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More from the 1980 "Book of Predictions"

February 8, 2011

As you might expect from a late 1970s work, there were a lot of predictions about the demise of the automobile. Professor Dan Lundberg said that as early as 1982 “unnecessary” car trips would be subject to “coupon rationing.” By 1985 the federal bureaucracy would overwhelm society and “nationalization” of all energy distribution, down to retail gas stations, “will have occurred as a sheer necessity.” But that’s nothing: By 1987 the Earth will get its revenge on wasteful humans by unleashing “a whole bewildering array of degenerating sicknesses and illnesses.”

Ernest Callenbach didn’t predict plagues and pestilence, but he also saw the automobile’s imminent demise: “The dominance of the automobile will be broken” by 1990. Callenbach said that by 2000, people would live in extended families of a dozen or more “in order to afford high mortgages and rents.” He was actually an optimist: While people would work less and the dollar would have two-thirds its 1980 purchasing power, people would also watch less television, exercise more, and generally be healthier and fitter.

David Pearce Snyder was actually ahead of the curve. He said by 1985 electronic funds transfer systems would be available nationwide and the use of cash would decline in favor of “point of sale” transactions with retailers. By 1987 nearly one-half of US households would be connected to “an interactive video-data communications network, which permits shopping and working from home and two-way discussions with instructors of televised classes.” By 1988 most households would have an “in-house computer” to handle most “domestic recordkeeping.” And of course, Snyder predicted the decline of the automobile, saying just 70% of households would own a car by 1989 (um, not so much).

Snyder also saw the closure of all US nuclear plants by 2000, massive “social cost” taxes that would raise the cost of cigarettes to $5 a pack (and a double martini to $20), HMOs leading to a substantial reduction in healthcare costs during the late 1980s, and the end of small business due to the worldwide adoption of electronic funds transfer — although “individual entrepeneurs [would] flourish in most technical, professional, and scientific fields.”

Snyder wasn’t the only one to foresee something of the Internet. Edmund C. Berkeley had a premonition of Google, saying by 1990, “the computer will become like a motorized book … with many kinds of questions going in and many answers coming out.” Ernest Callenbach told of the world of 1995, where every city would have a terminal that would print any book you requested on demand. Charlie Gillett offered a detailed explanation of what we now call iTunes, a computer-based fee-for-song service that largely eliminated demand for traditional albums.

A number of predicters seemed obsessed with human organs. Dr. Paul Segall said cloning of organs would be commonplace by 2000. Dr. Pierre Galletti said by 2010 we’d have an “open market for used and reconditioned body parts.” F. Lee Bailey, the lawyer who would later represent O.J. Simpson, gleefully predicted the year 2000 would bring about a new international court “to determine who will qualify for organ transplants,” where lawyers would argue for the client’s right to a liver.

And speaking of the O.J. Simpson trial, David Snyder predicted that by 1987 television coverage of trials would become so popular with daytime viewers, it would “lead to the elimination of soap operas and game shows.” Which no doubt would occupy one of the 300 channels available from satellite-based television, which Arthur Knight predicted would be available in 1985. (Knight also foretold of “complete computerization” of special effects in movies by 1987.)

On the negative side, Felix Kauffman said “telepathy for some types of communication” would be available by 2005. Dr. Ross Adley said in 2010 schools and other institutions could use electromagnetic waves to enforce “behavioral control.” On the plus side, a psychic said Johnny Carson would be chairman of NBC by 2000.

Predicters seemed divided on the future of Communism. Some thought the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc would persist well into the 21st century. Andrew M. Greeley went the other way, saying by 1990 a “social democratic” faction within the Communist Party would overthrow the Soviet regime, leading to independence for each of the Soviet republics. Of course, Greeley also thought the Republicans would cease to exist as a major political party by 1992 and OPEC would be destroyed by force.

There were various expectations of nuclear attacks, either of state or terrorist variety. Roger Williams Wescott said World War III would lead to an end of warfare by 2009 — either because one superpower conquered everyone or a new United Nations was formed. Another commenter said, without explanation, that the US capitol would relocate to Minneapolis in 1999.

Finally, Amory and Hunter Loving had a prediction that, sadly, failed to come true: By 1995, “failure of central solutions now generally accepted; indeed, the cause of problems is solutions.”

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