A Whale-bus as a means to cross the Atlantic! Certainly some of the future predictions made by the French commercial artist Jean-Marc Côté and his team at the 1900s World’s Fair ‘Exposition Universelle’ were strange, indeed! The same can be said for the predictions made by many futurists throughout the ages. Frederick Edwin Smith, who became the Earl of Birkenhead in 1922, wrote a whole book on this topic. However, the key concept here is that only ‘some’ ideas were far-fetched.
First, some of the funnies
Jean-Marc Côté’s predictions had a lot to do with mechanization and alternative transport. He foresaw Batman! He thought firefighters will be flying around, powered by batwing-like structures. Sea travel featured high on his list – he believed we will traverse the Atlantic in boats floating above sea-level, powered by blimps, or we would domesticate whales and use them as transportation. Failing these, we would breed giant seahorses to move through the oceans. With the current danger of climate change that is causing sea levels to rise, these may not be such bad ideas.
Fredric Edwin Smith also held out great hopes for mechanization. He believed ‘men’ would have a great deal more leisure time and would only have to supervise machines for one or two hours a day. Flying cars fired his imagination and he coupled this and the afore-mentioned concept when he said:
“Thus… the man of 2030 will set off for the weekend, after his work, in a small, swift aeroplane, as reliable and cheap as the motor-car. … Skiing parties in Greenland will be made up in London clubs on Saturday mornings,” wrote Smith, “and translated into action before the same evening.”
He had high hopes for the medical profession. He felt that by 2030, it would be ‘fairly certain’ that TB would be eradicated and cures for major scourges such as cancer would have been found. Not only would health be improved, but longevity would also be attained through injections of ‘rejuvenations’; a lifespan of 150 years was his estimation.
The guesses that were borne out by reality
Jean-Marc Côté correctly (in broad terms!) predicted paperless education, augmented by technology. He envisaged a society that was not geographically bound by virtue of living in mobile homes. He also dreamed of a form of ‘video chatting’ using holographs.
Mr Smith worried about the effects of longevity. He was rightly concerned about the ‘grave problems’ an immense increase in population would create. In terms of employment he mused:
“…how will youths of 20 be able to compete in the professions or business against vigorous men still in their prime at 120, with a century of experience on which to draw?”
Strange times now, stranger times ahead?
If we were to fire-up the time travel capsule (using an alternative type of sustainable fuel, like donkey dung) what would we predict the future to look like? Let us be less ambitious than the two gentlemen above and only focus on what the world will look like in 10 or 15 years from now.
The perfect storm driving change
The combination of the Coronavirus and the socio-economic upheavals that ensued propelled us on a collision course with the future:
The political landscape
- The demise of tradition and outmoded loyalties
The electorate has rejected blind loyalty. They are holding the elected accountable for spending and development targets, enforcing legislation and ensuring transparency in decision-making. Independent watchdogs are well fed, given teeth and not kept on the leash by any political party.
- Solidarity and social investment
The social and environmental impact of one’s spending becomes a central consideration of each transaction. Not supporting schemes, such as feeding programmes and school supply drives through loyalty programmes are considered low class and bad manners.
- Charging your phone in the wind
Due to a better regulatory environment, it has become possible for municipalities, towns and provinces to supplement their energy reserves with alternative green technologies that work best in their particular areas: seawater around the coast, sun in the Karroo and landlocked provinces and wind in mountainous areas.
The World(s) of Work
Education for all
Innovation and development do not happen at the same speed throughout history. It is accelerating exponentially! The fanciful dreams of Côté and Smith seemed distant and novel in 1920, and worth a hundred years of innovation. The same amount of innovation, today, will be achieved in a few years, if not faster. We know that if you buy a laptop today, the technology has already become obsolete by the time it left the factory! Things are designed in such a way that continuous upgrading and development can take place. Thanks to the Internet of Things, this can even happen behind our backs through automatic updates.
Don’t be scared. Be prepared. Don’t make technology and innovation your enemy – befriend it, or at the very least the people around it! We know that these are dark days and everything feels alien and scary. We agree that we can only make educated guesses about the future – that we cannot know for sure what the future holds.
We also know that all things change, evolve and grow. Humanity is resourceful and resilient. The best advice we can give you is to surround yourself with good people who have weathered a few storms and proven that they have what it takes to survive.
All images by Jean-Marc Côté/Wikimedia Commons