2007.01.31 The future may not be as friendly as you think

Written by David Green.


Predicting the future has probably always been a bit of a black art. Everyone remembers the mistakes much more than any successes. I know I’m not the only one still waiting for those flying cars the “experts” used to predict were on the way.

Often, progress changes the equation and what seems to be a dire future takes on a new look. For instance, back in the late 1800s, some expert could have predicted that there would be so many horses needed by today’s growing population that we would all be knee deep in manure. Instead, people turned to that newfangled “horseless carriage” for transportation, bringing on its own set of problems. And later, experts promised those still-absent flying cars.

I got to thinking about this after looking through an old science textbook I picked up at the sale at the Lyons school a couple of months ago. The book, a 1950 edition of a 1941 text, had a couple of interesting predictions in it, both pertaining to the supply of oil.

One said that if we kept using oil at the present rate, the supply may not last for more than ten years. Other experts were cited who predicted the supply could last for another ten years beyond that. That means we would have run out back in 1970 at the latest. When predictions are wrong, it makes the next similar prediction harder to take seriously, even though the latest prophecy may turn out to be right.

Sometimes, what was acceptable turns out, often much later, to be a bad idea. The science book I purchased suggested, along with several other more benign ideas, that students “experiment with mercury,” adding the warning “be sure not to let the mercury touch gold.”

Apparently in the days following World War II, getting mercury near gold jewelry was the only danger people associated with the silvery metal. Mercury supposedly joins easily with gold, turning the gold to a silver color. If this happened, you were advised to take it to a jeweler to have the mercury “driven out.” Take some mercury to a jeweler now and see what kind of reception you get.

 Nowadays, you need to be wearing a hazardous materials suit to be near mercury. Of course, back when the book was printed, schools were full of asbestos and lead-based paint, too. It’s a wonder any students from that era are still with us.

Another futuristic sort of experiment from the 50s will finally come to a conclusion this summer in Oklahoma. In 1957, city officials in Tulsa buried a time capsule to be opened 50 years later in June 2007. The winner of a contest to predict Tulsa’s 2007 population will receive all items in the time capsule, including a new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere.

The Plymouth was covered in a metal preservative called cosmolene, wrapped in plastic and buried in a steel and concrete box in front of the county courthouse. But were those precautions enough?

Rust was a common problem in 1957 Plymouths and some feel that there’s no way that the time capsule hasn’t cracked and left moisture into the car’s tomb during the last 49-1/2 years. And some of the items accompanying the Plymouth may prove problematic on their own.

The case of beer waiting for the lucky winner (or their heirs) will probably be merely undrinkable. But another prize, courtesy of someone’s prediction of the future, would make me think twice about attending the capsule opening.

Someone decided to include ten gallons of premium gasoline in the Belvedere’s trunk, in case gas was not available in 2007 (wrong again). An article in the New York Times predicts that the gasoline may now be a “potentially volatile cocktail of unstable flammable chemicals.” There’s that darned old future, biting you in the rear again.

On the positive side, a $100 savings account included with the car should be worth quite a bit more now. That would come in handy if the new owner wisely chooses to have his “new” Plymouth checked out by a mechanic before driving it. I’d advise buying some new tires, belts and hoses before taking it for a spin.

If, on the other hand, the Plymouth has devolved into a pile of scrap metal and dangerous fluids, the money will come in handy in paying all the fines the EPA will be assessing you. But look on the bright side. At least they didn’t include a giant flask of mercury with the prizes in the car. The future probably already has all the surprises it needs waiting for you. And no matter what, I guarantee the Plymouth will not be able to fly.

    - Jan. 31, 2007 
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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