On April 3, 1988, the Los Angeles Times Magazine produced a special issue predicting what life would be like a family all the way in the distant future of 2013. Believe it or not, the vision they painted for the Granada Hills-dwelling clan of the future was not that far off from the world we live in today.
Perhaps it wasn't such a leap to think that we'd have pocket computers and "smart cars" just 25 years from the late 1980s, but some of their scenarios must have seemed utterly ridiculous back then. Just as, in hindsight, some of their misfires seem completely obvious to us. The magazine marveled at the idea of an American business interacting with colleagues in Tokyo, or information workers doing their jobs in the living room. While some of the ideas are still fanciful (robot butlers?), in some areas it's clear they didn't dream big enough.
What's most interesting is how one prediction can come so close to being right, yet be completely misguided on an important detail. For example, in the imaginary 2013, computers compile "the family's personalized newspaper, featuring articles on the subjects that interest them"... but then they print it out on a laser-jet printer to read it. Or how they predicted that the roads of L.A. would be full of "'sports-utility' vehicles" but defined that as a car "that can go from being a two-seat sports car to a beachbuggy—thanks to a plug-in module." Or how they correctly surmised that banks would starting charging people to talk to tellers, forcing customers to do their banking online... where they video chat with a teller remotely.
The whole issue is a fascinating read, even though it contains a lot of Los Angeles-specific, predictions that won't mean as much to people who aren't from the Southland. But here are what we found to be some of their better and not-so-better prophecies.
- Collagen injections for younger looking skin.
- Computer pen pals! In China! Electronic mail to send animated figures to other people! (GIFs?!)
- Old people still work out to Jane Fonda videos!
- Fiber-optics connect the world's computers and electronic devices to the "Integrated Services Digital Network."
- Music and movies are streamed to the home on demand, via the cable company.
- Traffic in Los Angeles is still terrible.
- Every kid carries a "smart card," which is "a personal portable computer about the sixe of a 3x5 card, which carries his educational history." They just left out that it also makes phone calls and plays Angry Birds.
- Students take the smart cards to school, where they plug them into larger, faster computers that each person has at their desk. Entire libraries can be carried on single laser discs.
- Many employees telecommute, and even share co-working spaces outside the main business district.
- All cars are now "smart cars" that feature on-board computers to provide electronic maps, run diagnostics, and control all the cars' system. Our cars still don't prevent crashes, or ride in special "Electro-lanes" on "inductive couplers," but some of that technology is nearly there. Also: The cars in the story are unlocked and started by key cards, but some of today's top end models have already skipped over that and done away with keys completely.
- People regularly wear 40 SPF sunscreen when they go outside (yes), because there's no more ozone layer. (Nope. But people still worry about skin cancer.)
- Everyone in the story uses CDs and Laser Discs to share media. Those were popular in the 1990s, but are already obsolete.
- Hi-definition TV screens cover every surface, turning classrooms, living rooms, and offices into 4-D movie theaters. Our actual flatscreen technology is pretty advanced, but still expensive and not yet to that level.
- Robot maids do all household chores. Unless you count the Roomba (which can be "taught" to vacuum your house), this might be the most glaring miss. Having that technology in the home is still a long way off.
- Some of the "smart appliances" described in the story—like a fridge that uses cameras to keep inventory of your food—resemble some of the high-end devices on the market today, but are far from ordinary and not quite that smart yet.
- Banks and police use thumbprint IDs to verify identities. Again, the technology exists, but is rarely used for that purpose.
- People take supersonic jets for transoceanic flights? Not since the Concorde went out of business in 2003.
- Congestion pricing taxes drivers for using their cars in the city. London is only the major city to pull that one off.
- Electronic wall art calls up any painting you wish to the wall in your home, with such clarity you can't tell it's not the real thing. Many grandmas have digital picture frames, so that's not out of the question someday.
- Business men used 3-D holographs for conference calls. (Note: This entry upgraded, because apparently you can do this if you happen to work at MIT!)
NOT EVEN CLOSE
- Cities mandate that business stagger shifts, to ease the burden on commuting and city services.
- We still have to brush our teeth, since "Denturinse" hasn't been perfected yet.
- Barcodes on our money keep track of every dollar bill and who it belongs to.
- We haven't replaced our dogs with robots yet.
- Multiple families cram into single-home structures, because there's no housing. The opposite of the housing bubble that floods markets with too many empty homes.
- No mention at all of wi-fi, smart phones, the World Wide Web, or "the cloud."
- All the kids listen to "futura-rock." Uh, no.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.