A Pacific NW Magazine Story from 1984 Predicted what Life in Seattle Would be Like Now. It was not Completely WrongBreaking News
tags: 1980s, predictions, futurism
THE CONCEPT BEHIND Pacific NW’s “Seeing 2020” in the year 1984 was inventive: The magazine, noting the dawn of the year made famous by “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” George Orwell’s classic novel, worked from the obvious premise that Orwell’s dystopian vision had not (yet) been fully realized; this illustrated the folly of specific time-stamping of future events.
The idea was to borrow Orwell’s time frame — the roughly 36 years between his conjuring of a totalitarian civilization marked by perpetual war, government surveillance, denial of history and rampant propaganda, and its predicted arrival date — to test the Nostradamus skills of a broad range of local smart folks, each asked to peer the same distance into Seattle’s future.
This project fell into able hands: Seattle Times reporter Mary Ann Gwinn (who presumably did not predict her own near-term future, a 1990 Pulitzer Prize, when working on this piece). Like any smart reporter would, she began by acknowledging the obvious challenges inherent in mentally traveling almost four decades forward.
Gwinn consulted a history professor who laughed at the very notion.
“Go back 30 years, and look at the predictions of our time, and see how silly they are,” the person said. “Look at ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ On one level, it’s got some profound insights. But it simply isn’t what the world is today. No matter how hard you try, when you predict the future, all you really do is extrapolate on the present.”
And yet she persisted, taking a stab at prognostication based on the opinions of big-thinkers in a range of fields and professions. With those 36 years in play, the target year became the far-off date of 2020.
There we were. And here we are.
The list offers a good starting point for both the usefulness, and peril, of future-casting. By the dawn of 2020 in Seattle, a range of local experts predicted:
● People would still be here, despite the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation. (A nod here to the end-stage, very warmish windup to the Cold War in the Reagan years, when nukes were very much a front-burner issue.)
● We would still “fall in love, get married, have children.”
● The region would be a center for computers and aerospace, with growth in both spreading throughout King County, not the city core.
● The population would be older and more diverse; especially notable: an influx of residents from Latin American nations, reflecting a national trend.
● The “greenhouse effect” (remember that terminology, with the specific concern being aerosol propellants creating an ozone hole?) had “come to pass,” already raising sea levels enough to dramatically redraw local waterfront lines.
● Fighting over the precious resource of water had become a national political flash point, particularly in the West.
● Many people would still believe in God, “though only sects with strong dogma are likely to survive in an age of flux.”
● Because of the growth of personal computing, many of us — “the highly educated, the computer literate, the middle and upper classes” — would be working at home, or “neighborhood work centers,” and also shopping, entertaining ourselves, managing our finances and learning from our own homes.
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