Predictions are Hard, Especially About the Future

Fascinating passage from Alan Ehrenhalt's The Lost City, which I'm now reading and highly recommend:

It is the end of June and in much of America it is hotter than anyone can remember this early in the summer.  The Good Humor company is swamped:  every truck it can find has been sent on the road yet it still cannot keep up with the demand.  It is a good time for a cookout, but only if you already have a grill.  Most hardware stores have run out and are waiting for the next shipment.  More Tartan sun lotion has been sold in the first six months of 1957 than in the whole summer of 1956.

in Chicago, where the temperature has already edged close to 100 degrees several times, the health commissioner has used his authority to issue a dispensation.  He says men should stop worrying about wearing ties to work, and women shouldn't feel they have to wear girdles.  In New York, Billy Graham wonders if the devil didn't send a heat wave to lower the attendance at his six-week Madison Square Garden crusade.

In the more affluent precincts of suburbia, it is swimming pool season, and more pools are bing built than anybody ever though possible.  A year ago there were fifty-seven thousand of them in private homes, and by the end of the coming summer, there will be more than eighty thousand.  Chester Slawy, the president of Suburban Pools Inc., can't get over it.  "One pool in a virgin neighborhood," he boasts, "will sire five more."  In Atlanta, developer Kirby Smith doesn't mind making a prediction:  "The swimming pool will be just as commonplace as the bathtub ten years from now."

One reason for Smith's optimism is that, for most people in the middle class, the air conditioner is almost as much of a luxury as the swimming pool.  Fewer than 10 percent of all homes have one.  Suburbanites still go to public places to cool off:  theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys.  Inside the home, in a devilish June like this, it is too hot to be comfortable."

One commonly hears complaints that living standards in America haven't "really" increased since the seventies--that it's all useless consumer gimcrackery.  If you've ever spent a hot July without air conditioning, you know this is nonsense.