24 Strange Predictions For the 21st Century

Personal airplanes aren't quite reality yet—and sadly, neither are personal space ships!
Personal airplanes aren't quite reality yet—and sadly, neither are personal space ships!
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

Everyone from chocolate-making companies to some of history's greatest minds (think Ben Franklin and Nikola Tesla) weighed in on what they thought life would be like in the 21st century. Check out what they got right and wrong (mostly wrong!) below, in this piece adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. We Wouldn't Drink Coffee

Inventor Nikola Tesla thought that, by the 21st century, people would no longer be drinking coffee. In a 1935 article in Liberty magazine, Tesla predicted it simply wouldn’t be cool to poison our systems with what he considered to be harmful stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. He thought alcohol, on the other hand, would withstand the test of time. Tesla called it an “elixir of life.”

2. News Headlines Wouldn't Focus on Crime or Politics

Tesla was way off about coffee. He also misjudged what we’d consider headlining news in the 21st century, predicting that newspapers would, quote, “give a mere ‘stick’ in the back pages to accounts of crime or political controversies.” Tesla believed the front pages would mostly cover scientific hypotheses.

3. Meat Would Be Less Common

In a 1952 issue of Galaxy Magazine, science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein posited that fish and yeast would be our main sources of protein, and that beef would be a luxury. Sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov took it even further. In 1964, he imagined that the 2014 World’s Fair would feature an Algae Bar with “mock-turkey” and “pseudosteak,” saying, quote, “It won’t be bad at all (if you can dig up those premium prices).” So it seems the Impossible Burger wasn’t exactly impossible to predict (though it does not contain algae).

4. Fruits and Veggies Would Be Huge

Others thought our food’s content would be more or less the same, but that its scale would change dramatically. In 1900, John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. wrote [PDF] in The Ladies’ Home Journal that we’d sink our teeth into strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries “as large as apples,” and peas and beans would be as big as beets. And that was nothing compared to what George Serviss dreamed up. In a 1956 article from the Independent Press-Telegram’s magazine Southland, Serviss imagined a farm from the year 2000 where hydrogen bombs caused the soil to produce 3-foot-long carrots, 4-foot-wide turnips, and basketball-sized tomatoes.

5. Some Letters in the English Language Would Be Eliminated

Watkins, Jr. also believed that we’d completely get rid of the letters C, X, and Q. Instead, spelling would be based on sound alone, so those three letters would presumably be replaced by S’s and K’s. As bizarre as this may seem, Benjamin Franklin and Noah Webster had advocated for spelling reform in the 18th and 19th centuries. And just six years after Watkins Jr. published his 21st-century predictions, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie created the Simplified Spelling Board to revamp the English language. Despite then-President Theodore Roosevelt’s best efforts, English spelling remains largely un-simplified today.

6. We'd Be Able to Make It Rain ...

On January 6, 1910, Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette published an article that predicted people would be able to make it rain within the next century—which we actually can kind of do. Through a process called cloud seeding, silver iodide particles are injected into clouds, and water collects around them to form precipitation. Its effectiveness is debated, however, and it’s still a far cry from where futurists thought we’d be by the 21st century.

7. ... And Eliminate Hurricanes

In a 1950 article from Popular Mechanics, Valdemar Kaempffert imagined that hurricanes would be a nonissue by the year 2000. Upon spotting one over the ocean, Kaempffert thought we’d ignite a large oil fire across the water, drawing air from the surrounding region and putting an end to the hurricane … somehow. He believed we’d be able to divert storms, putting an end to flight delays. Oh Waldemar, would that it were so simple.

8. We'd Build Machines To Generate Weather

Other fantasies of controlling the weather were even more vague and less scientifically sound. In 1900, a German chocolate company called Theodore Hildebrand unt zoon released a series of illustrated cards with its best 21st-century predictions. One of them depicted a “good weather machine” simply blowing a storm back over the ocean. That same year, The Boston Globe suggested that we’d be able to generate a nice easterly wind whenever it got too hot outside.

9. People Would Live Underground ... And Underwater

Asimov didn’t think we’d be able to conquer the elements, but he did think we’d do a better job of avoiding them. He envisioned vast underground cities where advanced light technology could mimic outdoor ambiences, and the earth’s surface would be used for agriculture, grazing grounds, and parks. He was a bit off the mark, but an underground park dubbed “the lowline” is supposedly set to debut in New York at some point. Asimov thought we could be well on our way to living underwater by the early 2000s, too, which he felt would especially appeal to those who enjoy water sports.

10. We'd Ride On Fish For Sport

Predictions about 21st-century water sports went far beyond the traditional sailing, surfing, and swimming you’re probably picturing. Between 1899 and 1910, French artist Jean-Marc Côté and his contemporaries produced almost 100 highly fanciful illustrations of the year 2000. On one, deep-sea divers ride giant seahorses. Another depicts a whale pulling a bus full of people through the sea. Yet another shows a crowd of onlookers cheering as jockeys race by on the backs of enormous fish. Côté and his fellow artists might be disappointed if they knew we weren’t yet spending all our free time underwater, but they’d probably give Aquaman a five-star review.

11. We'd Travel In Unusual Flying Machines

During the early 20th century, many people predicted a future that saw air travel as the primary mode of transportation. This probably wasn’t a coincidence, since the earliest planes were taking off around this time. The Wright brothers’ famous first flight happened on December 17, 1903. About 10 years later, the first commercial flight carried a whopping one passenger from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa. The flight only covered around 20 miles, but that didn’t deter some people from dreaming big about 21st-century aviation.

Côté's early 20th-century French illustrations, for example, were big on air travel. The images show just about every type of aircraft you can possibly imagine. There’s one that looks like a hot air balloon basket attached to a helicopter propeller, and another is just a ship attached to two Zeppelin-like aircrafts. There’s also a number of individual flying machines for police, firefighters, and regular citizens, which look like they have actual animal wings attached to them.

12. We'd All Have Personal Airplanes

In 1930, Frederick Edwin Smith—Britain’s former Lord Chancellor and a close personal friend of Winston Churchill—published a book called The World in 2030 A.D., in which he imagined that each person would own a small airplane ideal for weekend trips. He wrote that, “Skiing parties in Greenland will be made up in London clubs on Saturday mornings, and translated into action before the same evening.”

13. We'd Water the Sahara Desert

Personal planes were one of Smith’s more mundane predictions. He also thought we might build a canal to funnel water from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara Desert. Because portions of the desert are below sea level, this would create what he called a “new Riviera” with “fertile charm” to rival Florida and the beaches of southern France.

14. We'd Only Have Three Sets of Clothing ...

By 2030, Smith hoped that men would have revolted against what he considered farcical, excessively complicated, and unhygienic clothing. Instead, they’d have only three simple outfits: one for work, one for recreation, and a third for formal occasions.

15. ... Or We'd Mostly Walk Around Naked

Heinlein thought clothing would be on the outs altogether. Covering up would be reserved for strangers and conservative old relatives, and psychiatrists would actually recommend casual nakedness around the house.

16. There Would Be No More State Lines

Heinlein also predicted that by the 1990s, the United States would have passed a constitutional amendment that completely abolished state lines.

17. Most of the Eastern Seaboard Would Be One Mega-city

Asimov thought that Boston, Washington, D.C., and the area in between would have merged into one giant city, with a population of more than 40 million people. That hasn’t happened, but the population of the Boston to Washington corridor did clock in around 50 million people in 2010.

18. Moving Sidewalks Would Be Everywhere

You’ve likely seen moving sidewalks in airports and train stations, but they never became quite as popular as people of the past expected they would. The Columbian Movable Sidewalk Company debuted the first one at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. It still holds the Guinness World Record for “longest moving walkway ever.” Paris’s Exposition Universelle featured another (shorter) moving walkway in 1900. Subsequent attempts to install them in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston all failed, due to maintenance concerns, weather issues, and also, possibly, the simple fact they’re just not very efficient. They have to move slowly so that people can hop on safely—more slowly, in fact, than normal walking speed. And, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, people tend to just stand there like it’s a ride.

And if you think it’s frustrating to stand behind people on a moving sidewalk at the airport, you might have had a tough time with those early iterations. The version at Chicago’s World’s Fair had benches to sit on. The one in Paris didn’t have seats built in to the moving part of the sidewalk, but as Electrical World said in a 1900 feature, “visitors are beginning to find this out and take their own stools and camp chairs.” So these moving sidewalks acted kind of like a train, but slower, and without protection from the elements.

19. We'd Live to Be Really, Really Old

In a 1788 letter to Reverend John Lathrop, Benjamin Franklin shared his theory that within a few centuries, we’d be living as long as the biblical patriarchs [PDF] from the Book of Genesis. Noah, of ark fame, supposedly lived to be 950 years old. And his grandfather, Methuselah, is said to have died when he was 969.

20. There Would Be Nursing Homes On the Moon

As for what a 900-year-old person might look or feel like, Franklin didn’t speculate. Heinlein, on the other hand, imagined that nursing homes on the moon could slow signs of aging. Because the moon has just 17 percent of the gravity found on earth, Heinlein thought frail joints would ache less and weak hearts wouldn’t have to work so hard. By Heinlein’s best estimates, moon-dwellers would be able to reach a cool 120 years old.

21. Houses Would Be Dusted Automatically

Speaking of not having to work so hard, Heinlein also dreamed up a much easier way to clean houses. He called it a “whirlwind,” which would automatically whisk dust right out of the house at regular intervals. If you’re thinking that might bother you while you’re sleeping, eating, or doing anything else, Heinlein had an answer to that, too. The machine would only operate when it didn’t detect any masses radiating heat at body temperature.

22. Everything In Homes Would Be Waterproof

Kaempffert thought we’d be able to clean our houses simply by turning the hose on. He predicted that everything from the furniture to the drapes would be manufactured from synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. After rinsing everything down the water would disappear through a drain, and then a blast of hot air would dry it all off, kind of like a car-wash.

23. We'd Create a Man-Made Star

An Associated Press article from 1950 made the bold claim that we’d have our first man-made star in space by the year 2000. Its surface would reflect sunlight, and it would orbit the Earth from 400 to 500 miles away. To put that in perspective, the moon maintains an average distance from the Earth of almost 240,000 miles. But the article also describes the star as a spaceship, so maybe the writer just didn’t understand what a star actually is. In that case, their predictions weren’t quite so outlandish—the International Space Station orbits Earth from around 248 miles away.

24. There Would Be 4-D Movie Theaters

That article also anticipated “four-dimensional,” dome-shaped movie theaters with the action unfolding on screens all around you. If a character stepped into the street on the screen in front of you, you’d have to look behind you to see if a car was coming. Virtual reality experiences continue to move in the direction of this type of 360-degree immersion, but the 3D glasses we use in theaters today don’t really have the same effect.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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6 Punctuation Marks Hated by Famous Authors

F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
ChristianChan/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Punctuation marks are not the most important tools in a writer's toolkit, but writers can develop some strong opinions about them. Here are six punctuation marks that famous authors grew to hate.

1. The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, inspires passionate emotions on both sides, but more frequently on the pro side. James Thurber, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, made a case against the Oxford comma to his editor Harold Ross, in a discussion of the phrase “the red, white, and blue.” Thurber complained that “all those commas make the flag seemed rained on. They give it a furled look. Leave them out, and Old Glory is flung to the breeze, as it should be.”

2. The Comma

Gertrude Stein had no use for the Oxford comma, or any kind of comma at all, finding the use of them “degrading.” In her Lectures in America, she said, “Commas are servile and they have no life of their own … A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.”

3. The Question Mark

The comma wasn't the only piece of punctuation Stein took issue with; she also objected to the question mark [PDF], finding it “positively revolting” and of all the punctuation marks “the completely most uninteresting.” There was no reason for it since “a question is a question, anybody can know that a question is a question and so why add to it the question mark when it is already there when the question is already there in the writing.”

4. The Exclamation Point

In Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham’s memoir of her time with F. Scott Fitzgerald in his later years, she describes the things she learned from him about life and writing. In a red-pen critique of a script she had written, he told her to “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

5. The Apostrophe

Playwright George Bernard Shaw thought apostrophes were unnecessary and declined to use them in words like don’t, doesn’t, I’ve, that’s, and weren’t. He did use them for words like I’ll and he’ll, where the apostrophe-less version might have caused confusion. He made clear his disdain for the little marks in his Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers, where he said, “There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.”

6. The Semicolon

Kurt Vonnegut, in his essay “Here Is a Lesson in Creative Writing” (published in the book A Man Without a Country), comes out forcefully against the semicolon in his first rule: “Never use semicolons.” He insults them as representing “absolutely nothing” and claims “all they do is show you’ve been to college.” Semicolon lovers can take heart in the fact that he may have been kidding a little bit—after using a semicolon later in the book, Vonnegut noted, “Rules take us only so far. Even good rules.”