Westerners today entertain nothing but grim, dystopian visions of the future. This in stark contrast to the postwar decades when, as everyone knows, all was optimism. “In the year 2000, I think I’ll probably be in a spaceship to the moon, dictating to robots,” says an English schoolboy in the 1966 footage above. “Or else I may be in charge of a robot court, judging some robots, or I may be at the funeral of a computer. Or if something’s gone wrong with the nuclear bombs, I may be back from hunting, in a cave.” Granted, this was the middle of the Cold War, when humanity felt itself perpetually at the brink of self-destruction. How did other children imagine the turn of the millennium? “I don’t like the idea of getting up and finding you’ve got a cabbage pill to eat for breakfast.”
Interviewed for the BBC television series Tomorrow’s World, these adolescents paint a series of bleak pictures of the year 2000, some more vivid than others. “All these atomic bombs will be dropping around the place,” predicts another boy. One will get near the center, because it will make a huge, great big crater, and the whole world will just melt.”
One girl sounds more resigned: “There’s nothing you can do to stop it. The more people get bombs — somebody’s going to use it one day.” But not all these kids envision a nuclear holocaust: “I don’t think there is going to be atomic warfare,” says one boy, “but I think there is going to be all this automation. People are going to be out of work, and a great population, and I think something has to be done about it.”
The idea that “computers are taking over” now has great currency among pundits, but it seems schoolgirls were making the same point more than half a century ago. “In the year 2000, there just won’t be enough jobs to go around,” says one of them. “The only jobs there will be, will be for people with high IQ who can work computers and such things.” Another contributing factor, as other kids see it, is an overpopulation so extreme that “either everyone will be living in big domes in the Sahara, or they’ll be undersea.” And there’ll be plenty of sea to live under, as one boy figures it, when it rises to cover everything but “the highlands in Scotland, and some of the big hills in England and Wales.” Less dramatically but more chillingly, some of these young students fear a terminal boredom at the end of history: “Everything will be the same. People will be the same; things will be the same.”
Not all of them foresee a wholly dehumanized future. “Black people won’t be separate, they’ll be all mixed in with the white people,” says one girl. “There will be poor and rich, but they won’t look down on each other.” Her prediction may not quite have come to pass even in 2021, but nor have most of her cohort’s more harrowing fantasies. If anything has collapsed since then, it’s standards of adolescent articulacy. As Roger Ebert wrote of Michael Apted’s Up series, which documents the same generation of English children, these clips make one ponder “the inarticulate murkiness, self-help clichés, sports metaphors, and management truisms that clutter American speech,” a condition that now afflicts even the English. But then, not even the most imaginative child could have known that the dystopia to come would be linguistic.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.