Ever wonder about the material dreams and desires of our forebears? What they wanted, which problems they were certain would be solved by hope, the ingenuity of their fellow men, and the passage of time? The excellent Paleofuture blog knows. It seems the desire to shop online was recorded as early as 1967, apparently at a time when strict gender roles were ossified, not fossilized. (See video below of shopping housewife, then anxious husband receiving the handwritten bill in the “his” of their his-and-hers companion consoles.)
The most amazing part of the past imagining the future is seeing the things they’d prefer to stay the same, and the ones they’d like to change. Convenience could always be bettered by ingenuity, but culture seemed best left alone. In the late-1800s people imagined that in the year 2000, their great grandchildren would still be wearing monocles and flouncy dresses, still be wanting to spend their leisure at the opera, only instead of going in a heaving carriage hitched to the pooping end of a horse, they’d be in bug-eyed flying canoes.
In 1899, French people dared imagine the day when, instead of coddling chickens through their fragile babyhoods, a machine could crank an egg out to a chirping chick in a matter of moments. After a quick stop at the feeding trough, they’d be full-grown chickens. Personal flying machines were all the rage, an idea the unfaithful found particularly alluring. And crazy Thomas Edison predicted that: “a book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes; six inches in aggregate thickness, it would suffice for all the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And each volume would weigh less than a pound.”
Some of these visions of the future are still plenty relevant. A roof over New York? Pull it back on spring days like these, but in a cold rain while there’s still slush on the ground, yes please. Same for a humid August — and don’t forget to turn on that city-wide breeze machine.
My phone may keep me from having to remember anything ever again, but it isn’t all fun and progress here in the actual future. It’s sad to say, but some dreams are also drifting hopelessly further from our grasp.