Matt Novak knows better than anyone what the world was supposed to look like. As the founder of the Paleofuture blog, he collects old postcards, newspapers, magazines, and other media that depict the future as it has been imagined in the past—as far back as the 1870s, in some cases. Some of these ye olde predictions have come true (electronic libraries). Others, not so much (still waiting on that live-in ape chauffeur). We asked Novak, whose blog is now hosted by the Smithsonian, about a few of his favorite finds.
1957 ad in Scientific American for Hughes Products’ Tonotron
Novak: “The idea of the videophone has been around almost as long as the telephone itself. Like many futuristic ideas, the ‘picturephone,’ as it was then known, didn’t quite pan out as telephone companies hoped.”
Accuracy: Instead we got Skype and FaceTime.
1900 Cartoon in the Brown County Democrat (De Pere, Wisconsin)
Novak: “This cartoon was likely a comment on the rapid shift in transportation technologies at the time. For example, bicycles had become a national sensation, with over a million being sold every year by the late 1890s.”
Accuracy: This one came true as well—for college-campus police, at least. (Thanks, Segway!)
Fact or Fantasy? (World of Tomorrow), “Time Travel,” by Neil Ardley, 1982
Novak: “Time travel, like teleportation, has always been on the fringe of scientific hopes. This children’s book seems to promise such a futuristic world; time tourists must follow a look-but-don’t-touch policy so as not to destroy the present.”
Accuracy: Science has determined that traveling to the past, at least, is physically impossible. So far.