On this first day of 2015, it is natural to think of the future. What will happen in 2015? What will the world be like by 2020? Many people are worried about the economy, terrorists threats, Ebola outbreaks, wars in the Middle East or elsewhere.
But I remember a time when Americans did not worry about the future. We yearned for it. The Future was going to be a magical period when America technology and know-how had solved all of the world problems. In the future everyone would be happy, live in peach and have all the comforts they needed.
We knew all of these things about the future since it was presented to us on a scale never seen before or since – at the 1964 New York’s World’s Fair. I was only a kid, but my family loved it so much we returned to the Fair over and over again along with hundreds of thousands of others.
The Fair was a complete miniature city built in Queens. Countries from all over the world had pavilions. But the most exciting exhibits were those of the American corporations. IBM, General Motors, Ford, Disney, AT&T all had large buildings where inside you could travel through time into the Future to see what it would be like.
However, now that I look back, what strikes me the most is how incredibly wrong all the predictions were. The things they predicted did not happen at all, and the futurists completely missed the major events that have shaped our world in the 50 years since the Fair.
On this New Year’s Day I thought it might be fun to list all the major trends that the future predictors missed, and then try to come up with out own (and hopefully more accurate) predictions for the next 50 years.
- The changing role of women in society was completely missed at the 1964 World’s Fair. Many pavilions showed homes of the future, with amazing gadgets, but the home always included a housewife. The idea that the structure of the family in the future might change was not considered in any of the hundreds of scenarios shown in the various exhibits.
- The impact of people on the environment was completely ignored. Nowhere was this more evident than in the General Motor’s exhibit. It had a complete working model of how GM was going to “improve” the lives of the people of South America. The model showed a giant machine creating a multi-lane highway through the Amazon rain forest. The front part of the machine chopped down the trees. The middle part of the machine ground up the trees and pressed them into wooden bricks. The back of the machine pressed these bricks into the ground and paved them over to create a 6 lane highway. When it was all done the “useless” jungle had been replaced by a beneficial highway.
- Bigger is better was the theme of almost every exhibitor of the Fair. In the IBM pavilion the entire audience was lifted thorough the air in their seats up into a giant egg shaped building. There we saw a movie about how gigantic super computers of the future would solve any and all problems. The trend of personal computers, calculators and cell phones was never even thought of. The true future of computers would come not in giant buildings owned by IBM or AT&T, but in little garages owned by people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
So now that we have made fun of the Futurists of 1964, let’s go out on a limb and try to predict what the world will be like in 2064. Historians of that time may read this blog and make fun of these predictions, but let’s give ti a try.
- The term “going to work” will cease to have any meaning. This change could happen very quickly. Even now, people waste time and resources traveling to a location they do not have to. With computer technology, it will become increasingly possible to work from home. Traveling to a specific location for work will be something that happens rarely for special events or social occasions.
- For most people the employer/employee relationship will cease. Most people will not have a single “employer”. They will have certain skills and use those skills for multiple groups throughout the year. As noted above, most people will do this from their homes. The term “job” will have no meaning for most people.
- Most low level service jobs will disappear. Even now we can see the trend. There are far fewer bank tellers than there used to be since we have cash machines. People can now do their own check-outs at grocery stores. Soon there will be no counter people at fast food restaurants. You can punch your order into the screen on the counter just as well as the person at the counter.
- Cash, Credit Cards and Debit Cards will completely disappear, as will most physical banks. All transactions can be done on your mobile phone. There is no need for a piece of plastic with the same information, and no need for paper currency or coins.
- Oil will no longer be the source of the world’s energy. What it will be replaced by we cannot say, but the days of burning petroleum for fuel will come to an end. Petroleum has amazing unique chemical properties which can be used in medical and other applications. Even today many scientists state how ridiculousness it is that we burn such a unique and one time gift of the Earth. In the future people will shudder when they look back at how we used oil, the same way we look back at people who used Giant Redwood trees for firewood.
- The social order of the world will change. This is the toughest part to predict. In 1964, we Americans had no doubt that whatever the future was like, The United States would be in charge of it. The best we can say now is that there will be changes that seem completely unimaginable now. One event happened at the 1964 World’s Fair which I can still see as clearly as if it happened yesterday. We went to the Japanese Pavilion and outside it were the flags of the United States and Japan flying side by side. My father stood there for a long time looking up at the flags, with an astonished expression on his face. He kept saying, “Will you look at that. I never thought to see that.” He was from the World War II generation, and it was incredible to him that Japan and the United States had become the best of friends. Perhaps in future, Israel and Iran will become great economic partners. The major economic powers in the world could be the countries in central Africa. In our part of the world the balance of power might shift from North American to South America.
- People will not change. People will continue to be smart and stupid and kind and violent and selfish and generous all at the same time. Nothing in technology will change human nature. Our biggest hope for the future is that people will be able to win against themselves. Although there have been many terrible things that have happened since 1964, the world was in fact better then it was in the proceeding 100 years. In the period 1864-1964 there were two World Wars and a Holocaust. Millions of people died. In the 100 years before 1864 slavery existed in America, and took a major Civil War to end. The world actually has been getting better, although at such a slow pace it is hard for us to see.
When the 1964 World’s Fair was over I was heartbroken that they tore it all down. All that’s left is a park in Queens with the Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion. The magnificent buildings of General Motors, Ford, IBM, and AT&T were all reduced to rubble. The giant dinosaurs of Sinclare Dino-land were moved away.
There is one pavilion you can still see. It was the Disney exhibit that was so popular it was moved intact to Disney World in Florida. Tiny robot children sang about the joy and hope of the future which we all believed without question in 1964. Today you can still visit Florida and hear them sing,