We had a little blizzard here yesterday–a foot of snow, single-digit temperatures . . . the usual. It was bad enough that our Boston Globe couldn’t be delivered. So we were forced to go modern, and download the digital version onto our his-and-hers iPads:
Reading a hardcopy version of the newspaper is, of course, hopelessly old-fashioned, but we’re a bit stuck in our ways. And this reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s 1964 essay about what life would be like 50 years in the future. It was written in response to the New York World’s Fair that year–and hey, I was there! (I don’t remember much about the exhibits he talks about, but I do recall standing on a moving walkway to view Michelangelo’s Pietà.)
Predicting the future is tough, as I realized when I re-read some of my old science fiction.
This is the sort of thing Asimov gets more or less wrong:
One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.
Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.
He gets some things right, of course:
Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the ’64 General Motors exhibit).
Bu the most interesting prediction is probably this one:
Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.
This hints correctly at the rise of automation and service jobs, but obviously Asimov didn’t foresee his-and-hers iPads. How can you be bored with them?