Throwback Thursday: 1972 predictions for the future are utterly bizarre

Sara Reinsch

In 1972, The Daily Texan predicted that such technological achievements as clones, video calls and virtual classes would be available to UT students by the early ’90s. Clones have yet to exist, FaceTime was conceived less than four years ago and virtual classes began in the ’80s, which suggests that attempts at predicting the future are often overly ambitious.

The two-part series, published in the Texan in March 1972, paints a hypothetical picture of UT and its student life 20 years into the future. In the year of the series’ publication, the modern Internet had yet to be invented, VCRs had just become available to consumers, Nixon had just declared the “War on Drugs” and the first cell phone — which was the size of a brick — was in the making. Personal computers were released around that time, but few people owned them.

The first article describes a handful of changes that were expected to take place at the University by 1992.

“The traditional image of a professor talking at a roomful of students will shatter,” the article said. “An education growing around learning, not teaching, is taking its place.”

The article described the virtual learning experience of the future, which holds an uncanny resemblance to the online classes of today.

“During ‘class’ the computerized program which will be both curriculum and teacher for his course, will tutor and test him, aid his understanding of mistakes and guide him toward completion,” the article said. “The machine will be able to speak to him in a human voice, type instructions to him, and show him movies and demonstrations on a video screen.”

The Texan proposed many solutions to the University’s parking and traffic problems, including one that suggested the University “build every campus building with a parking basement.” Twelve-story buildings made of concrete, steel and “perhaps even synthetics and plastics” were expected to accompany the old four-story buildings. Coed living and on-campus drinking in dorms were predicted to become more common.

The second article in the series takes readers through “a day in the life” of Jason, a fictional UT student from 1992.

As he gets ready for school, Jason watches an announcer on the school’s video channel interview the first clone to attend the University. UT’s actual channel, Texas Student Television, began broadcasting in 1995, three years after it had been projected to do so in the story. Jason wears a paper necktie to school and rides to campus on a “shuttle wagon,” which invokes images of some kind of cross between a UT bus and a covered wagon.

Jason gets off the shuttle wagon near the University Co-op. On his way to French class, he passes a legless Vietnam veteran who sells pens on the Drag.

“He sniffed the sweet air around Le Potpourri, recently converted into a marijuana den, then waved to friends among the work-study construction crew who were putting a reinforcing structure up around the Main Building,” the article said.

After his French class, which is a computer course, he heads to an experimental psychology class. The class is research-driven and discussion-based, and the teacher has a laissez-faire approach to grading. His last and favorite class of the day is a nuclear disarmament game.

After class, Jason returns home and calls his girlfriend on his videophone to tell her he got a job — as his dad’s boss. A demand for young, versatile college graduates prompted the hire.

The Texan’s predictions for the future were mostly bizarre, though a few were remarkably spot-on. A variety of prediction outcomes indicate that the future is wholly uncertain.