November 1, 2012
There seems to be two occasions when people most enjoy making predictions: anniversaries (think the American Bicentennial, New Year’s, etc) and dates that include round numbers (any year ending in zero). Such was the case in 1950 when many people halfway through the 20th century enjoyed predicting what life would be like in the year 2000 — obviously the roundest numbered year of our modern age.
The January 1950 issue of Redbook magazine asked, “What will the world of 2000 A.D. be like? Will the machine replace man? How will our children and grandchildren spend their leisure? How, indeed, will they look?” The mag asked four experts — curiously all men, given that Redbook was and is a magazine aimed at women — about what the world may look like fifty years hence.
Aldous Huxley, author of the 1931 dystopian novel Brave New World, looked at working life in the year 2000. Specifically, how people might work in the home, in the laboratory, in the office, in the factory and on the farm.
Aldous Huxley began his article by describing the major challenges that would confront the world at the dawn of the 21st century. He predicted that the global population would swell to 3 billion people — a figure less than half of the 6.1 billion that would prove to be a reality by 2000.
During the next fifty years mankind will face three great problems: the problem of avoiding war; the problem of feeding and clothing a population of two and a quarter billions which, by 2000 A.D., will have grown to upward of three billions, and the problem of supplying these billions without ruining the planet’s irreplaceable resources.
Let us assume—and unhappily it is a large assumption—that the nations can agree to live in peace. In this event mankind will be free to devote all its energy and skill to the solution of its other major problems.
Huxley’s predictions for food production in the year 2000 are largely a call for the conservation of resources. He correctly points out that meat production can be far less efficient than using agricultural lands for crops. Moreover, he discusses the growing importance of synthetic materials (a reality we take for granted in so many ways today). His description of synthetics was incredibly prescient, if not very surprising, coming from a man whose most famous novel imagined a high-tech world built on mass production.
By 2000, let us hope, the peoples of the world will have adopted a program to increase the planet’s output of food and other necessities, while conserving its resources. Because all available land will be needed for food production, concerted efforts will be made to derive all the fibers used for textiles from inorganic materials or vegetable wastes. Food crops will be cultivated on the land now devoted to cotton, flax, hemp and jute, and, since wool will no longer be used, the huge flocks of sheep which now menace Australian and North American watersheds will be greatly diminished. Because of the need to give overworked soil a rest and to extract the greatest possible number of calories from every acre under cultivation, meat production, which is fantastically wasteful of land, will be cut down, and increasing attention will be given to the products, vegetable no less than animal, of the ocean. Landlocked inlets, lakes, ponds and swamps will be scientifically farmed.
In many parts of the world forests are being recklessly destroyed. To conserve them we shall have to develop new types of synthetic building materials and new sources for paper. That the production of a comic supplement should entail the death of thousands of magnificent trees is a scandal which cannot much longer be tolerated.
How will individuals be affected by all this? For many farmers the changes will mean a shift from one kind of production to another. For many others they will entail a transfer to the chemical industry. For the chemical industry is bound to grow more important as world erosion compels us, for the sake of the land, to rely increasingly on synthetics derived from practically inexhaustible inorganic materials.
The world of 2000 A.D. was seen by many to be one of increased leisure. But Huxley sees that potential for better working conditions and increased standards of living as obtainable only through a sustained peace. These same predictions of a leisure-oriented society, by Huxley and others living mid-century, would inspire the push-button cliche later parodied in the 1962 TV show “The Jetsons.”
Perhaps Huxley’s most inaccurate prediction is his assumption that an increase in productivity will mean an increase in wages for the average worker. As we’ve seen over the last half a century, increased worker productivity has not led to a dramatic increase in wages.
That enormous technological advances will be recorded during the next fifty years is certain. But to the worker as a worker, such advances will not necessarily be of great significance. It makes very little difference to the textile worker whether the stuff he handles is the product of a worm, a plant, a mammal or a chemical laboratory. Work is work, and what matters to the worker is neither the product nor the technical process, but the pay, the hours, the attitude of the boss, the physical environment. To most office and factory workers in 2000 the application of nuclear fission to industry will mean very little. What they will care about is what their fathers and mothers care about today—improvement in the conditions of labor. Given peace, it should be possible, within the next fifty years, to improve working conditions very considerably. Better equipped, workers will produce more and therefore earn more. Meanwhile most of the hideous relics of the industrial Middle Ages will have been replaced by new factories, offices and homes. More and more factories and offices will be relocated in small country communities, where life is cheaper, pleasanter and more genuinely human than in those breeding-grounds of mass neurosis, the great metropolitan centers of today. Decentralization may help to check that march toward the asylum, which is a threat to our civilization hardly less grave than that of erosion and A-bomb.
Huxley rightly predicts that the world would have to face the challenges that go along with having an aging population. Huxley himself would only live to see the year 1963, but he acknowledged what life would be like for young people reading his article.
If the finished product means little to the worker, it means much to the housewife. New synthetic building materials will be easier to keep clean. New solar heating systems will be cheaper and less messy. Electronics in the kitchen will greatly simplify the task of the cook. In a word, by 2000 the business of living should have become decidedly less arduous than it is at present. But, though less arduous, it will last on the average a good deal longer. In 2000 there will be more elderly people in the world than at any previous time. In many countries the citizens of sixty-five and over will outnumber the boys and girls of fifteen and under. Pensions and a pointless leisure offer no solution to the problems of an aging population. In 2000 the younger readers of this article, who will then be in their seventies, will probably be inhabiting a world in which the old are provided with opportunities for using their experience and remaining strength in ways satisfactory to themselves, and valuable to the community.
All in all, I’d say that Huxley’s predictions were fairly accurate in spirit. Like so many prominent people of mid-century, he fails to predict or consider the dramatic social changes that would occur which had a direct impact on the 21st century workforce. But his idea that “work is work” and people simply want to find the best work they can with the best conditions and pay seems to be a timeless observation.
What do you say? I’m by no means an expert on Huxley and would welcome the opinion of others who may be able to read between the lines and offer insight into his vision of the year 2000.
October 18, 2012
NASA had an unwritten rule that married astronauts couldn’t be sent into space together. Davis and Lee had been assigned to the mission in 1989 but were later married in January 1991. After the agency learned of their marriage, NASA took two months to review the situation and believed that both were too important to the mission (the second flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour) for either of them to be removed. The couple had no children and NASA explained that if they had, they most certainly wouldn’t have flown together.
Their flight was a minor public relations scandal because of an obvious question that reporters of the time were not shy about asking: would they be having sex in space? The answer from the astronauts and NASA was an unequivocal “no”.
Outside of science fiction, the topic of sex in space has received surprisingly scant attention. But it was science fiction that inspired Dr. Robert S. Richardson to write an article in the March 1956 issue of Sexology: The Magazine of Sex Science, wherein he describes his vision of what sexual relations might look like when space travel is a reality. This was a year and a half before the launch of Sputnik, so the Space Age wasn’t even firing on all thrusters yet. But Dr. Richardson opens his article by discussing his frustration with the fact that sex is never addressed in any of the sci-fi shows on TV. Given the reputation of 1950s broadcasting as a sexless environment — where married couples on programs like I Love Lucy had to sleep in separate beds, and wouldn’t even say the word “pregnant” — Richardson’s surprise comes across as a bit disingenuous. Nonetheless, Richardson makes his case for what he believes the future of sex in space might look like.
From the introduction to the 1956 article:
Recent announcements by the United States and Soviet Governments that they are planning space satellites and space rockets have stimulated universal interest in the problems of space travel. Space voyages to Mars will take a long time, and settlements on the distant plants will be lonely. While much has been written about the various scientific aspects of space travel, this is the first article which deals with the important medical problem: How will the natural sexual needs of early space travelers be met so as to provide a modicum of mental health for the space pioneers?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr. Richardson’s views on women in space aren’t the most enlightened. He writes under the assumption that only men will be astronauts and that these men will have certain carnal needs to be met during long missions in space. Many of Richardson’s ideas about space, and especially Mars, clearly come from the Collier’s series of articles on space travel from 1952 to 1954. Interestingly, Richardson becomes fixated on Mars throughout the article, ignoring the moon — a place humans wouldn’t even sink their boots until a full 13 years after his article was published.
Richardson compares the establishment of an inevitable Martian base to the experience of military men in remote regions of the Arctic. But unlike relatively short tours in Greenland of a year or less, he acknowledges that a trip to Mars would be an adventure of three years or more.
But can healthy young men work efficiently and harmoniously for long without women ?
Reactions to this question vary widely. There are some who think it outrageous that sex should enter into the question at all. Just forget about the women. Keep busy and you won’t need to worry.
Others recognize sex as a disturbing factor, but feel it is not too serious. In the old days, sailors made long voyages without women and still managed to perform their duties and bring the ship into port. They admit there was sexual over-indulgence soon after the sailors got on shore, but that was only to be expected. The remark heard most often is that the men turn to homosexualism and auto-eroticism during extended voyages.
None of these answers meets the problem squarely. They either side-step the issue or suggest some degrading compromise solution.
Richardson’s solution to the problem of loneliness for astronaut men sailing towards Mars is rather offensive, proposing that women tag along as sex objects with a mission to serve the crew (and take dictation when necessary).
In our expedition to Mars, let our healthy young males take along some healthy young females to serve as their sexual partners. (Of course it would also help if they could operate a radio transmitter and take dictation.) These women would accompany them quite openly for this purpose. There would be no secrecy about this. There would be nothing dishonorable about their assignment. They would be women of the kind we ordinarily speak of as “nice girls.”
“But then they wouldn’t be nice girls any more!” people will object.
Judged by the arbitrary standards of our present social reference system, they certainly would not. But in our new social reference system they would be nice girls. Or rather, the girls would be the same, but our way of thinking about them would be different.
It is possible that ultimately the most important result of space travel will be not what we discover upon the planets, but rather the changes that our widening outlook will effect upon our way of thinking. Will men and women bold enough to venture into space feel that they are still bound by often artificial and outmoded conventions of behavior prevalent upon a planet fifty million miles behind them ? May not men and women upon another world develop a social reference system — shocking as judged by us on earth today — but entirely “moral” according to extra-terrestrial standards?
This last bit of speculation — of proposing that on other planets people may develop their own set of cultural and moral standards by which to judge sexual activity — would certainly be an interesting discussion to have, if it weren’t predicated on the notion that women would necessarily be secretaries and sex objects acting at the pleasure of the all-male astronaut crew.
As far as we know, no one has yet had sex in space. But when they inevitably do, I suspect neither party will need to supplement their astronautic duties by taking dictation.
May 23, 2012
Online dating sites like eHarmony and OkCupid claim they can find you the perfect romantic match by using algorithms. These kinds of sites have catchy slogans like “date smarter, not harder,” implying that they’ve finally perfected a scientific approach to matchmaking. Just answer a few questions, and their super-secret love science will find the person who is right for you.
While much of the “science” behind online dating sites has been called into question, that doesn’t seem to dissuade us from wanting to make the messy (and often frustrating) world of romantic love into something quantifiable. This idea, of course, is nothing new—and at least one futurist thinker of the early 20th century hoped that new technological developments might one day create the perfect matchmaking device.
The April 1924 issue of Science and Invention magazine ran an article by Hugo Gernsback, the magazine’s publisher, which examined the different “scientific” ways to determine if a marriage will succeed or fail.
How much would the average man or woman give to know beforehand if his or her prospective married life is to be success or failure? At present, marriage is a lottery. It seems impossible to predict beforehand how your prospective mate will turn out in the future. Through certain fundamentals, which can easily be ascertained, one can be reasonably certain as to one’s choice. We take extreme care in breeding horses, dogs and cats, but when we come to ourselves we are extremely careless and do not use our heads nor the means that science puts in our hands for scientific breeding. There are certain basic tests which can be made today and which will give one a reasonable assurance of married happiness.
In the article Gernsback explains four different tests that can be administered to a couple in order to determine scientifically whether a marriage will work.
1) Physical Attraction Test
According to Gernsback, physical attraction is the single most important element for a successful marriage. He explains that in order to measure the level of a couple’s physical attraction for one another, electrodes must be attached to each person’s wrist so that an “electrical sphygmograph” can record their pulse. Then a chain is wrapped around their chests to measure breathing:
…around the chest of each is a chain which is secured to a piece of spring covered by a rubber hose. One end of the tube thus formed is sealed, the other connects to a manometer and also to a tambour supplied with a stylus. The stylus leaves a record on a moving paper tape showing the rate of respiration.
Essentially, if your pulse rate rises and you breathe more quickly while embracing or kissing your partner, Gernsback contends that this is scientific evidence of physical attraction.
2) Sympathy Test
The sympathy test involves one of the partners watching the other go through something mildly traumatic, like having blood drawn. In the illustration below, the young woman watches her partner and if her muscular contractions and sudden inhalations “due to excitement” are wild enough, then she’s supposed to be sufficiently sympathetic to him as a partner.
3) Body Odor Test
Interestingly, Gernsback claims that more marriages are probably wrecked by body odors than any other cause. During the body odor test, the couple is made to smell each other (“not a pleasant experience,” Gernsback opines) by one person being placed inside a large capsule with a hose coming out the top. The hose is led to the nose of the other person and if the smells aren’t found too objectionable (again, measured by devices strapped to the chest and wrist) then the romantic pairing is deemed safe.
4) Nervous Disorder Test
According to Gernsback it’s important that at least one partner can be calm under pressure. The nervous disorder test is perhaps the most amusing in that it imagines a man (let’s call him Professor Sixshooter) delivering a surprise gunshot in the air. The “nervous reaction” of both people is recorded on tape and if they both are too startled “marriage should not take place.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little uneasy if my partner wasn’t startled at the sound of a gunshot.
February 9, 2012
In 1930 Frederick Edwin Smith, the First Earl of Birkenhead, wrote a book, The World in 2030 A.D., containing predictions about war (it’ll be less vicious when the world is a “single economic unit”), the state of agriculture (it will gradually go extinct), and the effects of science (Einsteinian physics will “provide the instinctive background to all men’s minds.”)
But the chapter that really stuck out for me was the one about women in the year 2030, which included predictions about ectogenesis; creating life outside of the body, presumably in a laboratory setting. The author claims that this will be the first step to men and women being paid equal wages for the same work, and usher in a brave new world that enables women to vastly “expand their accomplishments in every sphere of life.”
In 2030, the prospect of woman’s liberation from the dangers of childbirth will almost certainly become a matter of general realisation. This evolution, the most serious biological departure since the natural separation of living organisms into two sexes, will vitally transform the whole status of women in society. Unless their present importance and limitations be clearly apprehended, their future development cannot be apprehended.
Science as I hinted in a previous chapter, already foreshadows the possibility of producing living offspring in the laboratory from the germs of various animal species. Hitherto no living animal has been brought to birth ab initio; but the foetus of various species has been removed from the maternal organism and further developed by skilful manipulation in biological laboratories. It is certain that scientists will one day succeed in producing a living human infant by such means. This process, known as ectogenesis, will be violently and furiously opposed by the spiritual descendants of all those who now attack contraception….The first practitioners of ectogenesis will possibly obtain the crown of martyrdom.
Today, some religious groups oppose in vitro fertilization on the grounds that the act of procreation is disconnected from the love of the parents, who have been joined together in sacred matrimony. Frederick Edwin Smith foresaw such concerns.
Although its economic effect on woman is the most important result which ectogenesis will bring, I must consider also its effects on marriage and family life, as we know them. First, ectogenesis will entirely divorce physical love from the reproduction of the species. The common practice of contraception has already, in some measure, accustomed certain classes of the population to this idea; its complete realisation will occupy many generations and create a violent social readjustment.
This idea of separating romantic love from the procreation equation showed up in popular media of the early 1930s. A book by Ira S. Wilde in 1933 predicted that by 2033 we would see governments deciding who might be allowed to marry. The 1930 movie Just Imagine even farcically shows people getting their baby from a vending machine. And, of course, the classic dystopian novel Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley portrayed a future where children are raised in labs and conditioning centers, and the word “mother” has become an obscenity.
January 20, 2012
In December 1950, newspapers across the country ran a piece distributed by the Associated Press titled “How Experts Think We’ll Live in 2000 A.D.” That article was written by a number of different editors at the AP and covered everything from the future of movies to the state of the economy in the year 2000. It also contained predictions from editor Dorothy Roe about the typical woman of the year 2000. Roe describes her as having perfect proportions: six feet tall and competing with men in sports like football and wrestling. Roe’s meal-pill-popping woman of tomorrow also has prominent positions in the world of government and business, with a final sentence proclaiming that she may even be president.
The woman of the year 2000 will be an outsize Diana, anthropologists and beauty experts predict. She will be more than six feet tall, wear a size 11 shoe, have shoulders like a wrestler and muscles like a truck driver.
Chances are she will be doing a man’s job, and for this reason will dress to fit her role. Her hair will be cropped short, so as not to get in the way. She probably will wear the most functional clothes in the daytime, go frilly only after dark.
Slacks probably will be her usual workaday costume. These will be of synthetic fiber, treated to keep her warm in winter and cool in summer, admit the beneficial ultra-violet rays and keep out the burning ones. They will be light weight and equipped with pockets for food capsules, which she will eat instead of meat and potatoes.
Her proportions will be perfect, though Amazonian, because science will have perfected a balanced ration of vitamins, proteins and minerals that will produce the maximum bodily efficiency, the minimum of fat.
She will go in for all kinds of sports – probably will compete with men athletes in football, baseball, prizefighting and wrestling.
She’ll be in on all the high-level groups of finance, business and government.
She may even be president.
The illustration to the right appeared in the December 24, 1949 Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Missouri) as part of an earlier syndicated Associated Press piece about the woman of the year 2000. This piece also mentions the expected physical growth and strength of women in the future, quoting Ann Delafield, a woman known for the “reducing plans” she advertised in women’s magazines of the early 1950s. Humorously, Ms. Delafield seems to believe that an abundance of sunshine is contributing to the growth of women during this era.
“Nature seems bent on producing a new race of Amazons. Within the next 50 years you’ll find the emancipated woman engaging actively in such sports as football, baseball and soccer. She’ll think nothing of chopping the wood and acting as family car mechanic.”
Miss Delafield has found that the shoulders of girls are 2 to 3 inches wider than their mothers’, their gloves are several sizes larger than Mom’s, and many a gal stoops down to kiss her teen age boy friend. Says Miss Delafield:
“Goodness knows what will happen if they continue to soak up vitamins and sunshine and just keep sprouting. Girls from the sunshine states, California, Texas and New Mexico can dwarf the girls from the Northeast.”