Friday, February 03, 2006
If The Future Involves Candy Made From Underwear, I'd Rather Live In The Past 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UPDATE: I just discovered an interesting essay on the same 1950 Popular Mechanics article at Analog SF Online: "One Crystal Ball, Slightly Used."

Sometime this weekend, take a moment and mosey on over to a cool site I recently discovered, HepcatWilly's. It's one of a few sites I'd like to tell you about in the near future that are jam-packed with retro treasures, like out of print Space-Age exotica and obscure jazz albums. It's the kind of website that represents one of the most endearing aspects of the Internet: amateur preservation (in the sheer "for the love of it" sense) of the past for fellow aficionados. If not for fans like these the music, memories, and images of yesteryear would soon be relegated to trash heaps, antique shops, dusty attics and online auctions.

I wanted to specially note one item at HepcatWilly's that caught my eye. It's a scanned 1950 Popular Mechanics article by New York Times science editor Waldemar Kaempffert, "Miracles You'll See In The Next 50 Years." Essentially, it's one of those futurist pieces that combines then-current scientific breakthroughs with popular trends and tries to extrapolate them into a vision of the future - usually with mixed results more shaped by wishful thinking and current social presumptions than the true unknown. After all, we're only human.

Although the predictions aren't all the overblown "hovercraft in every garage" variety, the article illustrates clearly that even if technology did develop in unimaginable directions, mainstream 1950's America had little clue of globalization and the international trends that would shape our lives even more profoundly than industrial miracles.

Practical concerns of that age differed from our own, as well. Save for some mention of solar and nuclear power, and alcohol-powered automobiles, scarcity of resources and the global need for conservation didn't seem to be an issue. In 1950, meltable plastic dishes you could flush down the drain with superheated water seemed an ideal solution for harried housewives. Today, we'd balk at the energy needed both to make the plastic and heat the boiling water, and the need for fresh water - not to mention wariness regarding food coming in contact with plasticizers needed to make low-melting-point resins. Today's better solution might be biodegradable dishes you'd toss in a compost heap.

The Popular Mechanics article augurs:What, no Dick Tracy watch-communicators? We actually have those now. If 20/20 is perfect hindsight, we probably know as little about our lives 50 years from now - Inshallah - as futurists like Kaempffert predicted our lives would be today, 50 years ago - and no matter how technologically advanced we become, scientists (and magazine editors) never waste a chance to depict housewives in kinky clothing.
"If old Mrs. Underwood, who lives around the corner...insists on sleeping under an old fashioned comforter instead of an aerogel blanket full of glass...she must expect people to talk about her 'queerness.'"
Of course, her rubber suit has nothing to do with it whatsoever. Some things never change.