During a recent trip to Hay-on-Wye — a magical small town with around 30 new and used bookshops — I picked up two 1970s books by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, the kings of trivia lists.
The two volumes of The People’s Alamanac are billed as “the first reference book ever prepared to be read for pleasure” and at around a million words each, will like be bathroom reading in my house for many years to come. While they cover everything from the US Navy allegedly using suicide dolphins to a list of “famous gays” (it was the 1970s, remember), it was the opening section of each book that caught my eye.
The authors asked a range of “present-day psychics” to make their predictions for the next 25 years, many of which included tech- and science-related topics. They also asked contemporary scientists to make predictions based on their knowledge and researches.
The results were, to be incredibly generous, of mixed success. Many suggestions are comical in hindsight and even those who got things right were often vastly overambitious on the timescale. Today we’ll look at some of the more noteworthy predictions by the psychics and Monday we’ll see how the scientists got on.
Malcolm Bessent: [Between 1975-1980] New York will be uninhabitable. The water levels will rise and eventually flood the city out of existence.
David Bubar: During the last part of the 1980s, Americans will become involved in a mass physical fitness program. Social drinking will virtually come to an end.
The chemicals and antibiotics consumed by present-day peoples will cause generations of the 1980s to be grotesquely tall. This added height will weaken the personality and body.
Printing will be done electronically without ink, plates and other equipment. More parts of newspapers and magazines will be 3-dimensional, somewhat like silent movies.
A “Thought-Action Deed” machine (TAD) will appear in 1986. Using the machine, scientists will be able to tune into past, present or future events based on a computer analysis of the pattern of history. In 1996, TADs will be released for mass production. Before that, they will not be used by the public.
Criswell: By 1980, do-it-yourself face lifts will be on the market. New York City will be under water.
From March 30, 1980 to May 11, 1988, the Aphrodisiacal Era will flourish. Clouds of aphro-fragrance will float over the US. An aphrodisiac will also be put in water and heating systems. Sexual craziness will overcome the populace. Sex will be performed in the streets of Hollywood, and Florida will become a huge nudist camp. The Secretary of State will be caught in acts of perversion. The invention of an antidote will end the era.
[In the 1990s] Buses will be driven by atomic power.
Tenny Hale: [By 2000] Magazines and books which utilize paper will be nonexistent in tomorrow’s world. We’ll no longer have the wood or the chemicals needed to process it.
Olof Jonsson: By 1980 the internal combustion engine will be banned in all major American cities.
[In the 1990s] All major cities will ban private cars. Only medical and law enforcement personnel will be allowed to use cars, and those will be compact and electrically powered.
[By 2000] We will no longer be dependent on plants and animals for food and energy. Instead, we will get food and energy directly from the sun.
Kebrena Kincade: [By 2000] Solar cars will be perfected and affordable to the masses.
It will be determined that cancer is a virus and a vaccine will be found to cure it.
Jandolin Marks: [By 2000] Repeat traffic violators will be required to drive specially marked cars to enable other drivers to spot them and protect themselves. Dangerous drivers will be reported over telephone “hot lines.”
Dr N: By 1987, clinics will test people for cancer every 6 months. They will use a cold sore virus to induce a lesion, which will be tested with a serum to see if any cancerous sores are present.
Kathy Sotka: [By 2000] Weapons of the future will be entirely different. Guns as we presently know them will be replaced by hand weapons that stun or kill by emitting an electrical charge instead of bullets.
John Reeves: A breakthrough in developing a cure for cancer will occur in 1977-1978. However, there will be no actual cure available until sometime between 1986 and 1991.
Shawn Robbins: In 1977, cancer will be controlled by “R Waves” or “radium waves.”
Alan Vaughan: [By 1980] A new form of rocket propulsion will be introduced, increasing the speed of spaceships 10 to 100 times. It will take only one month to reach Mars.