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LOOKING BACK ON THE DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

What fun it is to be a Monday morning quarterback. Especially when the Sunday in question goes back to 1957.

A reader sent me a copy of the 1957 "Changing Times" by Kiplinger Magazine called "Look 25 Years Ahead." In it are projections by scientists, sociologists, statisticians, industrialists, educators and government officials. When these people gazed into their crystal balls -- this was before computer models, you must remember -- they saw amazing changes.

Some came to pass and others probably never will.

Here's one that they got just right: "Social problems revolve around the need to provide for an aging population." Any policy planner can confirm that.

And they were very much on the mark about technology:

There will be electronic films of plays, operas, movies which can be bought like phonograph records. Letters will be sent on facsimile machines. Telephones will allow you to dial just one number to call your party. Radios will fit snugly in the ear.

They said highways would have electronic controls to maintain cars at a distance from other cars. In a variation, Indiana-based Delco Electronics' has developed a "collision avoidance" system that transmits a warning voice if one vehicle gets too close to another.

They also predicted that television shows in color would outnumber those in black and white.

With technology predicted to be the hottest industry, they advised parents: Train your boy to be an engineer, a chemist, a doctor, a scientist.

Women, of course, would benefit from technology, too, as a whish of air would clean and dry dishes and do laundry and self-operating machinery would clean houses.

"Will all this produce feelings of absolute frustration in housewives, making them fear that no one needs them now?" psychologists wondered.

Those predictors of 38 years ago had no idea of what today's woman would be doing. Or that she'd be frustrated for exactly the opposite reason -- everyone needs her.

Some predictions seem ludicrous.

We would be working four day weeks, six to seven hours a day. We would be enjoying a renaissance of arts that would have "communities boasting of their symphonies" and "schools paying more attention to creativity."

Atom-powered trains should be zooming down tracks at two miles a minute. Others rocketing on monorails. Take a bow, Europe. But here in the United States, train travel comes nowhere near that ideal.

And this: People will live in "interurbias," where cities fuse with one another, as today's farmlands become tomorrow's suburbs. Ask anyone over 60 where farmland once existed -- he'll point to shopping malls, condos, industrial parks.

Optimists were confident that by 1982 cancers would wither under chemotherapeutic agents and that hardening of the arteries would no longer strike men down in their prime. That fat consumption would be down, as fruits and vegetables become mainstays.

And that medical bills would be paid for in advance, through insurance and prepay plans. "But it doesn't look as if compulsory health insurance under government auspices is in the cards."

Congratulations, Kiplinger, on predictions that have proven true in our brave new world.

And thanks for the bittersweet smiles provoked by the others.

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