Would people in the 50s be disappointed in "the future"?

No flying cars. No moon bases. No real robots to speak of. Sure, there’s a LOT of really cool stuff in cellphones and the Interwebz and ipods and such.

But if you’d gone to, say, 1959 and sat someone down and told them what is and isn’t 50 years later, would they be… thrilled? mildly intrigued? let down?

I’m from the 60’s and I’m sure as hell disappointed!

I’m lived through the 1950s and I’m not disappointed at all. Most of the imaginary stuff predicted in the 1950s was pure speculation and I don’t think anyone ever really believed we would all have flying cars or personal helicopters. What we now see in the real world is exciting enough. I don’t remember any SciFi stuff about personal computers, cell phones (other than Dick Tracy’s wrist radio and wrist TV); what we actually have is a lot more practical that most of the stuff that was predicted.

Tell them that not a single nuclear weapon would be used in the next 50 years and they would be thrilled plenty.

I was a teenager in 1959. I don’t think I ever believed in flying cars, but I can now fly from one side of the world to the other at a price that I can easily afford, and that’s much more useful. There are robots these days, though they can’t do a lot of what was predicted, but computers and computer networks have progressed incredibly.

One thing that a person from 1959 would find incredible is that computers are now used for everything, including playing games, watching movies and TV, making phone calls around the world, and viewing the family photo album. Back in 1959, computers only did mathematics, and were mostly stand-alone devices.

Another is that telephones have become microcomputers. Who would have believed that you could use your portable phone to get directions as you drove your car, to shoot little movies of what you see, and share that movie with the world on YouTube?

I’m certainly not disappointed!

I’d guess that the sort of people in 1959 who were seriously interested in predictions of the future would be both excited and disappointed by what 2009 is actually like. I think we really did think we’d have flying cars. However, if the question is what the average person in 1959 would think of what we have now, I suppose the answer is that they would be confused. Most people then (or now) don’t even worry about predictions of the future. They don’t expect the future to be much different from the present.

And tell them that the Soviet Union would end in 32 years without a single shot being fired, and they’d be even more thrilled.

Between the Soviet Union and the US directly, anyway…

In my humble opinion, this belongs in IMHO (since there’s no factual answer). Off we go…

I think a citizen of the 1950s would be surprised at how different the world is. I don’t think anyone would have predicted the ubiquity of computers or the fact that so much of our entertainment is digital now. And cars are different, but really not that much than in the 1950s. (Certainly no flying cars.) And the social changes are tremendous.

It makes me wonder how different things will be fifty years from now.

I don’t think any, except for a small few, thought we would have flying cars, or personal helicopters and such.

I think things that would astound them are, as mentioned above, computers and how they are in everything.

I think they would be astounded at plastics…how much it is used and how cheap you can buy things made of it (after adjusting for inflation). The ‘throw away’ consumer culture of buying a kitchen appliance for just an hour or two of labor and throwing it away when it breaks…and how often it DOESN’T break.

Speaking of not breaking…I think they would be freakin amazed at the longevity and reliability of many things today…like cars. People buying cars, changing the oil every now and then…drive it for 100,000 miles with no expected problems. THAT would amaze the hell out of them.

The Internet would make many salivate…along with wireless devices.


I think, at first, a 50’s person would be disappointed at seeing no huge differences. However, once they looked at the details they would be amazed and satisfied.

The one area which would provoke the most disappointment, IMHO, would be space travel. What…you haven’t even gone to MARS yet? No permanent settlements off Earth?!

Rube Goldberg, asked to predict the future, made a bunch of pronouncements that could as easily have been about his own time, and I think he was uncannily accurate.

The problem with predicting the future is that it’s hard to tell what will be important, or how it will be. Robert Heinlein was dead on with telephones without cords between the handheld part and the desk set (Operation Moonbase) and cell phones that people could pack away so as to have an excuse not to answer them (Space Cadet) and commercials for birth control pills (Stranger in a Strange land), but even he was far off in other predictions.

Pepople knew that computers were going to be important, but I doubt that even people who’d heard of Moore’s law would think it would keep going on so long, and having computers shrink in size and cost and be so incredibly powerful that they’d be ubiquitous. Despite the occasional bits suggesting the Internet, you can’t really say it was expected, and it has radically changed the world and business, and will continue to do so. Not just e-commerce and the downfall of magazines, but offshoring as well. Even people who foresaw telecommuting don’t seem to have considered that, if you can do it from the suburbs, you can do it around the world.

Who predicted that electronic imaging and digital storage would so completely change photography and cinema? Who foresaw CGI? The iPod and other digital music devices, with immense storage, great fidelity, and small space.

And all those things that they thought would be a part of our lives – robots, space travel, Super-Clean Roadways – have turned out to be more difficult, expensive, or impractical. God knows I don’t look forward to flying cars or jetpacks – I don’t need drunks crashing into my house late at night.

The problem with flying cars is and has always been one of nomenclature, not technology. We already had a perfectly good word for a flying car: It’s an “airplane”. So really, the complaint that “we don’t have flying cars” really means “not everyone has a pilot’s license”. Which sounds a lot less reasonable, when you put it that way.

I think the social changes would be most astounding. I remember seeing some video from the mid-60s that was pretty accurate in predicting online shopping and e-mail: but for the shopping stuff, all that was relegated to the little woman at home while Fred MacMurray hung up his fedora in the office winning bread for the family. But the little lady sure can look forward to some labor saving devices in the Kitchen Of The Future!

Now go make me a turkey pot pie, wench.

There were lots of shots fired. Just none at the Soviet Union itself.

The OP seems to be explicitly referring to US (or at least Western) pop culture conceptions of the 50s - but bear in mind that outside the US, most people had never owned a regular car, let alone a flying one. Few of them had telephones, microwaves, televisions and so on. I’m not even talking about the third world; there were only 2 million cars in Britain in 1950, for a population of about 50 million. There were about 5 million telephones.

I asked my dad about this once (he was born in 1943 in Bombay, to a relatively well-to-do family). His most advanced toys were a mass-produced cricket ball and a mass-produced wooden train. He was one of about a dozen children at his elementary-level school whose family owned a car, out of a student body of about 500. By comparison, my mother, who grew up in something approaching dire poverty, had some dog-eared copies of the Little House on the Prarie books, and a homemade doll. She had seen neither a telephone nor an automobile (she had seen commercial trucks and gasoline-powered tractors) until she went to college in 1960something.

Interestingly, my dad’s pretty sure that when he graduated med school in 1966 he did believe we’d be using something like fiber optics and robotics to perform procedures like keyhole surgery by now. The whole laser thing never occurred to him, though.

My wife is from Taiwan and grew up in a pretty rural area in the 70s. In Texas, we visited a 100-year old farm that was being run as a Williamsburg-style living museum kind of of thing, showing the machines they used and the old Sears catalogues they ordered from. My wife remarked that US farm life of a century ago was more advanced than what she had seen firsthand when she was little.

While it’s true that flying cars have yet to get past the prototype stage, it is possible to have a flying motorcycle.

The Little Heroes by Norman Spinrad had CGI singers and actors, the music industry and movie industry had crews of computer people creating the acts and movies/tv shows sort of like we have crews of computer people creating CGI. There was also a serious ‘cult’ of people who followed the media and were seriously rabid fans of specific ‘actors’ and ‘musicians’

Daniel Galouye’s Simulacron-3 had Virtual Reality in 1964, but the idea wasn’t widespread – which is my point. You can usually find isolated incidents of these things I cite, but they certainly weren’t widespread. H.G. Wells may have written about a world-wide data store, and Murrayt Leinster wrote “A Logic Named Joe”, but the Internet, by and large, swooped down upon people who weren’t expecting it. Wells’ and Leinster’s stories didn’t make much of a dent in the consciousness – not even Wells and Leinster’s.

Cars aren’t that much different than in the 1950’s? Well, basically they’re not, most of them still have gasoline engines and four wheels. But so many cars have gadgets built into them for comfort and safety that didn’t exist in 1959. Things such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, GPS, OnStar, and rear-view cameras, just to name a few. Some models of luxury cars can even parallel park by themselves. And many of these items are becoming standard equipment on vehicles.