Famous predictions from the past that backfired or came true
While prophesying may give us some sense of control over our fate, it can often be a fool’s errand. Writers, critics and scientists are often eager to give their two cents as to what the future holds, but how many of these predictions from the past have come true? Here’s a round-up of some entertaining prophecies and critiques that either fell flat or surprisingly hit the bull’s eye.
TV will render future generations illiterate: Before social media was deemed the root of all evil, television was the culprit. In July 1951, three years into the Golden Age of Television, station WOR-TV gathered the predictions of TV critics on the future of TV and sealed them shut in a radiation-proof time capsule to be unearthed 100 years later. “Our people are becoming less literate by the minute,” one critic protested, “by the 21st Century our people doubtless will be squint-eyed, hunchbacked and fond of the dark,” she lamented. Thankfully, the editor’s prediction missed the mark and you’re scrolling through our issue today. If anything, research has shown that watching TV in moderation can be beneficial for children’s reading.
Obomi, the EU, and Viagra: In his awardwinning 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner depicts a dystopian world set in 2010. A classic of New Wave sci-fi, the futurama foretold a slew of modern realities with uncanny prescience. Perhaps one of the most amusing things it got right is a character named President Obomi. While Brunner’s character headed a fictional African state named Beninia, he was only two letters amiss, but hit the mark on time: Barack Obama served as US president from 2009 to 2017. Brunner also prophesied that the world’s population would reach 7 bn by 2010 — only a year earlier than it really happened — and foresaw the European Union, legal marijuana, satellite news, and Viagra.
Wireless technology will result in mobile phones: Serbian-American engineer Nikola Tesla was not only the ingenious inventor behind the electric alternating-current system that powers the world as we now know it, but also an insightful futurist who made a host of accurate predictions. In a 1909 interview with the New York Times, Tesla foresaw that “it will soon be possible…to call from [one’s] desk and talk with any telephone subscriber in the world. It will only be necessary to carry an inexpensive instrument no bigger than a watch, which will enable its bearer to hear anywhere on sea or land for distances of thousands of miles.” An impressive prophecy considering the pinnacle of wireless technology was the telegraph at that time. His prediction may have been correct, but little did he know many of these devices would actually break the bank.
The Beatles will be a flop: In what is likely one of the most regrettable decisions in music history, Decca Records turned down offering the Fab Four a record contract in January 1962, proclaiming “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” The Ed Sullivan Show’s musical director Ray Bloch had an equally myopic vision, dismissing the Beatles’ debut live appearance on American television as nothing more than a few great heads of hair, famously saying: “I give them a year.” Of course, the Beatles went on to become one of the most influential bands of all time, forever changing the world of music.