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kottke.org posts about L. Frank Baum

Nikola Tesla predicted the smartphone in 1926

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2018

Pocket Telephone 1919

In an interview published in Collier’s magazine in 1926, Nikola Tesla, then in the twilight of his career, made some predictions about the future that included electric airplane flights “from New York to Europe in a few hours”, more frequent earthquakes, and temperate zones becoming cooler or warmer. He predicted that we would be communicating wirelessly with each other with devices that fit comfortably into a pocket.

When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

We shall be able to witness and hear events — the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle — just as though we were present.

When the wireless transmission of power is made commercial, transport and transmission will be revolutionized. Already motion pictures have been transmitted by wireless over a short distance. Later the distance will be illimitable, and by later I mean only a few years hence. Pictures are transmitted over wires — they were telegraphed successfully through the point system thirty years ago. When wireless transmission of power becomes general, these methods will be as crude as is the steam locomotive compared with the electric train.

He also asserted that “struggle of the human female toward sex equality will end in a new sex order, with the female as superior”, bringing the humanity “closer to the perfect civilization of the bee”.

Through countless generations, from the very beginning, the social subservience of women resulted naturally in the partial atrophy or at least the hereditary suspension of mental qualities which we now know the female sex to be endowed with no less than men.

But the female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations ensue that capacity will be expanded; the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated to an activity that will be all the more intense and powerful because of centuries of repose. Woman will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.

Humanity has made tremendous progress toward gender equality, but with the bee stuff Tesla goes a little off the rails, swerving into eugenics, which he also stressed in an article published nine years later in Liberty magazine:

The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. As a result, we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct. Several European countries and a number of states of the American Union sterilize the criminal and the insane. This is not sufficient. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.

But at least he got the iPhone right? Speaking of which, the cartoon shown above was drawn by W.K. Haselden and published in the Daily Mirror in 1919.

Update: From his 1914 book Tik-Tok of Oz, here’s L. Frank Baum on the wireless telephone:

…Shaggy suspected the truth, and believing that Ozma was now taking an interest in the party he drew from his pocket a tiny instrument which he placed against his ear.

Ozma, observing this action in her Magic Picture, at once caught up a similar instrument from a table beside her and held it to her own ear. The two instruments recorded the same delicate vibrations of sound and formed a wireless telephone, an invention of the Wizard. Those separated by any distance were thus enabled to converse together with perfect ease and without any wire connection.

“Do you hear me, Shaggy Man?” asked Ozma.

“Yes, Your Highness,” he replied.

(via @GRobLewis)