Predictions for The Year 2000
Going to school in the 1980s, the year 2000 was a popular subject for homework on predictions about the state of the world by the turn of the new millennium. It was just far enough away to be an effective exercise, but soon enough in our lifetimes to guess at where things were heading.
I remember going on a school trip to Hastings when I was about 10, in the mid-80s, where we visited what I remember to be some kind of cave. In one of the walls there was an arrow half-buried in the stone, point-first, Excalibur-like. The guide told us that the arrow pointed to a chamber where a copy of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that described the death of King Harold was buried, and that this time capsule was due to be opened in the year 2000. Of course, it would have to be opened very carefully, as the delicate paper of the document could likely crumble to dust. This I found to be extremely frustrating – just open it now, while I’m here, I thought, not at some point in the distant future, when I’m the grand old age of 26! I can’t imagine that far ahead!
I’ve always remembered this trip and the desire to see exactly what was buried in the wall, and I’ve tried a number of times to search on the internet to see if it was indeed opened in 2000. Oddly, I can’t find any reference to it at all, and now I wonder if it was real at all, or just some kind of faux-tourist attraction.
Later, in 1990, my class were asked to write an essay about “The World in Ten Years Time”. I found it in an old schoolbook a few years ago and I was left slightly thunderstruck on reading it again. Alongside my predictions about the Queen Mother having died (I thought, wrongly, that was a certainty) and stamps having been abolished for some reason, I had written that Princess Diana had died in a car crash in 1997, with a mysterious unidentified car being involved in some way. Funnily enough, I remember writing the bits about the Queen Mother and the stamps, but had no memory of writing about Princess Di at all. Extremely peculiar. And now, after my parents moved house, I don’t know where that book is, so I can prove exactly nothing.
Still – predictions of the year 2000 have been going on for a long time. Here’s a handful, as they appeared in the local press over the last couple of hundred years.
I wonder when the first year 2000 prediction happened? I certainly haven’t seen one earlier than this, from the 1833 Taunton Courier, although I bet there’s loads of Age of Enlightenment philosophers that considered it.
“An Author of Romance, foreshadowing the events of the year 2000, among other wonders, predicts that pens will write of themselves; and the Patentee of the Hydraulic Pen may be said to have all but accomplished the anticipated miracle. The invention will be invaluable to book-keepers, authors, and reporters; to all, especially, who wish to keep a clean hand either in court or counting house.”
I think they mean a non-dipping pen, an alternative to the quill and inky fingers, so a successful prediction there, what with ink cartridges and biros.
The Hull Daily Mail in 1901 told a joke about the battle of the sexes in the year 2000, and the shocking notion of women wearing trousers, inspired by the Suffragette movement.
“Here,” said the husband of the New Woman, entering a tailor shop and laying a bundle on the counter, “you will have to alter these trousers. I can’t wear them as they are.”
“Really,” replied the tailor, as he opened the bundle, “you must excuse me, my dear sir, those are your wife’s.”
Women now wear trousers – correct.
The Yorkshire Evening Post of 1936 had a surprising article on predicted population growth by 2000. Instead of overcrowding and spiralling numbers, Dr S.K. Young of Durham thought that the birth rate would fall on account of women joining the workplace (if this is what he means by “amazons”) and what’s more, being needed in the workplace.
His calculations figured that the population of the whole of the UK in 2000 would be no more than that of 1936 London (which was around 4.3 million). This wasn’t a crazy thought – the population of London had indeed been decreasing since the turn of the century and the birth rate of the UK was about as low as it has ever been in 1936. 1920 still holds the record for the highest birth rate and it had tumbled dramatically over the next decade so it was a justifiable, if incorrect prediction – the population of London alone is now 8.5 million. Some interesting information on the ups and downs of the UK birth rate and baby booms is here.
Still in The Yorkshire Evening Post, the paper published a quite detailed consideration of what 2000 might look like. It was December 1949 and the imminent new year bringing the second half of the twentieth century with it, provoked a look ahead at what this half-century would bring.
Here it is in more detail. It predicts “Extensive use of helicopters to take business men almost from doorstep to doorstep; The disappearance of trams from city roads; Segregation of different forms of traffic; A tendency for housing and industry to be concentrated in more compact areas to conserve agricultural land; In the home, television, refrigerators, washing machines and labour-saving devices as commonplace as radios; Open fireplaces replaced by cleaner and more economic forms of heating.”
Apart from the helicopters, this is pretty astute predicting. Although the death knell of most of the trams was pretty evident by then.
And finally, still from The Yorkshire Evening Post, comes a prediction from 1955. The British Newspaper Archive only goes up to the mid-50s, and I expect as the century went on, there were many more such articles.
Here, an exhibition at Olympia which envisioned a 2000-era Soho is described. It’s a very futuristic vision, “a city clothed in glass“, edging towards the kind of dystopian future seen in 1960s and 70s sci-fi. Soho is encased in a glass dome, on top of which (on top!) are 24-storey blocks of flats, made of glass in the shape of stars. Helicopters land on the roof of those flats, and there is no traffic, people getting around by gondola on a system of canals.
“A rather soulful commentary….added a hope that man, in this new Soho environment, “might be no longer vile”. The paper concludes that while “Soho at rooftop height looked uncomfortably like Aldous Huxley’s vision in “Brave New World”, it was more interesting than some of the features seen in “the bad old one”. Although this didn’t come to pass, it was successful if boiled down to the essential fact that glass was probably the most important feature of architecture in the second half of the century.
In short – I think the transport systems of today might come as a bit of a disappointment to the people of the past. Not too many personal helicopters and gondolas.
This is an area I could research for years, really. I’m endlessly fascinated by future predictions – and I’m especially amused by the not-entirely-serious 100 years of fashion I found in an old Strand magazine here, and one of my favourite childhood books on what life would be like in 2010 here.
I’ve got a rather strange prediction for the year 2000 in a book of inventions from 1949 too, now I come to think of it. I’ll need to dig that out…..