July 23, 2012
In 1985, author Orson Scott Card made a name for himself with the publication of his now-classic science fiction novel Ender’s Game. His book would go on to win the 1985 Nebula Award for best novel, the 1986 Hugo Award for best novel and would become required reading around the world (I remember reading it in a middle school English class).
But Card is perhaps better known today for his socially conservative political activism. The celebrated author is a National Organization for Marriage board member and has repeatedly spoken out against same-sex marriage, most recently supporting North Carolina’s controversial Amendment One.
Two years after the publication of Ender’s Game, Card contributed to a time capsule which was compiled by the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest and filled with predictions for the future. Specifically, the organizers asked contributors, “What will life be like in the year 2012?” The 1987 time capsule was opened this past April in Los Angeles and included contributions not only from Card, but 23 other science fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, and Jack Williamson.
However you interpret Card’s 1987 predictions ideologically, his vision of the future seems pessimistic to say the least—including worldwide economic collapse and human life without leisure. You can read his time capsule entry in its entirety below.
We must count ourselves lucky if anyone has leisure enough in 2012 to open this time capsule and care what is inside. In 2012 Americans will see the collapse of Imperial America, the Pax Americana, as having ended with our loss of national will and national selflessness in the 1970s. Worldwide economic collapse will have cost America its dominant world role; but it will not result in Russian hegemony; their economy is too dependent on the world economy to maintain an irresistible military force. A new world order will emerge from famine, disease, and social dislocations. The re-tribalization of Africa, the destruction of the illusion of Islamic unity, the struggle between aristocracy and proletariat in Latin America — without the financial support of the industrialized nations, the old order will be gone. The changes will be great as those emerging from the fall of Rome, with new power centers emerging wherever stability and security are established. The homogeneity of Israel will probably allow it to survive; Mexico and Japan may change rulers, but they will still be strong. If America is to recover, we must stop pretending to be what we were in 1950, and reorder our values away from pursuit of privilege.
The location of the time capsule ceremony points to how much can radically change in 25 short years. The ceremony took place in April 1987 at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, which was destroyed by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The time capsule was kept in a bank vault until it was opened at a ceremony this past April in Los Angeles.
We can probably expect Orson Scott Card to be making headlines in the coming year, though less for his politics and more for his creative output, as Hollywood is currently working on bringing Ender’s Game to the big screen. With director Gavin Hood (Rendition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) at the helm and actors Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley starring, the film is set to be released in November 2013.
Reading through the various 1987 predictions for the year 2012 gives us a fascinating peek at the minds of authors who spent a lot of time thinking about the future, and we’ll no doubt look at other predictions from this capsule of yestermorrow in the coming weeks.
February 23, 2012
American futurism of the 1970s is a fascinating mix of sleek Jetsonian utopianism and dreary mushroom cloud hellscapes. Nowhere is this dichotomy of tomorrowism more evident than in children’s drawings of the future.
I’ve always found that some of the most interesting predictions come from children, who tend to express ideas that reflect both the best and worst of any decade’s futurism. The 1970s was a rather contentious time in the United States. The country saw a tremendous loss of manufacturing jobs and a sharp spike in crime, but the moon landing of 1969 was still fresh in the public’s mind — even if the last person to set foot on the moon was in 1973. Kids were watching re-runs of The Jetsons (which only lasted one season in 1962-63) but the Vietnam War was still being hotly debated until the withdrawal of American forces in 1975. There was little faith in government, with President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the state of the environment was of growing concern.
The year 1976 marked America’s Bicentennial. As festivities were planned across the country, it became a time of reflection for rattled Americans who wanted to be hopeful about the future of the country.
The American oil company ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) celebrated the Bicentennial in a curious way, by soliciting and publishing the ideas of average Americans about what the United States would look like in the year 2076 — it’s Tricentennial. I found The Tricentennial Report, which was published in 1977, tucked away in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s library. The book explains in its introduction:
The people had been asked by Atlantic Richfield Company in newspapers, magazines and television advertisements, to discuss their country’s future. Some 60,000 Americans responded and this report is a distillation of their ideas and feelings.
The drawings by children are, of course, a highlight of the book.
The Tricentennial Program received hundreds of letters and drawings from schoolchildren throughout the United States. Here are a few examples, taken mainly from Dr. Harriet Eisenberg’s classes at John F. Kennedy High School in New York.
This drawing, by high schooler Eduardo del Villas, features soaring rockets and a jetpack pilot shouting the taunt, “I’m going to get you now you dumb bird!”
This drawing by Joanne Connaire seems to show children of the world joining hands in 2076, with their faces obscured, quite possibly wearing masks to protect themselves from whatever brown mass (air pollution?) is behind them.
High schooler Robert Berman took a stab at politics in the year 2076, with a robot campaigning to be president of the United States.
Tina Kambitsis created two drawings: one of the entire world being destroyed in a red mushroom cloud, the other a brand new Garden of Eden in the year 2076, with a bird remarking, “Uh-oh, here we go again.”
This vision of the far future, drawn by an unnamed fourth grader in Mary Ellen Caesar’s class at Sacred Heart School in Massachusetts, may be the most telling of the illustrations. The child imagines a return to the land in a way that seems to be more harmonious, a romanticization of the people in 1776 who were depicted as trading with the Indians and living a simpler life. The food crisis was on everyone’s mind in the 1970s, so the child imagined that this would encourage people of the future to have their own farms and gardens.
1776 — These people were colonists. They traded with the Indians. They lived in wooden houses.
2076 — In 2076 because of the food shortages many people have small farms and gardens.
And John F. Kennedy High School student Michael Urena drew what appears to be a commercial spaceliner, called The Friendly Bug, traveling to the moon.
December 7, 2011
Next year Arizona will celebrate 100 years of statehood. Born in 1909, Senator Barry Goldwater was just three years old when Arizona became the 48th state in the Union on February 14, 1912. In 1962 — two years before he would get the Republican nomination for president (and ultimately lose to Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide), Goldwater wrote an article for the February 14, 1962, edition of the Tucson Daily Citizen titled “Arizona’s Next Fifty Years.”
Imagining the world of 2012, Goldwater’s article looked at everything from where Arizona might get the water to support its rapidly growing population (the ocean seemed the most logical solution), to Arizona’s relationship with Mexico (he envisioned an open border). The article reads as a love letter to the state he grew up in and adored, while acknowledging that there may be some hurdles ahead.
I asked Jon Christensen his opinion of Senator Goldwater’s 1962 article. Jon is the executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University and he points out that, “Goldwater wrote in an era when the ‘new frontier’ was still something America believed in and yearned toward, before Kennedy was gunned down the next year in Dallas. Growth was the rocket fuel of that dream — population growth, economic growth, wall to wall houses filling the desert with nuclear families.”
Senator Goldwater opens the article by writing about his own family:
Fifty years from now, if things go well, I will be concerned only with heavenly surroundings, so any shortcoming or overstatements of this forecast will be of no concern for me. But my children, then ranging from 68 to 75 years of age, and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all ages, will be living in this heaven on earth — Arizona. So I looked into my crystal ball, determined to project the image of my native state 50 years hence with the accuracy of experience and the hope of love, trusting in the ability of man to restrain his bad side so that the good things I predict will be allowed to come true, and conversely to stimulate his good side so that man will make them come true.
Having come to that decision, I loosened my legs from the restraining ceiling of my desk and departed for another long walk across the floor of the desert which has been a part of my life.
Goldwater expresses concern about what the picturesque landscape of Arizona might look like after a growing population spreads into the more rugged and untouched areas of the state:
A desert rain, just passed, accentuated the pungency of the greasewood and I stopped my walk with the dreadful first decision that the man of 2012 would not be able to walk from his doorstep into this pastel paradise with its saguaro, the mesquite, the leap of a jackrabbit, the cholla or the smell of freshly wet greasewood, because people will have transgressed on the desert for homesite to accomodate a population of slightly over 10 million people. The forests will be protected, as well as our parks and monuments. But even they will have as neighbors the people who today enjoy hardships to visit them.
Goldwater predicted that the city of Phoenix would be either the fourth or sixth largest city in the United States. The 2010 census places Phoenix as the sixth largest city in the country (with just under 1.5 million people) behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. Though Arizona experienced steady population growth since 1962, that growth has slowed considerably in the last five years, which is most likely attributed to the recession and a bad job market.
But it will be the deserts that will support the majority of the new homes. Phoenix will have a population of about three million and Tucson will grow to about one and one-half million. Phoenix and Tucson will remain the two largest cities in the state, with Phoenix being either the fourth or six largest city in the United States.
However, spectacular increases in population will occur in Yuma, Flagstaff, Casa Grande, Sierra Vista and some yet unborn cities in the Harqua Hala Valley, near Cave Creek and east of Tucson. The growth of Glendale, Peoria and Avondale will parallel that of Phoenix proper, so that 50 years from now all of these cities will be contiguous with each other and with Phoenix, and will form a city complex not unlike the present city of Los Angeles.
When the book Inside U.S.A. by John Gunther was published in 1947, Arizona was still the youngest state in the Union. The book notes that “Only 329 square miles of its 113,909 are water, which means that water is by far its greatest problem.” Gunther writes that irrigation has made Phoenix lush: “Pass over in an airplane; the burgeoning green of the irrigated valley overlays the the desert as if painted there with shiny lacquer. This development derives from [the] Roosevelt Dam, which was one of the earliest federal reclamation projects.”
Goldwater explains in his article that he hopes water will be piped in from the ocean to alleviate the growing need for water in Arizona:
Long before this period of 50 years passes by, the large coastal cities will be getting their drinking [water] leasing the inland streams for inland consumption. But to augment our major sources of water we will also, long before 2012, be using water piped from the ocean for domestic purposes.
As farmland gives way to homesite in the central valley, farming will be done in an extensive way in the already developed areas around Yuma and in, as yet, undeveloped areas in the Centennial and Harqua Hala Valley lands with a much greater diversification of crops that we now have. Cotton, our main crop today, will dwindle in importance by the time 50 more years pass because more new man-made fibers will replace to a marked degree the need for cotton that we know today.
Goldwater understood that America’s move west would be even more pronounced in the latter half of the 20th century, and saw technology as a major factor in that growth. Christensen finds fault with Goldwater’s prediction about industry in Arizona: “What’s curious about Goldwater’s vision is that he thought the Arizona economy would be based on manufacturing. Instead Arizona made an economy fueled by service jobs, taken up by people who moved from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, to serve retirees following the same route, and by construction, to build those pastel Sun Cities where they would live.”
As the population center of the United States continues to move rapidly to the west, so will industry as to be near this new concentration of consumers. Arizona’s principal economic growth will be in the industrial field, with emphasis being on items of a technological nature. It will not be many years before industry will become an important part of the economies of most Arizona cities, whereas today it is more or less confined to a few.
Goldwater goes on to talk about Arizona government and interestingly believes that Indian reservations will radically transform, with the population of Native Americans growing rather than decreasing.
This industrial growth will, of course, depend upon the maintenance of a good governmental climate; but I expect the people of this state in the next 50 years will be able to maintain the same kind of good government in the state, county and local levels that the people of the first 50 years have to an almost complete degree.
Indian reservations as we know them today will no longer exist because the government will have deeded the lands to the Indians who now live on them. Indians will be with us in increasing instead of decreasing number, and as they become more and more educated, they will play a more and more important part in the life of Arizona.
Christensen is “intrigued by Goldwater’s view that Indian reservations would cease to exist, and Indians themselves would become just like other Arizonans; happy individual property owners. That was an old-fashioned view rather than a futurist vision by 1962.” Indeed, as an article in the Arizona Capitol Times noted earlier this month: “Anglos moving into the Arizona Territory during the late 1800s believed that the Native Americans already there should be acclimated into Anglo culture. During that time, Indian boarding schools were built and native children were removed from their homes and placed into these schools.”
Goldwater’s predictions of a wide open U.S.-Mexico border by 2012 may be the most surprising to contemporary readers, given the tenor of the current Republican presidential nomination debates, where candidates to various degrees have proposed tougher border controls to limit illegal immigration and narcotrafficking.
Our ties with Mexico will be much more firmly established in 2012 because sometime within the next 50 years the Mexican border will become as the Canadian border, a free one, with the formalities and red tape of ingress and egress cut to a minimum so that the residents of both countries can travel back and forth across the line as if it were not there.
Basking in the “frontier spirit” that Arizona has historically embraced, Goldwater calls on the rugged individualism that he sees as imperative to America’s progress:
Fifty years from now, even though Arizona’s population density will reach about 100 per square mile, there will still be lots of open space in which man can enjoy himself. Our watershed will improve, our forests will continue to grow, and even the Grand Canyon will be about three inches deeper.
Arizona will continue to be the haven for people who seek an outlet for initiative and a reward for work. The frontier challenges will exist then as they do today, for man’s progress never stops unless man stops it. Fortunately for our state, our men have always and will always want to go forward, not backward.
Goldwater finishes his article by writing about the generations to come that he’s sure will enjoy their lives in Arizona while he’s looking down from the heavens:
My children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as happy living here as I have been during the first 50 years of statehood, because the people will remain warm and kind and thoughtful. And even though much of what we now know as desert will have disappeared, there will remain a sufficient amount of natural beauty to satisfy all of the desires of the 10 million people who will live here.
In fact, even though I hope to be on Cloud Nine or Ten or whatever they allot me, I am sure that 50 years from now I will look down on this delightful spot on earth and be envious of the people who call Arizona their home in the year 2012.
November 30, 2011
George Gallup Jr., the son of Gallup Poll founder George Gallup died of liver cancer last week at the age of 81. Gallup Jr. wrote a book with William Proctor in 1984 titled Forecast 2000 that contained numerous predictions about the future of the United States. Gallup Jr., coming from a tradition of opinion polls, naturally hoped that there might be a methodical and scientific way to forecast future events. “In this book, my goal has been to minimize as far as possible idle speculation about the future and to substitute what I believe constitutes the most reliable and comprehensive predictive approach now available.”
The first chapter of the book focuses on war and terrorism. Gallup Jr. sets a scene in New York City in 1997 wherein terrorists — armed with a nuclear device — storm the Empire State Building’s observation deck. It’s interesting to see a scenario focused on nuclear terrorism which, in 1980, was a threat not often discussed by mainstream media outlets.
As we saw with the “panic-proof test” in a 1953 issue of Collier’s, New York is a popular target of fictional destruction. But why New York? Max Page notes in his book The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction, “To destroy New York is to strike symbolically at the heart of the United States. No city has been more often destroyed on paper, film, or canvas than New York’s.”
Gallup Jr., looking 13 years into the future, offers his take on the symbolic resonance of New York City:
It’s a warm, sunny spring afternoon. Office workers are just cleaning up cups and papers from their lunches in Central Park, Bryant Park, and other favorite outdoor spots.
But then the unusual big-city tranquility is shattered by news reports that begin to come through on portable radios scattered around the grassy patches. A terrorist group of some sort has take over the observation deck on top of the Empire State Building. The terrorists claim they have set up and armed a nuclear device. It’s quite a big bomb, they say — more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagaski.
As pedestrians gather in steadily growing clusters around the available radios, more information pours in: The terrorists are connected with some extreme anti-Israel faction. They have chosen New York City as their target because it has a larger Jewish population than any other city in the world — and also because much Zionist activity is centered there.
Gallup Jr. goes on to explain the demands of his fictional terrorists:
Their demands are nothing short of staggering: a $1 billion extortion payment… freedom for scores of named terrorists in prisons around the world… a guarantee of the political division of Jerusalem and the establishment of a sizable chunk of Israeli territory as a Palestinian homeland… their group is to be given absolute control over the designated portion of Israel…
The demands go on and on, and they’re topped off by a seemingly impossible deadline: The requirements must all be met by high noon the following day. Otherwise, the device will be exploded, and all of Manhattan Island and much of the surrounding area will be seared to the ground. Moreover, radiation will make the land for hundreds of miles around the explosion site uninhabitable indefinitely.
It’s a bit chilling for readers who remember the attacks of September 11, 2001 to read Gallup Jr.’s predictions about how shock, panic and a sense of helplessness encompass the city:
As the news of this threat spreads around the city, the reactions are varied. Most people stand or sit around just listening to the news. Some think the whole thing must be another Orson Welles joke — a phony broadcast designed to simulate reality. After all, there have been many other such dramatic programs in the past, and this is certainly just another to draw in a wide listening audience.
Others accept it as a real event, but they’re sure the terrorists are bluffing about the bomb. Still others are optimistic for other reasons: For example, they’re certain that one of the government’s antiterrorist teams will either overpower the offenders or negotiate a settlement of some sort.
A number of people are too stunned to move. A few panic, and either break down in tears or start running to their apartments to gather their valuables together with the idea of getting out of the city.
As the day wears on and night falls on the city, it becomes apparent that the broadcasts are no joke. Growing numbers of people — many more than the commuter lines to upstate New York and New Jersey can handle — try to get out of the city. Huge traffic jams build up, and there seem to be an unusual number of auto breakdowns and flat tires — more terrorist activity? people wonder.
As the night wears on, the terrorists hold firm to their demands, and the sense of panic rises. What if they’re serious? What if they really plan to explode that bomb? Increasing numbers of usually relaxed citizens begin to decide that perhaps they’d better waste no more time getting out of the city. But many don’t have cars — a necessity in most cities, but not in Manhattan because of the extensive public transportation system. And those who do have cars find they can’t even get close to the tunnels and bridges that lead out of the city. The one exception is Long Island — but who wants to get stuck out there if a nuclear bomb goes off in Manhattan?
Daybreak reveals many strained, haggard faces on the city sidewalks and in the jammed-up autos on New York City thoroughfares. There seems to be no escape from this dilemma. One attempt to overpower the terrorists has failed, with several attack helicopters shot down.
In his final paragraphs painting the scene, Gallup Jr. decides the city’s ultimate fate:
Finally, high noon arrives. New Yorkers sit glued to their radios and TV sets, waiting with bated breath. The negotiations have broken off, but there’s still hope that the terrorists will make some sort of counteroffer. That’s the way this sort of game is played, and most people believe there has to be a solution. After all, what’s the point in a bunch of terrorists blowing up an entire city when they’re in a position to get something, even if it’s not everything they asked for?
The lull continues through four minutes after twelve, then five minutes. A growing number of listeners and viewers begin to relax. Something good must be happening.
Then, the blinding light flashes into every dim corner of the city, and the roar follows almost simultaneously. But no one has heard the roar because the searing heat has destroyed all life.