11 November 2007
The study of history itself admittedly holds very little interest for me. I did a few compulsory units of it at University, but generally take the cynical mindset that there�s little point in focusing on events of the past, as society is determined to repeat the same mistakes anyway. However, in perusing a second-hand bookstore, I could not resist when I discovered a positively ancient book � �The Day After To-morrow�. Yes, it was so ancient that they still wrote �today� and �tomorrow� using hyphens. The pages were yellow with age, and it smelled vaguely like a mixture of mothballs and wet cardboard. Further investigation revealed that it was written and printed in 1928 by some now long-dead guy Philip Gibbs (potentially this one, though I cannot be sure), and was essentially a compilation of scientific and political predictions for the future. You know what that means right? Some ninety years later, it�s time to see if those predictions came true!
Prediction #1 Airplanes
From the text: �In London now one can stroll down Bond Street and buy an aeroplane as easily as a toothpick. It is a �Moth� machine for ₤730. Its wings fold back so that it can be put into a small garage. It needs only a small landing space. There are eight aerodromes in which one can learn to fly it. In March of last year a boy of fifteen and a man of sixty-five qualified as pilots of the �Moth� after a short period of tuition. When such a machine as that is produced at ₤150, payable by instalments, and when the risk of flight is not so perilous to the beginner, the sky will be crowded with butterflies as well as moths, and the flappers of the future will spread their wings to do a morning�s shopping. In less than twenty-five years from now it will happen, if we can believe the prophets of civil aviation.�
It�s been ninety years, and these �Moth� machines appear to have simply been an early nineteenth-century fad for rich folk. FAIL.
Though I am exceedingly jealous of the comparatively low safety standards of the past. Seems like these days you have to have to pass insane batteries of tests, questions and checks before they even let you ride a plane, much less fly one.
Prediction #2 Food
This discussion starts out relatively reasonable � with talk of vitamins and synthetic foods made by chemists, as well as use of chemicals for pesticides and fertilisers. I can�t remember a time when chemicals weren�t used for pesticides and fertiliser - the point where I hadn't been aware there were other kinds - so he seems pretty on the money there. In fact, the only point at which the chapter derails is here:
��physiologists and chemists who foretell the day when man will go straight to the vital source which is the origin of life derived from the sun, and stored up in the atoms. By attaching himself to some electrical machine he may draw into himself from central power stations the vital fuel necessary for his day�s job.�
Maybe it could still happen. But I�m pretty sure they�ve discovered that human bodies need a variety of important chemicals to survive more so than just electricity.
WIN. But only because he admitted that the above probably belonged more to the realm of H.G. Wells.
Prediction #3 Aurivision
"'Twenty-five years hence,' says Mr. Chattan, 'aurivision sets will be standardised into a practical apparatus which will be a recognised fitting in most houses. The receiving set will be centrally located in the house, with concealed loud speakers in the living rooms. These loud speakers will produce all the wide range of audible frequencies without distortion, at any desired strength. The television, worked directly from the common receiver, will faithfully record in natural colours the living scenes, film, pictures, etc., on a specially prepared transparent screen, artistically set as a panel in the wall, which will be brought into operation as required. Thus we can have audition, television, or both, as desired.'"
We call it 'television', which I guess means that Philip Gibbs won out over the quoted scientist there, but otherwise that was eerily accurate. WIN.
Prediction #4 Population
"The last census revealed the fact that the population of the world grew at the rate of doubling in sixty years. According to Professor Gregory of Glasgow in another 120 years, if this rate of increase is maintained, there will be 6600 million people, which is the limit of the world�s food supplies. Long before that limit is reached, it looks as though there will be a fierce conflict for the fertile places of the earth, unless the peoples of the world unite to intensify and distribute the supplies of food by fair and orderly means and rearrange the whole structure of their international relationships, and alter in a most radical way the present development of industrial life."
Tying back in with the food revelation, he then goes on to state that scientists may use the methods outlined in Prediction #2 to avoid world-wide famine. But 6.6 billion in 120 years? At the time of writing, that would have been 2048. I think we passed 6.6 billion a couple of months ago. And the world hasn't run out of food yet. Admittedly, there are a whole bunch of countries where it's a problem, but there are also a whole bunch of countries where obesity is also becoming a prevalent health issue. That probably evens it out.
Prediction #5 Energy Sources
This was spread across several chapters, making it difficult to quote (oh, okay, so I am getting too lazy at this point to transcribe or scan the relevant pages), so I shall summarise: All the way back in 1928, scientists were already starting to get worried about the finite supply of coal and fuel, and anticipated that nuclear power would be the way of the future. This is before the birth of the atomic bomb, even.
I think we'll agree this is already happening. Certainly with the nuclear plants, even if the oil companies are in a bit of denial.
Prediction #6 Auto-suggestion
According to the author, the children of the future would use hypnosis and auto-suggestion to exert the power of the mind over the body. While this may be partially true, or at least hold the potential to become true as we are still in the process of discovering things about the human mind, I am was rather bemused by the assertion that warts were caused by the power of suggestion.
Take, for example, the case of warts. They are of trivial importance, but one would not imagine that they could be produced or removed merely by suggestion. Yet in the Swiss canton of Vaud the girls make a joke of it. To cause warts they go out on evening, moisten the top of the finger with saliva, look up at a star, and touch the other hand with the wet finger-tip, counting one, two, three, up to the number of warts required! They pass them on by suggestion to girl or boy friends. A ribbon is tied round the hand and is knotted as many times as there are warts on the hand. Then the ribbon is dropped on the highway. Whoever picks it up and unties the knots will get the warts � and the original owner of them is cured! It reads like a fairy-tale, but it is true, as every medical man fully admits. Only the faith is needed and the warts will come or go.�
Modern science 'medical men' have thoroughly debunked this, as warts are proven to be a benign virus that is transferred via skin contact or towels or other objects� perhaps even ribbons? Also, they normally go away on their own after a period of time. This does not necessarily destroy the points about the potential of auto-suggestion, but their idea of how warts are transmitted is highly flawed. Ah, ye olde biology, how far you have come.
Overall, a rather intriguing book, and an excellent example of why today's modern school children should never ever ask their grandparents for help on their science homework. Perhaps the best part was when the author indirectly tried to blame World War I on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.
Nice to see that particular debate is still going strong. I hope it gets resolved by 2086. Has Godwin�s Law come into effect on that one yet?
So how did it go? Philip Gibbs didn't do too badly, really. He was surprisingly forward thinking in regards to sexism, but equally backwards in terms of racism, which was to be expected at the time of writing. Perhaps more eerie was the ruminations in regards to a second World War and the collapse of the League of Nations written before they happened. Truly, it was interesting reading an account of general events and moods that played an important role in the second World War as they were happening, rather than an account coloured heavily by the hindsight of the victors. It was terribly biased still, of course, but weeding out the biases is one of the most interesting aspects of the study of history. Admittedly, probably the only truly interesting aspect, as I have no great love of remembering names and dates when I can�t even recall the names and birthdays of co-workers.
At least, for the first half of the book, anyway. When it wanders off into discussions about parapsychology... well, maybe in another two hundred years.
Overall - looks like a tie. Then again, being right 50% of the time is better than the track record of most meteorologists! (Unless those meteorologists work in Queensland, where they can declare the weather "fine" every single day and still be right 95% of the time.)
Thought it was interesting, and worth sharing with the world this sort of unintentional time capsule. For how far off they were on a lot of things, the scientists of 1928 seemed like a pretty clued in bunch.
Yeah, the book got a little preachy, too, however poignant it might have been. That's why I read it for you and extracted all the good bits.
Now to look forward to 2086, when hopefully someone will discover some writings from this time and shake their heads in wonder at the woeful ignorance of their forebearers, then promptly pat themselves on the back for how far they've come. I hope they find the scripts for the Jetsons.