Forward into the past: Look back on our visions of the future

I want my flying car.


We were promised that, you know. Anyone who read science fiction growing up knows that, by now, we’re supposed to have – at the very least – a flying car and a robot servant.

It’s long been a fun diversion for me to read really old sci-fi stories – from the 1930s to the ’50s, sci-fi’s golden age – and muse over the authors’ visions of the future, which is now our present. Sometimes they’re spot-on.

Often they’re way off, such as the robot thing. To hear authors Lester del Rey or Issac Asimov describe it, folks by now should own robots with the same ubiquity as, say, microwave ovens today.

And almost nobody foretold anything like the Internet.

At least one brilliant prediction came from Philip K. Dick, who wrote a few short stories in the 1960s that presaged today’s morphing of a lot of broadcast journalism into execrable infotainment. He invented a character named Jim-Jam Briskin, whose job title was “news clown” – a man who would take to the airwaves wearing greasepaint and a funny wig and, under the guise of a newscast, wisecrack about current events.

Take a look these days at nighttime cable news offerings. Who’s your favorite news clown?

I thought about all this when I saw a Facebook posting the other day from Barry Paschal, former publisher of The Columbia County News-Times and current tireless advocate for Goodwill Industries. He came across an interesting Augusta Chronicle clipping from 1927 that listed 27 “Ambitions for Augusta,” as envisioned by the paper’s editor at the time, Thomas J. Hamilton.

A lot of those ambitions dealt with paving roads, and I’m not surprised. Legendary Augusta civic booster Lester Moody often told the story that, upon first arriving in Augusta in 1926, he didn’t see a single paved road leading into the city.

It’s an interesting list. It’s not science fiction, but it’s fascinating reading. Here are some of those stated future goals from 1927:

• “For Augusta to acquire (an) aviation field and to become (the) South’s greatest airport.” Dang. It appears Atlanta got a tad ahead of us.

• “For a city planning commission that will ... make plans for an Augusta of 1975 with half a million people.” The latest Census estimate puts Augusta now at a shade under 200,000.

• “To encourage the government to keep on expanding its great Veterans’ Hospital and have a hospital here with 1,000 beds.” We’ve got a fine start. The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, according to its website, has 470 beds in its Uptown and Downtown divisions.

• “Make our Junior College an outstanding success and begin to plan for the University of Augusta, a great institution of learning to be supported by municipal Augusta and endowed by our wealthy citizens.” Looks like folks in 1927 didn’t pick the name “Georgia Regents University,” either. That’s the wisdom of our ancestors talking.

• “For close cooperation between municipal Augusta and (the) Richmond County Commission and for the city to work in harmony with the county educationally, and in every other matter affecting public interests.” A desire for harmony in local government, eh? Maybe this is science fiction after all.

Newspapers must love publishing predictions. Sift through enough old papers and you’ll find a bunch. The common launching point for predictions used to be built on the phrase “by the year 2000.”

Here’s one I found in another old Chronicle. In 1970, famed academic John M. Bevan spoke at then-Augusta College, and told an audience for the school’s Cullum Series of lectures that, by 2000, “the average man will work only two hours a day.” So, good news – odds are, you’re above-average.

A 1947 Chronicle featured a long “year 2000” essay by Archibald M. Low, whose byline credit listed him as a “Distinguished British Professor.” He wasn’t actually a professor, but history credits him as (1) the father of radio guidance systems, and (2) a bit of a flake,
because of his mercurial personality.

Low’s predictions were all over the place. “By 2000 A.D. any airplane with a top speed of much less than 3,000 miles per hour will probably be considered
out of date,” he said. Even the most sophisticated hypersonic aircraft have barely scratched that. Low thought you’d be able to fly from New York City to London in an hour; it’s more like seven or eight.

Low predicted men landing on the moon by 2000. Spot-on. He also predicted regular tourist excursions to the moon by 2000. Way off.

But he said radios and televisions would be “standard installations” in homes. And he predicted satellite communication, and that “pocket radios no larger than a cigarette case will be carried to receive phone calls when walking in the street.” Whoa.

In 1909, scientific lecturer Reno B. Welbourn came to Augusta to demonstrate what was then cutting-edge technology – items such as wireless telegraphy and solar power. The Chronicle reported: “His lecture was a general prophecy of the good times ahead, A.D. 2000, when men will not only have comprehended but mastered the great forces underlying
the universe; when they have come to an understanding of
each other ... . As a consequence peace would be universal – peace which is God’s greatest blessing to man.”

See what I mean? He didn’t have the slightest inkling.



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