Remember when these guys useed to bury time capsules, around the time the Millenium made us all suddenly feel like super-important cogs in the great windup toy of history? Just take a calendar, a copy of the Times, a copy of J17, a tamagotchi, a Polly Pocket, and a Mars bar (without adequate refrigeration), stick them into a shoebox, and BAM! History, baby. But a very contrived form of history, which anyone with a good GCSE history knows is very bad.
Which is why this planning archive project is a beautiful thing - it's written with (presumably) no desire to leave a great legacy here in utopian, food-in-pills 2008. It's hard to tell what the true gems are, though. There are many inspiring missives on branding and positioning that ring true today, and smack of someone shaping the zeitgeist back then. Yay us.
Then there are those beautifully naive bits. The ones that really did, despite acting in the best way possible, miss the point. My favourite is the authoritatively-titled internet facts.doc, a 1999 research piece:
-it's unknown how many business are 'on the internet' but 88 of the FTSE 100 are ooh nice one guys you can probably throw the telegram generator away now
-the exciting prediction of 1999 is 7.5 thats right seven point five MILLION homes with the internet in 2003. Can you imagine such a golden future? Actually yes you can, because the figure turned out to be 12.3m.
-includes the prophecy "Freeserve is not the end of the story. Expect high-speed access through cable modems". Oh yeah? That'll be nice.
(...all of which appear in even starker contract to good ol' 2008 - if you've haven't seen the brilliant Did You Know? 3.0 before, give it 5 minutes of your time)
Obviously I'm being over critical of the sake of the lulz, but isn't it interesting to see where we get it right, and where we don't? An underestimation is quite a departure from the cultural melee of the 70s, where Space 1999, which categorically reassured us that we would be living on the GODDAMN MOON at the turn of the century. Or consider The Jetsons - everyone lives in the sky and has a flying car. Oh, and wizzy food machines which cooked for you, but it was still only ever the wife's duty to operate:Look closer - despite all that wizardry, she's operating it with a punch card. A bit of thick paper, with holes in. In other scenes, you'll notice that the computers 'still' have vacuum tubes. Both of these anomalies existing for a simple fact: that the production of the Jetsons predates the concept of the microprocessor. Quite simply, it was obviously impossible to run a computer without vacuum tubes and punch cards.
The same thing's happening in these archives. My hunch is that our researchers' underestimated figure was based on, say, the adoption of the TV or phone. And yet the internet had these preexisting media, which helped spread it beyond our expectations.
What's the lesson? That whatever our optimism or imagination, it seems inevitable that the lens of our present reality will make us view the future with certain assumptions.
It seems as if the only thing we're really learning is how much we don't know.