Just Imagine (1930), directed by David Butler, was a humorous science-fiction movie musical presented by Fox Film Corporation to cheer up audiences distressed by the Great Depression.
Set in the year 1980, it depicted the conventional expectations of technological progress associated with that 'distant future' date. A large dirigible hangar was used to house a huge, detailed, large-scale model of a modern city, complete with suspension bridges between towering skyscrapers, multi-lane elevated roadways, and a flock of flying machines flitting above the city as another level of traffic. To modern viewers, the city resembles an implausibly exaggerated version of 1930s New York City.
The plot involves a man from 1930 who is experimentally revived from the dead (hmmm, interestingly transhumanistic) by a team of physicians who have no interest whatsoever in him after he awakens (an obvious precursor to Woody Allen's Sleeper (1973)). Two young men who have observed the process as guests of one of the nurses kindly take him in hand and show him (and the audience) the wonders of 1980. He also gets to travel to Mars, which turns out to be inhabited by friendly humans, each of whom has an evil, otherwise-identical twin.
That's a wonderful snippet. I love those old visions of the future. I want one of those aircars!
Paleo-Future is a blog dedicated to these visions. One thing that always stands out is how predictions from the 30s are always so 30s, from the 50s they are always so 50s. They always have the hair cuts of their time. Even today, the characters in the newest Star Trek have modern hair cuts.
The big shoulder pads on the women's uniforms, the 1990s hairdos, and the big geometric earrings are what crack me up about Babylon 5 . . .
It goes to show you how bad futurology is. In my opinion it should fall into the same category as astrology.
Or magic! Futurists might as well be throwing darts at random, like their Wall Street colleagues. This carries relatively little risk, though. Let's face it, if you keep predicting that a certain bus route will experience an accident -- eventually it will. People tend to remember the few predictions that are right and forget the avalanche of wrong ones.
Futurology is all about extrapolating the trends of the past into the future. There's a flaw in that: trends change. New, unexpected technologies appear, and expected ones often never quite get off the ground. At some point old technologies halt because they're "good enough" - significant performance improvements would not be feasible from an economic perspective. Unexpected consequences from the overuse of old technologies become apparent only after decades of experience. Social trends are influenced by semi-random events that cannot be easily predicted, if at all. Most people forget to take into account paradise on earth would be "bad" for the rich and powerful because they would have little to distinguish their families from the common masses, so they would do quite a bit to derail any turns in that direction. (Even today, among ordinary people, the argument that "you couldn't get rich" is a powerful de-motivator, even if everyone would be so well off that there would be absolutely no need for it.) Likewise, dystopian scenarios (aside from total or near-total civilization crash) often miss the mark because people would revolt before things got that way.
So basically it's a crapshoot, and aside from very near-term or very general predictions, not even remotely reliable.
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