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The Past May Be Prologue


In these difficult times, it's natural to wonder about the future. And it's interesting, as well as instructive, to look back a ways and see how people foresaw what life would be like in our times.

As the 19th century turned to the 20th, for instance, the rapidly industrializing United States was strutting proudly as a new world power. And the average citizen, dazzled by technological miracles like the automobile, dreamed of even more wondrous times to come.

In 1900, city schools were excellent. Urban parks were opening across the country. Millions of Americans were leaving farms for the cities, where they made enough money to buy a car and relax occasionally at the beach or a baseball game.

Futuristic essays brimmed with optimism. They lauded technology and change. One essayist envisioned Americans in 2000 whooshing around the country in capsules inside pneumatic tubes. You know, the pipes that suck cylindrical containers like sales receipts from place to place in old-fashioned businesses - only these were envisioned as big enough to propel capsules full of people safely from city to city.

The Ladies Home Journal in 1900 correctly foresaw the average American a century hence as 2.5 to 5 centimeters taller because of advances in nutrition and medicine. The magazine also guessed that we would bebuying ready-cooked meals in stores and zipping them home, once again in pneumatic tubes. In medicine, invisible light rays would see through flesh to lay bare vital organs.

That X-ray prediction worked out, too. Others did not. We'd tell you more, but we have to stop now because the pizza deliveryman just arrived in the office pneumatic tube.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.

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