Future shock

Predictions from the past

Visionaries The World’s city room in the 20th century. (Library of Congress)

In 1923, The World, Joseph Pulitzer’s raucous daily, published a series of predictions from experts in various fields about what the world would be like in a hundred years. Under the headline, “How Will The Troubled Old World Take Step A Century Hence?,” editor Herbert Bayard Swope offered this sanguine summary of the prognostications: “There’s a good time coming. . . . The problems that beset us, the strife and normalcy, will all be banished and forgotten, and the world will be a much better place for our great-great grandchildren to live in.” If only. Burt Dragin, who teaches journalism at Laney College in Oakland, CA, culled the following excerpts from The World and the Twenties: The Golden Years of New York’s Legendary Newspaper by James Boylan, CJR’s founding editor:

Motion pictures (D. W. Griffith, movie producer) I do not foresee the possibility of instantaneous transmission of living action to the screen within 100 years. There must be a medium upon which the dramatic coherence can be worked out, and the perfected result set firmly, before the screen will be permitted to occupy the public’s attention. In the instantaneous transmission, there would be entirely too much waste of the public’s time, and that is the important thing—time.

Alcohol (William H. Anderson, state superintendent, Anti-Saloon League of New York) The beverage use of [alcohol] will be utterly unknown except among the abnormal, subnormal, vicious, and depraved, which classes will have been bred out of the race in America.

Democracy (Cordell Hull, chairman, Democratic National Committee) With the development of intelligence, class differences and distinctions should disappear, therefore the representative legislative bodies of the people, if there are more than one, would be truly representative bodies of all the people.

Birth control (Margaret Sanger, leading birth-control advocate) Birth control will have become a part of education in health and hygiene. . . . The results, in much shorter time than four or five generations, will be happier homes, greater mutual respect between husband and wife, honeymoons lasting two to three years before children arrive, with husband and wife thoroughly equilibrated to each other, because there has been time for mutual understanding and development before parenthood is entered upon. . . . Four or five generations will develop new men and women with finer susceptibilities, nobler sentiments toward each other, and a worthier sense of responsibility toward the race.

Race relations (James Weldon Johnson, secretary, NAACP)
In the year 2023, the Negro problem in the United States will not have entirely disappeared, but will be entirely changed. Through the constant forward changes in the Negro himself, which force constant changes in his local and national environment, the race, by 2022, will have achieved equality of political and civil status and of industrial, economic, and cultural opportunity, and the Negro problem will probably be reduced to a thin and wavering line of opposition to social recognition and intercourse.

Women (Mary Garrett Hay, chairwoman of the New York City League of Women Voters) Woman’s drudgery in the household will be eliminated, her care of the family will be lessened, as new inventions come in and new methods of work. Women, like men, will do the tasks for which they are best fitted by temperament, gifts, and training.

Politically, women will be powerful. . . . If there is not a woman president, the thought of one will shock no one.

Censorship (John S. Sumner, secretary, New York Society for the Suppression of Vice) Back as far as the time of Louis XIV, work such as this society is engaged in was necessary and was being done. I don’t believe human nature can change so much in a hundred years that in 2023 there will not be men to commercialize the weaknesses of their brothers. Hence this society, or a similar agency, will be functioning.

The United States (H. L. Mencken, author and critic) A hundred years hence, the United States will be a British colony. Its chief function will be to supply imbeciles to read the current British novels and docile cannon fodder for the British army.

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Burt Dragin teaches journalism at Laney College in Oakland, CA