We Westerners seem to spend an awful lot of time dreaming about the future -- and we always have. In fact, this was one of philosopher Alan Watts' major explanations for modern unhappiness:
"The power of expectations is such that for most human beings ... the future is more real than the present, which cannot be lived happily until the future is bright with promise. [People] fail to live because they are always preparing to live."
At the same time, our need to fantasize about what's to come is part of what makes us such fascinating creatures (whether or not those fantasies make us happy), and what makes the study of past ideas about the future -- which is now our present -- especially fascinating. Take, for instance, predictions of the year 2000 made at the turn of the 19th century. The blog Paleo-Future has many examples, but my favorites are two intensely vivid series, one French and one German, distributed by a candy and chocolate company of the era. Some are just totally crazy -- and quite possibly meant as jokes -- like this one:
At the School
They have a machine that can grind up books and transmit their knowledge directly into your brain, but the machine is hand-cranked. (You can't make this stuff up.) What I love about old visions of the future is that they usually look a lot like the time in which they were created, save one or two details; their concept of the world was so firmly rooted in 1900 that, you know, of course things will still be cranked by hand in 2000.