Unexpected Futurist: Mark Twain, Tesla, and a Worldwide Visual Telephone System

In our previous episode of Unexpected Futurist, we covered Ben Franklin’s vision of the year 2776. Since Franklin was a leading scientist and experimenter of his day, it isn’t entirely shocking that he could sense that the increasing pace of scientific discovery was going to revolutionize the world.

The second episode of this series features an individual who, while certainly a leading figure of his day, was no scientist: Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Twain experienced his glimpses into the future largely as a scientific layman. While Franklin envisioned a world that would be rapidly evolving, by Twain’s time that rapid evolution had arrived. Twain was fascinated with scientific discoveries, with the new and controversial theory of evolution, and with the consumer products that resulted from new technology. In this sense, looking back on some of Twain’s technological thoughts seem unexpectedly familiar – we don’t typically think of consumer tech geek culture as having existed in the late 1800s, but it did – and Twain was such a tech geek as an old man.

But that is not to say that Twain’s thoughts on the future were all derivative. Much like some of the self-declared futurists who were to arrive in the 1950s and 60s, Twain was interested in changing social values just as much as new science. By his later years, Twain had signed on as an advocate for a number of social causes, and become something of a revolutionary in general. One quote reflecting this personal evolution can be found in writing that was published as Mark Twain’s Notebook in 1935:

“The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.”

About the Author:

Johnny-BostonJohnny Boston is a filmmaker and creative director who grew up in Europe and is now living on the East Coast. Johnny is currently working on a film inspired by his friend, futurist FM-2030. To see more of Boston’s videos please check out the Galactic Public Archives’ channel on YouTube.

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