A 1947 French Film Accurately Predicted Our 21st-Century Addiction to Smartphones

When we watch a movie from, say, twen­ty years ago, it strikes us that both noth­ing and every­thing has changed. Apart from their slight­ly bag­gi­er clothes, the peo­ple look the same as us. But where are their phones? Com­pared to the recent past, the look of life today has­n’t changed much, but thanks to the inter­net and even more so to smart­phones, the feel has changed enor­mous­ly. Most lit­er­ary and cin­e­mat­ic pre­dic­tions of the future got this exact­ly wrong, envi­sion­ing flam­boy­ant aes­thet­ic trans­for­ma­tions atop com­plete­ly unchanged forms of human behav­ior and soci­ety.

But more than 70 years ago, J. K. Ray­mond-Mil­let’s film Télévi­sion: Oeil de Demain (“Tele­vi­sion: Eye of Tomor­row”) seems to have scored the bulls­eye few oth­er visions of the world ahead even aimed for.  “This is one extra­or­di­nar­i­ly accu­rate pre­dic­tion in a work of sci­ence fic­tion,” wrote William Gib­son as he tweet­ed out a four-minute clip of the film that has recent­ly gone viral.

Though long regard­ed as a sci-fi prophet, Gib­son is the first to admit how lit­tle about tech­nol­o­gy he’s accu­rate­ly fore­seen: his break­out nov­el Neu­ro­mancer, for instance, fea­tures 21st-cen­tu­ry hack­ers mak­ing calls from pub­lic tele­phone booths.

Hence the impres­sive­ness, here in the actu­al 21st cen­tu­ry, of this vision of a future in which peo­ple stare near-con­stant­ly down at the screens of their hand­held devices: on the train, at the café (vis­it­ed, at 0:13, by what appears to be a time-trav­el­ing Gib­son him­self), in the street, on col­li­sion cours­es with fel­low screen-watch­ers on foot and in cars alike. These hand­held tele­vi­sions remind us of our mobile phones in more ways than one, not least in their being scuffed from sheer use. As with every astute pre­dic­tion of the future, all this may at first strike us denizens of the actu­al future as mun­dane — until we remem­ber that the pre­dic­tion was made in 1947.

Pro­duced as an edu­ca­tion­al film, Télévi­sion (view­able in full here) first shows and tells how the epony­mous, still-nov­el tech­nol­o­gy works, then goes on to imag­ine the forms in which it could poten­tial­ly sat­u­rate mod­ern soci­ety. These include not just the afore­men­tioned “minia­ture-tele­vi­sion devices in pub­lic places,” as schol­ar of tele­vi­sion Anne-Katrin Weber puts it, but “pro­fes­sion­al meet­ings con­duct­ed via pic­ture-phones,” “cars equipped with tele­vi­sion screens,” and “shops pro­mot­ing their goods on tele­vi­sion.”

We also see that “the small hand­held portable devices replace news­pa­pers and air ‘the infor­ma­tion broad­cast, or the polit­i­cal com­ment, the fash­ion show, or the sports bul­letin’, while the tele­vi­sion set at the trav­el agency replaces the paper cat­a­logues and invites poten­tial clients to ‘tele­vi­su­al­ly’ vis­it vaca­tion des­ti­na­tions.” Such tech­nol­o­gy will also offer more “inti­mate sights,” as when “the young woman, step­ping out of the show­er, has for­got­ten to turn off her tele­phone-cam­era and reveals her­self naked to the caller.” Yes, of course, “for­got­ten” — but then, this approach­es aspects of the future in which we live that even the bold­est tech­no­log­i­cal prophets nev­er dared con­sid­er.

via Kot­tke/William Gib­son

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Niko­la Tesla’s Pre­dic­tions for the 21st Cen­tu­ry: The Rise of Smart Phones & Wire­less, The Demise of Cof­fee, The Rule of Eugen­ics (1926/35)

In 1911, Thomas Edi­son Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2011: Smart Phones, No Pover­ty, Libraries That Fit in One Book

In 1964, Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like Today: Self-Dri­ving Cars, Video Calls, Fake Meats & More

Jules Verne Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts What the 20th Cen­tu­ry Will Look Like in His Lost Nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (1863)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.