Posted by: nickgerlich | January 15, 2008


I remember the 1960s. That makes me a bit of a relic, but I can live with it. Times were simpler, and when we weren’t busy worrying about those godless communists, we fantasized what the world would look like in the future. The result was a slew of books, TV shows, films, and even a cartoon trying to envision to future.Enter George Jetson.

I still can’t shake the theme song from The Jetsons, nor the scene in which George is walking the family dog, Astro, on a treadmill. Something goes awry, and suddenly the treadmill speeds up, leaving George crying to his wife, “Jane, stop this crazy thing…stop this crazy thing!”

If ever a metaphor existed that predicted the future, I suppose this would be it. Many days I feel like my name is George, and Jane is nowhere to be found.

Still, it is fun to look back to see how people looked forward. In particular, the video clip used in the first lecture for my E-Commerce course is a gem. This Philco-Ford clip, from a film entitled Year 1999 A.D., tackles the future head-on. Take the tour yourself here.

It is amazing how spot on these folks were at the conceptual level, yet also uproariously amusing at how they completely missed the boat when it came to executing these ideas. But before we diss them any further, consider how, in 1967 their crystal ball showed the following:

  • E-Commerce
  • An internet-like means of communication and information flow
  • Surveillance cameras
  • Electronic billpay
  • All-in-one fax machines and printers
  • E-Mail
  • Flat screen monitors
  • Networked personal computers

Can you say prescient?

But comparing how we do all these things today, to how they envisioned them three decades ago, is comedic. Not only did our culture change along the way, but also how these devices and features developed. For example:

  • Gender roles are decidedly old-school. Mom drools over the new clothes on her screen, and makes her purchases. Dad scowls when it comes time to pay the bill.
  • Mom is the one moniotoring the kids. Dad is nowhere to be found…until it’s time to pay bills, do taxes, etc.
  • E-Mail is done with a stylus…perhaps a nod to the Tablet PC we have today, but a far cry from how the majority of us compose our messages.
  • E-Commerce consisted of live webcams in department stores focusing on selected products.
  • It took an entire room to house the computers and monitors in this system.
  • The network behind the scenes looked more like a massive telephone switchboard from the 1940s.
  • The user pushed buttons to make purchases, rather than typing and clicking. Back then a mouse was an unwelcome guest in any home.

I could go on, but the point is clear: These guys did a great job predicting the many technological paradigm shifts we did indeed experience. They just could not picture how they would actually happen. Kind of like how hovercraft and space station-style homes a la The Jetsons are nowhere near happening.

I just wonder why the Philco-Ford people didn’t include a treadmill in their prognostication. The Mom and Dad in that clip look far too rested, because the writers assumed that computers would make everyone’s lives easier.

Oh well. At least the godless communist problem went away.

Dr “Barely Treading Water” Gerlich



  1. Looking back at the writings of Jules Verne and H.G.Wells can make you realize that their have always been futurists who have hit the nail on the head. It is interesting to look at today’s science fiction to see their thoughts on the future, but it did seem like we were more curious about what the future will hold earlier; whereas now it is only left to the science fiction writers.

    I was only a small kid in the sixties, but thanks for the reminders of what we were seeing then.

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