 09 2009 11:51 AM
Studebaker Hawke

I can never shake the feeling that the increased leisure time and ease predicted almost universally back then was derailed because people who live relatively prosperous start to act as if they had _rights_ (see, "The 'Sixties", according to a [I think it was] T.R.W. report c. 1972). People less afraid of poverty are harder to control by their bosses, and less easy prey for demagogues and preachers.

I _don't_ believe in conspiracy to make us in America poorer and more afraid than we could have been, just that the interests of those already with power pushed them and us toward courses that helped to increase their power.

For example, if a ready supply of cheap, clean, energy really mattered to 'us', getting the (admittedly many) bugs in nuclear power out would have been a strong national priority; if making Americans' lives better mattered, we would have gone to automation and more welfare rather than importing illegals and off-shoring.

Dec. 09 2009 10:20 AM
George from Bay Ridge

Why were they wrong on many issues? What did they get right? What lessons in predicting the future can we learn about our predictions for our future?

Dec. 09 2009 03:27 AM

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