Jan 4, 2017–For someone who loves speculating about the future, I have been fabulously wrong at predicting it.
The litany of my failings in this area is long and embarrassing. So enjoy:
Having been raised in an era and area that offered only three broadcast channels, I was intrigued when I first encountered the new “cable TV” during my band travels in the 1970s. Intrigued, but not impressed. I remember calling home and telling my friends that sure, there were 24 channels, but most of them were the weather and time, and reruns or old movies. Don’t bother getting it–it’s not worth it.
Given the state of current cable offerings, some might call that prescience. But there is no denying I was wrong on its popularity.
When I first read about this new option to credit cards, I told my wife it was a silly concept. Why would we want a card that immediately debited our checking account? We were in that early cash-strapped phase of married life when we sometimes wrote checks for groceries on Friday night, knowing we could beat it to the bank by Monday with cash to cover it. The “float” was our friend.
Today we use a half dozen debit cards, along with myriad ways of paying that don’t involve pen and paper. Writing an actual check is a rare and anachronistic experience.
Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Yeah, right. Like we’re going to pay a dollar for a bottle of something we get free from any tap.
While working with an ad agency, we needed to get a design to a client in San Antonio. This was around 1985. Someone had heard of a new technology called a “facsimile machine.” It was supposed to let you feed in a sheet of paper, and an exact copy would appear in any location in the world. Yeah, right. The U.S. Mail was fast enough.
No one, I thought, would ever want to watch a movie more than once.
This one is particularly embarrassing. I have been a long devotee of all things Apple. I was an early adopter, and even purchased stock in the company when it was not popular. After the iPods came out, I saw them as just another portable music device that would soon be buried by a sea of imitators (remember Zune?). Couldn’t have been more wrong. I dumped the stock just before it soared ten times in value.
Why, I wondered, would I want anyone to have the ability to contact me anywhere, anytime? We’ll just get a longer coiled cord for the wall phone in the kitchen.
In my defense, there were some advances I embraced early and eagerly. Of course I was just as wrong, but it proves I was not a Luddite.
I told my students in 1978 that within their lifetime space travel would be as common as air travel. Those students are now in their 50s, and we still don’t have the ability to lose our luggage on a lunar run.
I attended energy fairs as early as 1974. In a year or two, I predicted, we will be able to slap a solar panel on the roof and plant a windmill in the yard and get off the grid.
What if you could build an avatar that navigated a virtual world? About 10 years ago, a program called Second Life made that possible. You could create a virtual “you,” buy virtual land with virtual currency, and interact with other virtual beings. The potential was breathtaking. Imagine holding meetings with colleagues, attending conferences, leading discussion groups, creating projects, all online, all in real time, all without having to leave your office? For reasons I still don’t understand, it didn’t catch on. Second Life still exists. It is just inhabited by people that like to dress up as animals.
I did have some wins. Early on I recognized the revolutionizing impact of GPS, email, and personal computers, long before I could afford them. And I’ll be first to jump into a self-driving car and have my groceries delivered by drone.
The point is we are horrible at predicting the future.
At least, I am.
Happy New Year.
Phil Houseal is a writer and owner of Full House PR.
Contact him at email@example.com