Fifty years ago, The Seattle Times dedicated an entire issue of its magazine to this question: What will the world be like in 2020?
Stories on technology, education, transportation and culture painted a picture of a futuristic world where you could shop without leaving home (hi, Amazon) and cars were a thing of the past (well, not quite).
“If readers wish to check the accuracy of these forecasts, they are invited to save this issue for future reference,” editor Larry Anderson wrote in the issue’s introduction.
That’s exactly what we did. Here’s what Seattle Times writers thought today’s world would bring — from spot-on predictions to far-fetched ones.
In the 1970 issue, science editor Hill Williams described a virtual-reality device called the Escape Hatch that would be “like the old TV, only it’s all in the walls.”
“With the (Escape Hatch), you’re THERE, part of the scene — the picture, the sound, the whole bit,” he wrote. “Last night my wife and I had dinner on the beach at Waikiki. Sunday afternoon we walked on one of the beaches in this state.”
That’s not far off from today’s virtual reality, though it’s typically experienced via goggles, not in your walls. Williams also described something similar to today’s smartphones:
“The universal card is a computerized charge card, identification, medical card, travel card, library card, press pass, draft card, passport … well, you name it, this covers it,” he wrote. “With this card, you can pull out what information you need for whatever you’re doing.”
But not every prediction about high tech was a home run.
“Now that none of us any longer has a name, but instead, is identified by the magnetized ink on a computer-card number, I often bore my great-grandchildren with stories about the good old days when everybody had his own name and individual identity,” John J. Reddin wrote in the issue’s introduction.
“Through a series of mutations, largely government inspired, automobiles will be outlawed in many areas, and the raw materials used in them will be diverted to other products, perhaps still in transportation, but for mass-transportation vehicles,” business reporter Archie Satterfield speculated.
In a more humorous piece, Williams imagined 2020’s alternative transportation options: “There’s high-speed rail, or else we fly. More’n 1,000 miles an hour. They’re trying out some rocket arrangement, where 50 people could be shot from here to Australia, like, in an hour.”
Rockets to Australia may not be in our near future, but high-speed rail is being discussed: Advocates have pushed for a bullet train connecting Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has endorsed the idea.
Another prophetic prediction: Boeing partnering with NASA on space travel.
“Commercial aviation will find The Boeing Co. and one or two others heavily subsidized by governmental funds to build planes that will closely resemble spacecraft, such as the space shuttlecraft now on the designing boards,” Satterfield wrote.
Boeing is working on a crew capsule to launch Americans into space through NASA’s commercial crew program, but the Starliner’s first launch in late December was unsuccessful. The company hopes to make its first astronaut launch in 2020.
Arts and entertainment editor Wayne Johnson predicted a resurgence of the Aqua Follies, a “swim musical” act that thrilled Green Lake Theatre in the 1950s and early ’60s but ceased performing in 1964.
He anticipated the Follies not only making a comeback but being the dominant act in the Seattle area, performing in a giant dome over Lake Washington (and its 12 floating bridges!) while audiences sat suspended in “special plastic bubble swings” fitted with “individual flight packs.”
In more realistic predictions, Johnson anticipated a world where home entertainment was nearly unlimited.
“With a flick of a switch and punch of a button, (people) can make available any diversion they desire at the moment: the greatest music by the greatest musicians; the greatest plays by the greatest actors; the greatest anything by the greatest performers,” he wrote.
The movie house will “go the way of the marathon dance and the six-day bicycle race,” Don Duncan wrote. This one is starting to ring true; arts critic Moira Macdonald recently lamented the loss of Seattle’s historic Landmark Theatres.
“As man gets closer to his neighbors physically, with no place to run and hide, he probably will become more withdrawn psychologically,” Duncan wrote. “As a consequence, mental illness may become as common as today’s head cold.”
While Duncan didn’t foresee social media, his words could now be read through that lens. We’re more “connected” than ever, and yet that seems to be associated with loneliness.
Other ideas about the way we live were equally prophetic.
Long before Amazon put down roots in Seattle and forever changed the way we shop, Satterfield foresaw shifting retail trends.
“Merchandising, always responsive to new techniques, will play a major role in easing pressures on metropolitan centers by emphasizing home delivery, television and telephone shopping, and in-home services,” he wrote. “It will become virtually unnecessary to leave one’s home or immediate neighborhood for shopping.”
“Long before 2020, we will be regarding a free, tax-supported college education, or its technical-school equivalent, as every child’s birthright,” Don Duncan wrote in 1970.
Well, it is a 2020 presidential campaign issue, anyway. And Washington state has made strides in that area, passing legislation in 2019 to reduce tuition costs for low- and median-income students, making college free for some. The year before that, Seattle voters approved the city’s most expensive education levy ever, including a measure to give future high-school graduates of Seattle Public Schools two years of community college tuition-free, no matter how much their families make.
UW planning officer Robert W. Koski predicted in 1970 that overcrowding would necessitate an additional four-year state college in the Seattle area, perhaps east of Lake Washington. That hasn’t come true precisely as envisioned, but UW opened campuses in Bothell and Tacoma in 1990, and Bellevue College (formerly Bellevue Community College) has begun offering some four-year degrees.
Writer John Haigh predicted the University of Washington would top 50,000 students in the early 2000s, but the university didn’t grow as quickly as he anticipated. University data for fall 2000 shows the UW’s three campuses enrolled just over 39,000 students — only a few thousand more than the 32,700 reported in The Seattle Times in 1970. The university didn’t pass the 50,000-student mark until fall 2012.
Writers were spot-on — even cautious — in their predictions for educational technology.
“(Libraries) must become interconnected to utilize central computer systems that handle operations across the country,” wrote Roman Mostar, assistant librarian at the Seattle Public Library. “Centralized information systems will give instant access to the national store of knowledge.”
Dale Goss, director of research for Seattle Public Schools, foresaw the computer as “a common classroom tool in the next century.”
Read the full 1970 issue below, then jump into the comments and tell us what you think the world will be like in 2070.