One of my habits is to read books and articles about social and political trends. I used to love to read Popular Mechanics magazine and the stories that were published about what the future would be like. The article “Miracles You’ll See in the Next 50 Years,” published February 1950, showed a picture of a woman hosing off her sofa that carried this caption: “Because everything in her home is waterproof, the housewife of 2000 can do her daily cleaning with a hose.” My wife is still waiting for that one to come true.
Science Fiction writer Wilson Tucker (1914–2006), who had his first story published in 1941, made an interesting observation: “To my knowledge, not a single writer of the early era foresaw email or the introduction of the internet concept. We were busy with variations of the telephone—radio phones, picture phones and the like. Yes, we missed the boat.” Here’s what he wrote on January 1, 2001:
When I woke up on January 1, 2001, I was disappointed in this respect: Nothing in the world outside my window resembled Arthur C. Clark’s novel or movie “2001.” No busy space ships, no hotel in orbit, no mining activity on the moon, no black monolith leading us to the far planets. After peering through the window and finding none of that I almost went back to bed.
Some people were able to peer into the future by having an uncanny ability to put all the pieces of the present together. Alvin Toffler is probably America’s most noted futurist. His books Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980) set the standard for predicting social, political, information, and technological trends. Future Shock sold more than seven million copies around the world. This is an astounding number for a non-fiction book “considering that it does deal with Hollywood or sex.”1. The Third Wave was another international bestseller.
The following is taken from his 1983 book Previews and Premises. It’s an extended interview with Toffler of what he saw coming 34 years ago. While he missed seeing the streaming revolution, downloadable music and video, cell phone use, and much more, he did get one big thing every right. It helps explain why liberals like and want Net Neutrality:
Imagine the decline of the mass media and the appearance of direct broadcast satellite, cable, cassette, ad hoc networks, and small circulation, small audience media for every conceivable group in society, and information flooding in from every part of the world. Imagine not centralized data banks and computers, but an Apple or TRS-80 [an over-sized personal computer by Radio Shack, often called the “Trash-80”] in every kitchen, all linked up in ever-changing networks. That’s more like we’re headed and it’s a nightmare for central planners.
That kind of society is much harder to control from the top. The “decision load” of the planners becomes literally unmanageable.
Here’s the key: the more diverse or differentiated any society becomes, the more the local conditions vary, the faster the changes become, the more variation there is from moment to moment…. You can’t make good decisions unless you can continually monitor their effects. For this you need people who are located on the periphery to tell you what’s happening. You need information and you need it on time. You most especially need information about your errors. It’s called negative feedback.
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