Try your hand at forecasting humanity for next 50 years
My colleague Sonny tossed the paperback on my book-littered desk. “I think you’ll be interested in this,” he said.
The well-worn book looked like it was extracted from a time capsule. The cover featured an illustration of a dated computer and line-printer-esque typeface.
But that title, now that was fresh and intriguing: “In This Book You Will Not Just Read About the Future, You Will Experience Your Next Fifty Years.”
In celebration of the New Year, all month we’ve been exploring innovations in the world of books. Some will catch on; some won’t gain traction. It’s a sure bet all will be eclipsed by something else, as technological advances eventually are. This week we look much farther ahead, and not just at books, but at a world imagined 50 years ahead.
Prognostication is nothing new, but it’s perennially captivating. Whether you prefer Nostradamus or Thomas Frey, nothing gets you out of our present-day self and into the world of possibility like the predictions — part science, part guesswork — of a futurist with strong writing skills.
“Your Next Fifty Years,” published in 1980, was written by Dr. Robert W. Prehoda, an American chemist and futurist with an interest in immortality. Toward that end, he participated in the first crude cryonic suspension of a human being in 1967.
Prehoda’s other books include “Extended Youth: The Promise of Gerontology, How Science is Reversing the Aging Process” and “Suspended Animation: The Research Possibility That May Allow Man to Conquer the Limiting Chains of Time.”
But “Your Next Fifty Years” was his biggest commercial success, with predictions in five-year increments from 1989 through 2029. Prehoda uses the second-person address throughout, leading the reader by the hand through an imagined utopian future of superzeppelins, household robots and a North America largely converted into a wildlife preserve.
Here’s what Prehoda predicted for 2014 in the chapter “Methuselah’s Children,” which focuses on life-extending medical treatment.
Prehoda writes of future you walking to your personal physician’s office from your Micropolis-near-the-sea home. “Upon your arrival, he pours glasses of wine for the two of you and begins his fascinating story — man’s quest for the fountain of youth turned into reality.”
Between sips of wine, your physician — who apparently isn’t burdened with a busy patient load of 2,000 like our often-harried doctors of today — leisurely lectures on the aging-retardation treatments that have made future you so full of vitality, mentally alert and youthful looking, including the use of antioxidants, microenzymes, death-hormone neutralizers and synthetic plasma blood transfusions called plasmapheresis.
The result of all this clinical intervention? Lifespans into triple-digits and a society where a “wise population of supercentenarians can now undertake projects undreamed of before the breakthroughs in aging control. Multidisciplinary training with Ph.D. levels of education in several fields is now becoming a feasible standard. Only youthful longevity allows man to fully exploit the mental resources of the human brain.”
There’s also a disquieting Plan Alpha, in which couples are limited to one healthy child, assured through frozen embryo selection, with the goal of population stabilization and manipulated survival of the fittest.
Freed from natural biological clocks, May-December marriages flourish, and longer lifespans lead to a loosening of the marital reins. The doctor opines: “Already a new sexual ethic appears to be forming in which people regulate their lives in conformity with bodily needs rather than restrictive social requirements.”
(Methinks the author was doing a little daydreaming of his own here but, hey, it’s his version of utopia.)
“Your Next Fifty Years” concludes this way: “Man is the master of his own destiny. If he learns successfully to forecast his future problems and options, then he is more likely to take the timely steps that will eventually solve them, and our civilization would then be assured of a glorious future.”
Prehoda died in 2009, having lived long enough to see many of his predictions come true. Certainly our lifespans have lengthened, but our youthful appearances have more to do with gym memberships and advances in plastic surgery and cosmetic dentistry. And while Prehoda imagines everyone eager to spend a longer lifetime engaged in scientific inquiry, he disregards the fact that most people look forward to a retirement of hobbies, travel and leisure.
Sonny lent me this book because we share an interest in intriguing stories, both factual and imagined. Every book is itself a time capsule — a story reflecting the beliefs and influences of its time.
Whatever advances await in the world of books, here’s one prediction I’ll make: Good storytelling will endure.
I’ll stake the future of books on that.