Books can predict the future or re-write the past

Woman with red manicure using smartphone. Horizontal photo

Woman with red manicure using smartphone. Horizontal photo - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Living in the year 2000

As a child, one of my favourite library books was a volume entitled ‘Living in the Year 2000.’ This was back in the 1980s and I suspect the book was a bit older than that. 

I cannot now find any evidence the book ever existed, but I do remember it and expect much of it would make entertaining reading today. Most of the pictures inside showed people wearing outfits similar to those worn by the main characters in the TV series, ‘Thunderbirds’ although most still had recognisably circa 1980 hairstyles.

I was particularly impressed by some pictures which showed people talking to each other on screen via portable handsets. This is, of course, now a reality. In 2021, people frequently speak to each other on-screen on their mobile phones. Indeed, although we might not always use our phones to do it, many of us have grown accustomed to having regular conversations on Zoom in the past 12 months. A year ago, like most people, I didn’t know what ‘Zoom’ was. I only knew it as a term used in comic stories like Billy Whizz in The Beano to indicate something was happening at high speed. The meanings of words change over time.

The book wasn’t spot on with its prediction though. As it happened, the mobile phone business would turn out to be a very fast-growing market by the year 2000. I got my first mobile phone on my 23rd birthday about a week before the new year started and the UK was, in fact, just on the brink of moving to the point where more people owned mobile phones than did not. Today, around 95% of the population own them. Like it or not, they seem to be here to stay.

But the mobile phones of the year 2000 were some way off the level of the phones we have today. The on-screen chats foreseen by the book were not then generally possible for most people.

Every Boy’s Handbook

Another book I enjoyed as a child was called Every Boy’s Handbook. I actually owned this one and although there was a picture of a boy in a football kit on the front and lots of stuff about sport in it which was of no interest to me, there were lots of lists of historical information too.

The book’s title seems very dated now. Although I enjoyed it, I would agree. it basically was a sexist name for the book.

Reading through, I was struck by a bit in the key events list which identified the year 3BC as the ‘actual date of the birth of Christ.’ I’m not sure what this was based upon. I’d always assumed Jesus was born in a year later identified as a ‘year zero’ and then the number indicating how many years had passed since that event had grown steadily after that.

I am not religious, but it occurred to me this news could potentially have enormous implications for our calendars. If Jesus was born in 3BC after all, as the book claimed, shouldn’t it now be 2024, not 2021? All our dating is wrong. The Battle of Hastings occurred in 1069, the World Wars ran from 1917-21 and 1942-48 (the US now entering in 1920 and 1945) and what we remember as the year 2000 actually really occurred in 2003.

In some ways, this would make things simpler. Beatlemania, for example, would now have started at the very start of the Sixties not in 1963 which seems very appropriate. On the downside, President Kennedy’s pledge to get a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s was now unfulfilled as in this scenario, Neil Armstrong didn’t get there until 1972.

This is all a bit silly, of course. JFK was talking about the 1960s as the world knew them then, not on some new timescale agreed upon decades later. And it would obviously prove absurdly complicated and unproductive to shift all the dates we have ever used anyway. It was just an idea.

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