The Usborne Book of the Future is a fantastic end-of-the-70s children's book chock full of predictions and prognostications about how the 21st century might look. It was the high point of an era of visionary wonder in space exploration, computer technology, robotics, civics, all brilliantly hand-illustrated. It's just been re-issued in the UK in faithfully-reproduced form. Hopefully it'll follow soon in the U.S., but Amazon UK delivers internationally.
Here's a preview and retrospective from Dr. Michael J Harris, who adds a new foreword. Gray Stanback writes eloquently about the evaporation of this sort of book in a less optimistic age.
Moreover, the predictions these books made often emphasized things that were in vogue with futurists at the time. In the 1980s and 1990s, when most of them were written, that meant an emphasis on things like vertical cities, space colonies, household robots, and hypersonic airline flights. The trajectory of technology, alas, has not proven to be as linear as writers of the past imagined. Vertical cities, hypersonic airliners, and space colonies are no closer to reality than they were thirty years ago, and household robots do exist, but not in the form most people imagined they would. Instead most of the technological advances of the past twenty or so years have been in areas such as smartphones, drones, and the Internet. There haven't been any world-shattering breakthroughs, for example, in architecture or transportation.
Or it could be more of a cultural zeitgeist thing. It's hard for me to imagine someone sitting down in the year 2022 and writing a book about how awesome the future will be, at least with a straight face. Not because people have necessarily become more pessimistic, but because our expectations for what the future would hold have changed
Exactly so. The Usborne books did tilt their hats to dystopia and environmental crisis here and there, though. Consider that the following pre-dates Blade Runner, etc.
I like how the buildings are square in smog hell but round in bike lane utopia.
Indeed, I think it's time to do a new Usborne type book, a new Book of the Future, replete with the same concise, firm yet curious prose and, of course, wonderful hand-painted illustrations. It would perhaps have to be a little knowing and ironic about itself, but not overly so, and certainly not dependent on that for its appeal. The page above might well look much the same–just without the Giugiaro-designed vehicles. TWO TRIPS TO THE (LATE) 21st CENTURY: LUXURY TECHNOCOMMUNISM | DARK ENLIGHTENMENT. And the thriving ocean arcology turns out to be an abandoned libertarian billionaire's seastead, with little boxes for all the cool factions vying for control of the docks, the coal plant, etc.