The Friday Fillip: Paleo-Futures

Human beings have a hard time living in the moment. And when we’re not rueing or re-writing the past, we’re envisioning the future. Though I haven’t kept score, I’d guess that on the whole we’re not very good at it, our favourite mode being the straight-line projection: tomorrow will be like today only more so — if you see what I mean. This means that our forecasts tell us more about ourselves and our times than they do about emergent folks or phenomena, which is why it’s fun, as a study in history, to see what the past has said about its future.

One place you’ll find a good dose of old projections is the website/blog Paleofuture. Some of what’s on offer is “science fiction”; some disguised political commentary; and some simply walkabouts with the imagination. And most of it is entertaining.

The site is arranged so that you can browse by decades, starting with the 1870s. So, for instance, in 1883 we learn that in 1952 (how do futurists pick their landing years? 1952!?) women’s fashions will look like the garments on the woman pictured to the left. (Click on the image for the full glory of the prediction.) And that in 1906 the big worry about the year 2006 was that we’d be cursed with an inordinate amount of leisure time (and that somehow capitalism would step out of the way to let that happen?). Or that in 1943 the “kitchen of tomorrow” would involve built-in waffle irons and be one in which “three-quarters of the ‘little woman’s’ work can be done while comfortably seated.”

Sensibly, you can also browse by categories. So you can see, for instance, what was predicted to happen about “crime” or “gender roles.”

And, speaking of the future, arriving just in time (i.e. yesterday) as if prescient, Edge offers an “annotated table of contents” for Future Science: Essays from the Cutting Edge, a book in which 18 young scientists discuss their work and its implications for the future. Slaw readers might want to get the book just for the essay by the wonderfully named Fiery Cushman titled “Should the Law Depend on Luck?”

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