Technology: What they expected vs. what came to pass
by Justin McGill, General Manager -- jmcgill@cadizrecord.com
Jun 29, 2011 | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
About 100 years ago or so, some smart forward-thinkers in this country thought we’d be working our way toward a functioning flying car by now.

Smart for their time, maybe.

Those guys were wrong, but they still had the backbone to throw out a prediction and back that vision up with what may have seemed at the time to be solid reasoning, if a little far-fetched.

That kind of thinking lends itself well to good (and sometimes bad) science fiction. Occasionally, however, it also can appear to be quite prescient when the prediction turns out to be more-or-less accurate.

Take the internet, for example. When you’ve got a few minutes to kill, head over to Youtube and search for The Internet in 1969. There, you’ll find a video that shows what some in that year expected home technology to look like, and it’s strikingly similar to what we experience today. It’s also still very 1960s, but I find it charming.

More interesting, however, is a story I stumbled upon this week from a June 1982 issue of The New York Times. The article – “Study says technology could transform society” – summarizes a report commissioned by the National Science Foundation. The report speculated that “by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.”

Other than the names they used to identify what they called one-way and two-way home information systems (teletext and videotex), the rest of the report appears to be a pretty dead-on description of the way we currently use the internet.

Highlights:

– The report suggested that the American home of 1998 would see a switch from an era where trades are passed down from generation to generation, to an “electronic cottage” where people could learn multiple trades on their own.

– The report estimated that 40 percent of American households would have two-way videotex service by 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 41.5 percent of households in 2000 had internet access.

– As is the case now, privacy and opportunities for abuse were seen as major concerns in 1982, particularly “new dangers of manipulation or social engineering, either for political or economic gain.”

– It was expected that the home would double as a place of employment, that home-based shopping would create a market for “production on demand,” and that socialization would be determined based more on interests and skills rather than age and social class.

We’ve experienced those things in some form or fashion.

In a way, the report also envisioned new communication technology being largely responsible for the creation of new political associations like the Tea Party movement.

So that gets us from where we were to where we are. Where do we go from here?

It’s clear that we’re moving closer and closer to a world filled with wireless technology. We’re also getting closer having the ability to do everything we want with one device.

We’ve also learned to temper our expectations. If this were 1960, would we be envisioning microchips grafted directly to our brains?

Justin McGill is general manager of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at jmcgill@cadizrecord.com.
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