Like most kids of my generation I grew up assuming that the predictions many experts were making for the future would come true. After all, they were experts, right? You could see their educated guesses everywhere, from the scifi movies I loved to watch in those days to TV documentaries spelling out the coming wonders. You could also find magazines with big special features showing how cities would look in the future, complete with soaring highways in the sky and a flying car in every garage. We’d also have colonies on the moon and Mars, and be exploring the Universe in starships. (I figured I’d probably be on one of them. . .maybe even the captain of my own craft.) And not to be forgotten, world peace would be achieved and disease and hunger would be in the rear-view mirror.
So here we are, well over a half-century later, and it looks like the experts missed on just about every prediction. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been in a ship exploring space, we don’t have lunar or Martian colonies, and space exploration itself has been dialed way back because of the high cost. And I don’t know about you, but the last time I looked there was no flying car in my garage. Finally, the world’s big problems have not been solved and in fact have multiplied in some ways.
However, there are other things that have far exceeded predictions, so they were wrong about those too, just in a different direction. A quick example would be to compare Captain Kirk’s little communicator thingy — which seemed pretty futuristic to all of us fifty years ago — to a modern cellphone, which can do about a zillion things that Kirk’s gizmo couldn’t. In fact, you could probably combine the functions of several Star Trek gadgets into one of the newer smartphones.
And as long as we’re talking about science fiction, I remember an especially interesting missed prediction from one of those early movies. It might have been Forbidden Planet though I’m not sure, but in the film, which is supposed to be set a couple of hundred years in the future, space explorers find some artifacts from an advanced alien civilization. Among them are spinning silvery disks that contain speech and video. They’re flabbergasted and amazed and so were those of us who saw the movie, because we couldn’t imagine anything like that. And yet, within just a couple of decades CDs and DVDs were everywhere around us. But the missed prediction doesn’t stop there because now our present-day silvery disks are well on their way to obsolescence themselves, replaced by streaming content. So it’s a sort of double-miss in predictions.
But let’s deconstruct this a little and just focus on movies. As near as I can recall film lovers used to wish there was a way that they could have a library of their favorites to watch any time they wanted. I can remember reading about rich people who would set up a projector in their homes and show a new Hollywood movie for guests. Then there was a period where the average guy could borrow a sound-equipped projector and movies from the local library to take home for a few days, but that got cumbersome. Finally TVs got bigger and VCRs came along, followed by DVDs, and things got much better.
But the problem always remained that you could only afford to buy a limited number of movies and it took space to store them, so video rental places began to flourish — but you still didn’t have that library of favorites you always wanted, ready to watch at any time. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Modern streaming services have given most of us a way to easily watch thousands of choices on a big screen at the push of a button. It’s a system that’s far more comprehensive than any expert ever predicted would exist.
If I have a point to make with all this rambling, it’s just that it’s fine for experts to make predictions — and sometimes they’re even right — but the bottom line is probably closer to the title of Doris Day’s classic song below.