Irving Wallace is a name from the past. If you are a Gen-X kid, you may have grown up in a world where every bathroom featured The Book of Lists, Wallace’s book (with kids Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky—he had to take the old man’s Ellis Island name, huh?) that updated to The Guinness Book of World Records in the hip 70s. Why, just yesterday, before I wrote this article, I posted for friends Irving Wallace’s mind-blowing 1972 movie The Man, in which a fateful plane accident causes president pro tempore of the Senate James Earl Jones to become the President. A black President?! 1972 America’s collective mind is blown. Halfway between the Dr. Strangelove airplane and Darth Vader, JEJ is, of course, a magnificent voice and a majestic avatar of human dignity. Burgess Meredith—you know, Rocky’s trainer—plays the evil sculduggerous Southern teabagger who plots President Vader’s ruin.
In any case… OMNI asked me to take a look at Wallace & Wallace & Wallechinsky’s prognostications for the February 1981 issue of OMNI magazine. They were asked to predict what kind of changes might take place in America through the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. (Somehow, the phrase I loved—the Aughts—never took hold.)
The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace & Amy Wallace
How well did W/W/W do? Not great—I’d say somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of their predictions came true, kinda, in some form or fashion. Like most futurists, W/W/W bet on vast changes in transportation. Everyone fantasized that we would be commercial-flying to the moon a la 2001, that fossil fuels would be replaced, that some form of Buck Rogers-y travel would be bustling us about. Hardly anyone predicted that our future would be so “social”—would be so much about communication and global connectedness.
Let’s be honest. They were more into the optics of really cool rockets.
Enclosed are some of W/W/W’s OMNI predictions… ones I’ve found came true, or kinda came true, or came close to coming true.
True or Almost-True Predictions
- A bottle of hard liquor costs $125, a double martini at a bar costs $20, and a pack of cigarettes costs $5. Some New Yorkers may find these prices nostalgic.
- The US legalizes marijuana. Some of the leading brands for sale in your liquor store or tobacco shop are Connoisseur Columbian, Santa Mosta Gold, Primo Mexican. “Medical marijuana dispensaries” are all the rage and it seems only a matter of time before that silly veil—the dope equivalent of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”—will be removed and real blunts will be sold alongside Swisher Sweets. Even some hardcore red states are getting with the program on this.
- The US public school system collapses and is replaced by one-room local schools in every neighborhood. Not so yet, but Khan Academy—an online teaching service created by some “disruptive” tech entrepreneurs—may replace the old-fashioned schoolroom with…well, a bunch of YouTube videos.
- Most laborers working on assembly lines are replaced by robots. Most? I don’t think we are at “most” yet. But we are going there. Checkout clerks are almost gone; thanks to Google’s riderless car, soon cabbies, truck drivers, limo drivers will be out of a job—for life.
- Because of excessive unemployment caused by increasing automation, work riots occur in most industrialized nations. The hottest economic book right now, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, suggests that highly mechanized future advanced societies may need to consider paying their citizens a living wage. Jobs will be that scarce. Again, we are not there yet, but getting there.
- Parts of California and Texas spin off to form new states. Every time Rick Perry huffs and puffs about the Lone Star state spinnin’ off, blue-state crankypantses like Bill Maher say, “Good! Let’s have California secede too—and see how they like the absence of our tax money for their goddam stop signs!”
- Every automobile is equipped with microcomputer, sensor and control activator for self-operation by voice command. Also, every car is equipped with collision-avoidance electronic gadgetry. This is the dream of Google’s driverless car.
- Wrist telephones are a reality. Take ‘em off the wrist and you have the omnipresence of smartphones.
- Artificial eyesight is invented for blind people. We are at least partially the way there.
- 27 percent of Americans are illiterate (it had been 1 percent in 1980). Poor public education plus a lifetime of LOL OMG FML texting has vastly decreased literacy—maybe not quite to these numbers yet, but we are on the decline.
- More than 90 percent of the households in the US play electronic television games for recreation. Are we at 90 percent? Maybe not. But to be sure, the money earned by video games vastly outstrips Hollywood altogether.
- Four or five women judges are on the US Supreme Court. We have had four in the last 20 years.
- More than 600,000,000 people are living in “absolute poverty.” More than half the world’s population is living in cities.
- A full half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 89 people. Those 89 equal the entire bottom fifty percent of the people on earth.
- All the walls of your living room are video screens. You can activate Dial-an-Environment and have the interior of the Taj Mahal projected on the screen so that you will feel you are inside the mausoleum. This feels a little bit more like a rave than your living room; but for sure, the tech is there; and cheap, too.
- There is an open market for used and reconditioned human body parts. We have been there since the 90s. An artificial brain—as complex as the human brain—proves to have conscious thoughts and emotions.
- The ascent of Artificial Intelligence out of the uncanny valley of simulated intelligence into genuine, human-like self-consciousness. Are we there yet? Not quite, but maybe—terrifyingly—we are on our way.
A quick P.S. for people who love the Nostradamus of it all… the futurist Alvin Toffler, of Future Shock fame, wrote a book that predicted the same period that W/W/W took on. His predictions are tons closer to the truth; and his writing about them has the same trenchant technical/sociological analysis of, say, Marshall McLuhan… it’s a book that holds up as a past world’s very accurate prediction of where we are now.