1960s Schoolchildren Imagine Life in the Year 2000: Overpopulation, Mass Unemployment, Robot Courts, Rising Seas & Beyond

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Duck and Cov­er: The 1950s Film That Taught Mil­lions of School­child­ren How to Sur­vive a Nuclear Bomb

Jean Cocteau Deliv­ers a Speech to the Year 2000 in 1962: “I Hope You Have Not Become Robots”

For­eign Exchange Stu­dents Debate Whether Amer­i­can Teenagers Have Too Much Free­dom (1954)

The Sum­mer­hill School, the Rad­i­cal Edu­ca­tion­al Exper­i­ment That Let Stu­dents Learn What, When, and How They Want (1966)

Hunter S. Thomp­son Chill­ing­ly Pre­dicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Com­ing Revenge of the Eco­nom­i­cal­ly & Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly “Obso­lete” (1967)

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.

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  • Giddeon Marx-Spencer says:

    British rul­ing class school­child­ren at pri­vate school accu­rate­ly and artic­u­late­ly pre­dict feu­dal era class sys­tem of hered­i­tary priv­i­lege and white suprema­cy will extend their priv­i­leges into 21st cen­tu­ry.

    ‘Kids today are no where near as self-con­scious­ly artic­u­late as chil­dren edu­cat­ed at expen­sive pri­vate schools’

    ‘The British class sys­tem is *noth­ing* like the Indi­an caste sys­tem at all. Total­ly dif­fer­ent’

  • JC says:

    They’ve been fear mon­ger­ing kids for­ev­er. Any­one remem­ber “acid rain”?, The ozone lay­er? The rain­forests were going to all be gone and wed all die? etc etc. These kids were prob­a­bly taught the same ideas. Go back to the 70’s and the biggest fear was the cool­ing earth (Just google the Time or Newsweek cov­er)

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