[Futurist] The future is now: 100-year-old predictions about 2022
“Metaverse Masterclass” is a series of reports, articles and interviews from experts around different topics in Metaverse. This is an article by Mark Price, originally appeared here.
Today is tomorrow. The future is the present.
Nearly 100 years ago, a group of deep thinkers dared to ponder what life would be like in 2022. Some of their predictions fell amusingly short, but others have proved to be eerily accurate.
Join us now as we gaze into that crystal ball from 1922.
Life in the future
English author W.L. George (1882–1926) was nothing short of visionary when he imagined the amazing, remarkable world of 2022.
In a full-page article in the New York Herald, he made some startling prognostications — and it’s kind of spooky how many he got right.
Here are some of George’s prophecies from a century ago:
- “I suspect that commercial flying will have become entirely commonplace. The passenger steamer will survive on the coasts, but it will have disappeared on the main routes, and will have been replaced by flying convoys, which should cover the distance between London and New York in about 12 hours.”
- “The people of the year 2022 will probably never see a wire outlined against the sky: it is practically certain that wireless telegraphy and wireless telephones will have crushed the cable system long before the century is done.”
- “Coal will not be exhausted, but our reserves will be seriously depleted, and so will those of oil. One of the world dangers a century hence will be a shortage of fuel, but it is likely that by that time a great deal of power will be obtained from tides, from the sun, probably from radium and other forms of radial energy, while it may also be that atomic energy will be harnessed.”
- “The movies will be more attractive, as long before 2022 they will have been replaced by the kinephone, which now exists only in the laboratory. That is the figures on the screen will not only move, but they will have their natural colors and speak with ordinary voices.”
- “Many buildings now standing will be preserved. It is conceivable that the Capitol at Washington, many of the universities and churches will be standing a hundred years hence, and that they will, almost unaltered, be preserved by tradition.”
- “Naturally the work of the household, which is being reduced day by day, will in 2022 be a great deal lighter. I believe that most of the cleaning required today in a house will have been done away with. In the first place, through the disappearance of coal in all places where electricity is not made there will be no more smoke, perhaps not even that of tobacco.”
- “In the second place I have a vision of walls, furniture and hangings made of more or less compressed papier-mache, bound with brass or taping along the edges. Thus instead of scrubbing its floors, the year 2022 will unscrew the brass edges or unstitch the tapes and peel off the dirty surface of the floor or curtains.”
- “It is conceivable, though not certain, that in 2022 a complete meal may be taken in the shape of four pills. This is not entirely visionary; I am convinced that corned beef hash and pumpkin pie will still exist.”
- “The child is likely to be taken over by the state, not only schooled but fed and clad, and at the end of its training placed in a post suitable to its abilities.”
- “It is practically certain that in 2022 nearly all women will have discarded the idea that they are primarily ‘makers of men.’ Most fit women will then be following an individual career. All positions will be open to them and a great many women will have risen high.”
- “The year 2022 will probably see a large number of women in Congress, a great many on the judicial bench, many in civil service posts and perhaps some in the president’s Cabinet. But it is unlikely that women will have achieved equality with men.”
- “Marriage will still exist much as it is today, for mankind has an inveterate taste for the institution, but divorce will probably be as easy everywhere as it is in Nevada.”
- “I suspect that those wars to come will be made horrible beyond my conception by new poison gases, inextinguishable flames and lightproof smoke clouds. In those wars the airplane bomb will seem as out of date as is today the hatchet.”
- “As regards the United States in particular, it is likely that the country will have come to a complete settlement, with a population of about 240,000,000. The idea of North and South, East and West will have almost disappeared.”
- “In 2022, American literature will be a literature of culture. The battle will be over and the muzzle off. There will be no more things one can’t say, and things one can’t think. No doubt there will be in 2022 people who think as they would have thought in 1922, or even a little earlier, but a great liberalism of mind will prevail.”
- “Americans will be less enterprising and much more pleasure loving. They will have rebelled against long hours; the chances are that in 2022 few people will work more than seven hours a day, if as much. The effect of this, which I am sure sounds regrettable to many of my readers, will, in my opinion, be good.”
New York in 2022
New York professor Ferdinand Shuler imagined Manhattan as a Utopian metropolis of skyscrapers, moving sidewalks and canals instead of streets.
Here are some of the fantastic things he predicted for New York City by 2022:
- Buildings would be 60 to 80 stories high, composed of glass, steel and concrete. They would be enclosed in double walls of glass.
- Enormous bridges would connect the gigantic buildings at different levels and help hold them up, turning the entire city into one great structure.
- People working and living in the buildings would bask in scientifically diffused light, contributing to their well-being.
- Rolling sidewalks operated by electromagnetic power would connect buildings.
- Canals would replace streets, providing a place for bathing, canoeing and power boating.
- Trains would travel on glass plates and reach speeds of 200 mph.
- Anti-gravity screens would prevent airplanes from falling out of the sky.
- Luxury airships would have elevators, rolling floors, swimming pools and “practically every convenience.”
- Food would be selected on “a scientific basis with regard to its curative properties,” so that “the ills of the flesh” will be reduced to a minimum and few medicines taken.
- Restaurants would offer self-serving tables with meals rising from kitchens one floor below.
Cleaner and brighter
New York scientist Charles Steinmetz, a proponent of electrical power, imagined a cleaner future after society adopted the “chimneyless house” by 2022.
“It is reasonable to expect that all the domestic and industrial work of the city, all locomotion and transportation, will some time be done by electricity, and that in a not very distant future, fires and combustion will be altogether forbidden by law within city limits and dangerous and unsanitary,” he noted.
He also predicted that humans would harness the sun’s energy.
“At present, I could imagine a great structure under glass of magnifying power which could concentrate the sun’s rays,” he said. “But how the power which they would generate and which they contain could be stored, I am not ready to say.”
Can you read this?
We should all be wearing spectacles by now.
Edward Van Cline, managing director of the National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness, spoke at the group’s 1922 meeting in Manhattan.
Van Cline told the gathering: “An English scientist prognosticates that within 100 years every man, woman and child in the United States will be wearing glasses. He declares that the American obsession for glory, haste and the pace that kills is responsible; that our skyscrapers shut out nature’s light, destroying the space necessary to vision; that our brilliant lights are a menace to sight; that the American spirit is impatient of darkness, and that lack of time prevents the health exercise of walking, which keeps the body in good condition.”
Far from the city
Chicago futurist R.F. Kellum anticipated many changes by 2022, including a dramatic shift from city to suburb:
- “Almost anybody able to pay the rent will own an automobile — cars will be that common.”
- “There is no reason why people should be cooped up in the heart of a city when they can live out where the ozone whisks.”
- “The suburbs will extend as far away as 100 miles from the center of the city.”
- “Office buildings will take the place of residences and everybody will live out of town.”
The worm and the turtle
Wilbur Sutton, managing editor of the Muncie Evening Press in Indiana, lamented that “a multiplicity of laws” had led to paralyzing bureaucracy.
“The American people, who long have boasted of their freedom, some day will have to begin tearing down some of their statutes and abolishing a few thousand commission boards, and systems, or the individual American in the year 2022 will be as spineless as an angleworm and will have about as much initiative and resourcefulness as the slow-going turtle,” he wrote in 1922.
Vive la France?
No one would be left to appreciate the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe.
French scientists were concerned about the nation’s birth rate 100 years ago. In 1860, there had been 1 million births in the country. In 1922, the number had fallen to 450,000.
As one observer noted: “At the rate of decline in number of children born in that country, in the year 2022 — 100 years hence — there will be nobody left in France, except as they drift in from other sections of Europe. The figures show, unerringly, that the present rate of decrease, maintained for 100 years, would reduce the birthrate to zero.”
Life in the country
The people of 2022 would reside in “airship-houses” and enjoy a life of leisure.
An opinion piece titled “Big Laughs Coming” appeared in dozens of U.S. newspapers in 1922. The unknown author’s conclusion:
“In the future, automatic machinery and inventions will free men from industrial slavery. Cheap and fast-flying airplanes will enable all to live in the country. Cities, at night, will be deserted groups of factory buildings.
“We, voluntarily imprisoned in cramped apartments or small houses, will seem queer to our descendants. Daily we go to work in our prison cells, to pound typewriter keys, push a pen or perform monotonous operations with machinery — when we might all be free in the outdoors of farmland.
“Will the future consider us laughable, pathetic or crazy?”
The future newspaper
Charles Taylor Jr., manager of the Boston Globe, had no worries about journalism 100 years hence.
“We newspaper men should not get pessimistic about the future newspaper,” he told an interviewer in 1922. “It will be all right. The radio-phone is not going to take the place of it any more than the wireless has taken the place of the telephone.
“The printed word, that one can read and digest, will always be popular. The newspaper is on the earth to stay. What it will be no one can say, but this you may swear by: It will be just what the public demands, and the publisher who is wise will meet the demand.”