OPINION COLUMNS

Gilded age looks toward digital age

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, August 4, 2018
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In the June 29, 1893, issue of the Decatur News, an article was reprinted from the Atlanta Constitution called “A Dream of 1993.” The author, Robert L. Adams, predicted how the world would be 100 years in his future.

Joy Carrico

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

In 1893:

  • Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland were president.
  • The United States overthrew the government of Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii.
  • Prohibition was starting to gain momentum.
  • The 1893 World’s Fair, or World’s Columbian Exposition, opened in Chicago.
  • The stock exchange crashed and started a depression.

In 1993:

  • George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton were president.
  • The Branch Davidian compound in Waco was seiged.
  • Two former L.A. police officers were convicted in federal court of violating the civil rights of Rodney King – this is after the state aquittal and subsequent riots, which happened in 1992.
  • The World Wide Web was born.
  • Hair was messy, flannel was everywhere and Dr. Martens boots were the footwear of choice.

If an 1893 American were to wake up a la Rip Van Winkle in 1993, Adams begins, he would gaze stupidly at the future, and fail to “comprehend the magnitude and extent of the evolutions that a hundred years will bring.”

This has got to be true, although there’s no way to test it. But I find myself gazing stupidly and with utter failure to comprehend when watching individuals 20 years younger than myself and their interactions with technology. So I have to assume that anyone witnessing the future of 100 years would be toast. Correct.

TECHNOLOGY, ESPECIALLY ELECTRICITY

Electricity, he states, will have supplanted steam as an energy source.

According to turbinegenerator.org, steam power accounts for 80 percent of electricity generated in the world – and so I presume that to be the case in 1993. But I think we can all agree that the average 1993 American would interact with electricity constantly but not with steam engines. Correct.

“The much talked of problem of aerial navigation will be solved and air ships will be among the realized dreams.”

Sure. I was on an air ship just a few weeks ago. The Wright brothers made their famed flights at Kitty Hawk on Dec. 17, 1903, so the solution to the much talked of problem of aerial navigation was closer to Mr. Adams than he might have foreseen. I hope he lived to see that one. Correct.

“Seeing by electricity is among the possibilities of the future. When this is perfected, it will be a daily practice of inquisitive Americans to call up Queen Victoria to see the look of disgust as [she] drop[s] the telephone.”

I’m not sure why Mr. Adams thought Queen Victoria, who was well advanced in years, would still be around in 1993 to be disgusted by the fact that I called her up, but video phones, although in existence, were not in great use in 1993. We would need the future development of internet technology to make that one possible. Mr. Adams was off by about two decades but gets points for being close. If I could, I would FaceTime him to let him know. Sort of Correct.

But he did overestimate future access to the queen. I doubt it will ever be a daily occurrence to call up the queen on my electricity-driven-seeing-telephone, no matter how technology develops. I don’t have her number. And she’s not giving it out. Incorrect.

In 1993, it will be possible to transfer thoughts via electricity.

Adams tells us that at that time, Professor A.G. Bell was conducting experiments trying to transfer the electricity of one brain through a current to another brain.

As far as I’m aware, we were not transferring thoughts in 1993, although I knew some people who thought they could. And I’m a little afraid to look further into Professor Bells experiments. Incorrect.

“A white city of aluminum houses will not be an uncommon sight.”

Aluminum homes were available in the ’50s, but it never caught on. Alas, Mr. Adams, no white cities of aluminum houses, unless, of course, you mean mobile home parks. Those are not an uncommon sight. Incorrect.

GOVERNMENT

“There will be fewer laws, and the whole system of government will be simpler.”

Mr. Adams seems to believe humans will advance at the same pace as technology. Wouldn’t that be nice. But anyone who has tried to navigate the Social Security system knows that this is Incorrect.

“Kings and thrones will have disappeared.”

Well, no. Incorrect.

“The dominant ideas in all law and government, will be to secure the greatest good of the people.”

Although I cannot really believe in Mr. Adam’s optimistic view, I have to admit many of the 1993 laws dealt with making life better for ordinary Americans. Whether 1993 succeeded in acting for the greatest good, I cannot say. But I say Correct to Mr. Adams.

HUMANITY

“Wealth will be more equally distributed.”

This is a complicated subject, but I understand that wealth distribution did improve from the 1910s to the 1970s, when it started climbing again and returning to peak levels by 2013. So humanity has not learned to more equally divide the spoils. Incorrect.

“The 20th Century will be above all things practical.”

Ummm…

“Facts accurately written, without color or distortion, will be the guiding aim of the newspapers.”

Well, of course, this is Correct.

The West and South will be developed. “The great city of the future will be in the west. … the capital of the nation will go from Washington to some western city.”

The top 10 most populated cities in the 1990 census contained only three cities on the East Coast. In the 1890 census, seven were. But the capital remains in Washington, D.C. Correct and Incorrect.

“Crime may not be less, but it will be committed with less brutality.”

I did a quick scan of a list of serial killers in the U.S. and counted 18 before 1893. After 1893, more than 300. Incorrect.

“It may not be impossible to write to a friend in New York and receive a reply the same day.”

Email! It was just beginning in 1993. Correct.

“Medical science will have mastered many difficult problems … the man with cancer need not despair. There will be a balm.”

I wish there were a balm you could apply to cancer and not despair. Although medicine has greatly improved, Incorrect.

“The tendency of the times is toward practical religion … that has as its high purpose the uplifting and relieving of humanity. The long-winded discussions … of belief will be lost sight of in the generalism and purpose to do good.”

Adams failed to foresee that the advent of electricity bringing images into our home would give rise to the televangelist. Incorrect.

As man comes to understand nature and universal order, he will become more and more convinced of the existence of God.

I don’t think this issue really changes. Scientific discovery has not brought us all to believe in divine design, and it hasn’t brought us all to atheism either. If a person believes, science can’t dissuade them; if not, science “proves it.” Incorrect.

CONCLUSION

“When the questions that now confuse, perplex and puzzle men are as an open book … the men who once groped in the dark will walk in the light of an intelligence revealing a system so faultless and perfect that they must acknowledge the handiwork of one who made nothing without a purpose.”

Mr. Adams’ conclusion is overly optimistic. He assumes the humans of 1993 will believe what science is telling them, and that they will willingly change their minds as new information is revealed. This has never been the nature of humanity.

So how did he do? He was mostly incorrect. Mr. Adams seemed to go astray in two ways in his “Dream of 1993.” He greatly underestimated the advancement of technology and greatly overestimated the advancement of the human race.

But I don’t think he was wrong to look with optimism at the future. It beats the alternative.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. She is above all things practical.

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