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𝙰 𝙽𝚒𝚐𝚑𝚝𝚖𝚊𝚛𝚎 𝙰𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝟸𝟶𝟶𝟶𝚜 𝚏𝚛𝚘𝚖 𝟷𝟾𝟹𝟶
190 years ago a guy had a nightmare about the 21st Century
As the second decade of the 21st century ends we’re reminded of a fascinating archival find: a man in 1830 recounting a nightmare about life in the 2000s, triggered by a dystopian poem - Lord Byrons ‘Darkness’ - read to him by a friend.
The nightmare began with the protagonist appearing in his rural childhood home, when suddenly in a flash it is replaced with an industrial hellcape where vegetables were extinct and yet to be invented flying machines glided overhead:
“𝙸 𝚕𝚘𝚘𝚔𝚎𝚍 𝚞𝚙𝚘𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚜𝚞𝚛𝚛𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚍𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚌𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚝𝚛𝚢, 𝚒𝚏 𝚌𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚝𝚛𝚢 𝚒𝚝 𝚌𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍 𝚋𝚎 𝚌𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚎𝚍, 𝚠𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚟𝚎𝚐𝚎𝚝𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚎 𝚗𝚊𝚝𝚞𝚛𝚎 𝚑𝚊𝚍 𝚌𝚎𝚊𝚜𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚎𝚡𝚒𝚜𝚝.” “𝙰𝚜 𝚒𝚏 𝚙𝚛𝚘𝚙𝚎𝚕𝚕𝚎𝚍 𝚋𝚢 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚎 𝚞𝚗𝚜𝚎𝚎𝚗 𝚒𝚗𝚏𝚎𝚛𝚗𝚊𝚕 𝚙𝚘𝚠𝚎𝚛, 𝚖𝚘𝚗𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚘𝚞𝚜 𝚖𝚊𝚌𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚎𝚜 𝚏𝚕𝚎𝚠 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚒𝚗𝚌𝚘𝚗𝚌𝚎𝚒𝚟𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚎 𝚜𝚠𝚒𝚏𝚝𝚗𝚎𝚜𝚜.”
Baldness was common in women thanks to modern travel speeds.
“𝙼𝚊𝚗𝚢 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚋𝚊𝚕𝚍, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚘𝚗 𝚊𝚜𝚔𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚜𝚘𝚗, 𝙸 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚐𝚒𝚟𝚎𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚞𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚜𝚝𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚑𝚊𝚍 𝚋𝚎𝚎𝚗 𝚐𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚝 𝚝𝚛𝚊𝚟𝚎𝚕𝚕𝚎𝚛𝚜, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚛𝚊𝚙𝚒𝚍𝚒𝚝𝚢 𝚘𝚏 𝚖𝚘𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚗 𝚌𝚘𝚗𝚟𝚎𝚢𝚊𝚗𝚌𝚎, 𝚕𝚒𝚝𝚎𝚛𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚢 𝚜𝚌𝚊𝚕𝚙𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚜𝚎 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚓𝚘𝚞𝚛𝚗𝚎𝚢𝚎𝚍 𝚖𝚞𝚌𝚑 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚖, 𝚜𝚠𝚎𝚎𝚙𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚠𝚑𝚒𝚜𝚔𝚎𝚛𝚜, 𝚎𝚢𝚎𝚋𝚛𝚘𝚠𝚜, 𝚎𝚢𝚎 𝚕𝚊𝚜𝚑𝚎𝚜 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚒𝚗 𝚏𝚊𝚌𝚝 𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛𝚢 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚒𝚗 𝚊𝚗𝚢 𝚠𝚊𝚢 𝚖𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚎 𝚏𝚛𝚘𝚖 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚒𝚛 𝚏𝚊𝚌𝚎𝚜”
Animals were extinct and carriages? Horseless and driverless!
“𝙰𝚗𝚒𝚖𝚊𝚕 𝚕𝚒𝚏𝚎 𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚋𝚎 𝚎𝚡𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚌𝚝; 𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚜 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚛𝚒𝚊𝚐𝚎𝚜 𝚌𝚊𝚖𝚎 𝚛𝚊𝚝𝚝𝚕𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚍𝚘𝚠𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚑𝚒𝚐𝚑𝚠𝚊𝚢𝚜, 𝚑𝚘𝚛𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚎𝚜𝚜 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚍𝚛𝚒𝚟𝚎𝚛𝚕𝚎𝚜𝚜, 𝚠𝚑𝚎𝚎𝚕 𝚋𝚊𝚛𝚛𝚘𝚠𝚜 𝚝𝚛𝚞𝚗𝚍𝚕𝚎𝚍 𝚊𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚐 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚊𝚗𝚢 𝚟𝚒𝚜𝚒𝚋𝚕𝚎 𝚊𝚐𝚎𝚗𝚌𝚢. 𝙽𝚊𝚝𝚞𝚛𝚎 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚏 𝚏𝚊𝚜𝚑𝚒𝚘𝚗, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚠𝚘𝚛𝚕𝚍 𝚜𝚎𝚎𝚖𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚐𝚎𝚝 𝚊𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚘𝚕𝚎𝚛𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚢 𝚠𝚎𝚕𝚕 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚑𝚎𝚛.”
(this pre-dates the current official first use of ‘driverless’)
Disposable automaton workmen built skyscrapers. He refers to them as ‘modern prometheuses’ no doubt referencing the subtitle of Mary Shelly’s 1818 ‘Frankenstein’, a novel that still shapes conversations about the future today:
"𝙷𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚗 𝚊𝚝 𝚘𝚗𝚌𝚎 𝚊 𝚗𝚎𝚠 𝚟𝚎𝚛𝚜𝚒𝚘𝚗 𝚘𝚏 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚘𝚕𝚍 𝙶𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚔 𝚏𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚎, 𝚊 𝚖𝚘𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚗 𝚙𝚛𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚞𝚜𝚎𝚜 "𝚊𝚜 𝚙𝚕𝚎𝚗𝚝𝚒𝚏𝚞𝚕 𝚊𝚜 𝚋𝚕𝚊𝚌𝚔𝚋𝚎𝚛𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚜."
His reaction to this world of technological progress? Horror.
“𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚜𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐𝚜 𝚊𝚜𝚝𝚘𝚗𝚒𝚜𝚑𝚎𝚍, 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚊𝚕𝚜𝚘 𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚙𝚕𝚎𝚡𝚎𝚍 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚠𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚍 𝚖𝚎. 𝙼𝚢 𝚜𝚙𝚒𝚛𝚒𝚝 𝚐𝚛𝚎𝚠 𝚜𝚒𝚌𝚔, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝙸 𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚐𝚎𝚍 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚘𝚕𝚍 𝚠𝚘𝚛𝚕𝚍 𝚊𝚐𝚊𝚒𝚗, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚒𝚝𝚜 𝚚𝚞𝚒𝚎𝚝 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚙𝚎𝚊𝚌𝚎𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚎 𝚖𝚘𝚍𝚎𝚜 𝚘𝚏 𝚎𝚗𝚓𝚘𝚢𝚖𝚎𝚗𝚝.” “𝙰𝚕𝚕 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐𝚜 𝚜𝚎𝚎𝚖𝚎𝚍 𝚏𝚘𝚛𝚌𝚎𝚍, 𝚞𝚗𝚗𝚊𝚝𝚞𝚛𝚊𝚕, 𝚞𝚗𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚕 - 𝚒𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚎𝚍, 𝚕𝚒𝚝𝚝𝚕𝚎 𝚋𝚎𝚝𝚝𝚎𝚛 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚗 𝚋𝚊𝚛𝚎𝚏𝚊𝚌𝚎𝚍 𝚒𝚖𝚙𝚘𝚜𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚜.”
The man entered a hotel, what he found within was a steam powered dystopia:
“𝚃𝚑𝚎 𝚛𝚘𝚘𝚖𝚜 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚑𝚎𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚍 𝚋𝚢 𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚊𝚖! 𝚃𝚑𝚎 𝚋𝚎𝚍𝚜 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚖𝚊𝚍𝚎 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚊𝚒𝚛𝚎𝚍 𝚋𝚢 𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚊𝚖, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚒𝚗𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚊𝚍 𝚘𝚏 𝚊 𝚙𝚛𝚎𝚝𝚝𝚢, 𝚛𝚎𝚍 𝚕𝚒𝚙𝚙𝚎𝚍, 𝚛𝚘𝚜𝚎𝚢 𝚌𝚑𝚎𝚎𝚔𝚎𝚍 𝚌𝚑𝚊𝚖𝚋𝚎𝚛𝚖𝚊𝚒𝚍, 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚊𝚗 𝚊𝚌𝚌𝚞𝚛𝚜𝚎𝚍 𝚖𝚊𝚌𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚎 𝚖𝚊𝚗 𝚜𝚖𝚘𝚘𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚍𝚘𝚠𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚙𝚒𝚕𝚕𝚘𝚠 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚋𝚘𝚕𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚛 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚖𝚊𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚖𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚌𝚊𝚕 𝚙𝚛𝚎𝚌𝚒𝚜𝚒𝚘𝚗.”
In the hotel he picked up a newspaper littered with new steam related terms he could not understand. So he picked up a dictionary.
“𝙸 𝚕𝚘𝚘𝚔𝚎𝚍 𝚒𝚗𝚝𝚘 𝚊 𝚖𝚘𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚗 𝚍𝚒𝚌𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚊𝚛𝚢 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚎 𝚕𝚒𝚐𝚑𝚝 𝚞𝚙𝚘𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚜𝚎 𝚜𝚞𝚋𝚓𝚎𝚌𝚝𝚜 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚐𝚘𝚝 𝚗𝚘𝚗𝚎 𝚎𝚡𝚌𝚎𝚙𝚝 𝚑𝚞𝚗𝚍𝚛𝚎𝚍𝚜 𝚘𝚏 𝚍𝚎𝚏𝚒𝚗𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚜 𝚜𝚞𝚌𝚑 𝚊𝚜…”
Horse, s. an animation of which but little is now known. Old writers affirm there were at one time several thousands in this country.”
“Tree, s. Vegetable production; once plentiful in these parts, and still to be found in remote districts.”
“Tranquility, s. Obsolete; an unnatural state of existence, to which the ancients were very partial.”
“𝙸𝚗 𝚍𝚎𝚜𝚙𝚊𝚒𝚛 𝙸 𝚝𝚑𝚛𝚎𝚠 𝚍𝚘𝚠𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚋𝚘𝚘𝚔 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚛𝚞𝚜𝚑𝚎𝚍 𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚏 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚜𝚎.”
He made his way to a theater production of Hamlet, the cast all being steam powered automatons. He said it was better than any other purpose which he had seen steam applied (until Hamlet exploded) so he fled the theatre.
“𝙸 𝚖𝚊𝚍𝚎 𝚖𝚢 𝚎𝚜𝚌𝚊𝚙𝚎 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚗 𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚌𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚝, 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐𝚜 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚝𝚎𝚗 𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎𝚜 𝚠𝚘𝚛𝚜𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚗 𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛. 𝙸 𝚌𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍 𝚜𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚌𝚎𝚕𝚢 𝚋𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚝𝚑 – 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚊 𝚋𝚕𝚘𝚠𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚊 𝚛𝚘𝚊𝚛𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚊 𝚑𝚒𝚜𝚜𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚊 𝚏𝚒𝚣𝚣𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚊 𝚠𝚑𝚒𝚣𝚣𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚐𝚘𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚘𝚗 𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚛𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚍 – 𝚏𝚒𝚛𝚎𝚜 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚋𝚕𝚊𝚣𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚠𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚛 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚋𝚞𝚋𝚋𝚕𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚋𝚘𝚒𝚕𝚎𝚛𝚜 𝚠𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚋𝚞𝚛𝚜𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐– 𝚠𝚑𝚎𝚗 𝚕𝚘! 𝙸 𝚊𝚠𝚘𝚔𝚎 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚏𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚍 𝚖𝚢𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚏 𝚒𝚗 𝚊 𝚜𝚝𝚊𝚝𝚎 𝚘𝚏 𝚙𝚛𝚘𝚏𝚞𝚜𝚎 𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚜𝚙𝚒𝚛𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗.”
He awoke, relieved. Got up and went to his window to see a comforting sight: a horse drawn carriage.
“𝙸 𝚜𝚝𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚎𝚍 𝚞𝚙, 𝚛𝚊𝚗 𝚝𝚘 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚠𝚒𝚗𝚍𝚘𝚠, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚜𝚊𝚠 𝚜𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛𝚊𝚕 𝚖𝚒𝚕𝚔𝚖𝚎𝚗 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚋𝚊𝚔𝚎𝚛𝚜’ 𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚜, 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚑𝚘𝚛𝚜𝚎𝚜 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚖, 𝚝𝚛𝚘𝚝𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚖𝚎𝚛𝚒𝚕𝚢 𝚊𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚐. 𝙸 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚊 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚗𝚔𝚏𝚞𝚕 𝚖𝚊𝚗, 𝙸 𝚙𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚗 𝚖𝚢 𝚌𝚕𝚘𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚜, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚠𝚑𝚒𝚕𝚎 𝚍𝚘𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚜𝚘 𝚖𝚊𝚍𝚎 𝚞𝚙 𝚖𝚢 𝚖𝚒𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚍 𝚗𝚘 𝚖𝚘𝚛𝚎 𝚖𝚊𝚗𝚞𝚜𝚌𝚛𝚒𝚙𝚝 𝚙𝚘𝚎𝚖𝚜, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚎𝚜𝚌𝚑𝚎𝚠 𝚐𝚒𝚗 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚠𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚛 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎 𝚝𝚘 𝚌𝚘𝚖𝚎.”
As we enter the third decade of the 21st Century let us reflect on how much better life is now than in 1830 and how catastrophizing about new technologies is as silly and shortsighted now as it was 190 years ago.
Happy new year!