Yada Yada “21st Century” Blah Blah.

futureWe are about to see the various and sundry predictions about 2009 come our way in a few weeks. Some brave souls will tread out from 2009 and prognosticate about the coming decade. Then there are those not satisfied with tens of years…they will shoot for the whole 21st century. Just this week, I’ve seen at least half a dozen speech titles, mission statements, and slogans which have used the term 21st Century. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Burns’ Media Lab, Yale’s 21C educational program, and Sir Ken Robinson come to mind without having to do too much remembering. Heck, someone’s even written a brief History(!) of the 21st Century already.

I understand what they are going for, i.e. foreword thinking, big visioning, global proclamations, rewiring education for the future, etc. I don’t begrudge the aspirational futurity of those using it. It’s just that, well, “21st Century” is kind of losing it’s vibe as an impactful phrase. I’m sure the “toothpaste” of the 21st century is right around the corner.

In 1998, just nano-parsecs from the actual turn of the 21 century, I worked for Houghton Mifflin as a Creative Director in technology. Their “21st century” goal was to to be the web portal for educators, elementary school educators in particular. We went to the 2000 FECC conference in Florida, where educators meet new technology. A few booths downschool districts at FECC had their own websites, programmed by middleschoolers. I had a kind of out-of-body experience. I saw the future of our company’s technology strategy, THE 21st century initiative, being executed by 14 year olds.

 I quit within one month. Ever since, I’ve been on my own, using technology to help major and minor companies, helping them adapt, respond, and retrofit to changes in communication technology. I have no idea what next year holds. Sometimes I’m flummoxed by next week’s innovation. I can guess what’s coming next, but chances are, I’ll be wrong. So to speak of the 21st Century is a bit dodgy. 

On the side of those looking to predict, influence, or otherwise proclaim their place in the 21st Century, look at this list of predictions from the Ladies Home Journal 1900. I was gobsmacked the prescient ones. The second to the last has just now happened. Turns out sometimes our “century” predictions come close. But I’m still nervous about next week. 

Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today.
Liquid-air refrigerators will keep great quantities of food fresh for long intervals.
Huge forts on wheels will dash across open spaces at the speed of express trains of today. They will make what is now known as cavalry charges.
Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house as we now turn on hot or cold water from spigots to regulate the temperature of a bath.
Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electronically with screens at the opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.
Electric currents applied to the soil will make valuable plants grow larger and faster, and will kill troublesome weeds. Rays of colored light will hasten the growth of many plants.
Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world.
There will be no street cars in our large cities. All hurry traffic will be below or high above the ground…These underground or overhead streets will teem with capacious automobile passenger coaches and freight wagons with cushioned wheels….Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.
Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance.
Not only will it be possible for a physician to see a living, throbbing heart inside the chest, but he will be able to magnify and photograph any part of it. This work will be done with rays of invisible light.
Fast electric ships, crossing the ocean at more than a mile a minute, will go from New York to Liverpool [England} in two days.
There will be Air-Ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic.
Grand Opera will be telephoned to private homes, and will sound as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theater box.
Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles.

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