A mild future shock
One of the editorial mainstays of the monthly hobbyist magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science was the blending of the future with the present. Every issue had pages of DIY things for the craftsman, usually in the back half of the magazines, before that there were pages and pages of new developments in science and products and how they related to Mr and Mrs Average and their families. Anything to do with transport and speed was heavily featured. The pages of the book pick out the scientific predictions over several decades divided into six chapters.
I thought it was interesting that the earlier predictions, in the first two and a half decades of the last century, really were rather fanciful based on fairly simple scientific principles. In the thirties with the huge increase in new products and developments (and during the Depression, too) the predictions became more tempered and practical. By the late forties and during the fifties the future projections were much more based on reality. Actually a reasonably accurate way of predicting the future was developed in the fifties by the Rand Corporation, called the Delphi Technique. Experts in various disciplines answered questions anonymously and the answers were blended together to created a reliable future projection for all sorts broadly scientific activity. The predictions in this book, of course, don't have that kind of credibility.
I thought chapter two `Home, sweet home of tomorrow' the most interesting with its mixture of ideas, a lot of which certainly came true because we all live with them now. Included are predictions for the picture phone (1956) prefabricated housing (1922) plastic and synthetic materials for house building (1937) clothing made from casein, a milk derivative (1929) air-conditioned homes (1944) frozen dinners (1947). Fortunately dresses from asbestos (1929) and aluminum (1929) never made it.
The text is a fun read and quite though provoking in parts but I wish the look of the book was equally as fascinating. It should have looked good because Popular Mechanics had wonderful cover paintings, right up to the late sixties when photos finally took over. The illustrations and photos used inside the magazine always tried to put across an idea as simply as possible. Unfortunately all this wonderful graphic imagery is more or less ruined throughout the book. Cover paintings have been hopelessly enlarged and then cropped with caption panels superimposed on them. This also applies to images that appeared inside the magazine. Photos are printed in blue, brown, green or red, over-enlarged and again with captions overprinted. It seems to me that the pictures are just used as graphic items to fill up the pages in a rather heavy handed manner with no thought given to displaying them to their best advantage.
If only more thought had been given to the editorial presentation the covers and illustrations could have really made the book sparkle. Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future covered the same idea with words and pictures but looked so much better and even Future Perfect a small paperback full of color pictures looks better than 'The wonderful future that never was'. Incidentally the tacky looking cover design will give you some idea about the look of the book.
Reverse the book's cover and it becomes this poster.
Left: all the lovely Popular Mecanics cover paintings have been cropped and ruined by adding a caption panel.
Another cover painting ruined by a caption panel.
I found it rather annoying that throughout the book images from Popular Mechanics editorial pages had been over enlarged so that they looked rather tacky.
Photos printed in blue and red with caption panels added. Very typical of the rather messy layout throughout the book.
An interesting illustration from 1928 printed in unreadable red and over enlarged. The painting originally appeared in the British weekly The Illustrated London News.
Four other books predicting the never to arrive future. 'Yesterday's tomorrows' and 'Future perfect' I thought were the most interesting.
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