At the very end of 1993, my boyfriend at the time and I made a list entitled “2010,” in which we predicted what the world would be like in that year. This was based on a few things, including what we expected, what we hoped would happen, and, of course, what was happening on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which pretty much informed the future for us. We did not predict jet packs, since by then everyone knew that was always going to be the pretend vision of the future, but we tried to think about what would truly be possible.
Many things were not very visionary on our part ("New York City subway system will be using farecards!") or not very well elaborated ("something will replace microwaves – instant food makers") but some of them are kind of intriguing. We predicted that Europe would be one country (not bad), but also that North America would also be one country (way off). We predicted that there would only be email, no snail mail (even though we didn’t use the term “snail mail”), and that there would be "no more video stores – all movies through cable" (kinda). There are some things on the list ("virtual reality – primitive – consumer selling, medical") that I wish we’d elaborated on and some things that I don’t quite understand ("books will be published through modem – bulletin board, etc."). The first two things on the list ("voice-activated doors, video phones") came directly from "Star Trek."
I’m thinking about this now because of a video clip I saw recently that I cannot get out of my head. One of the guests on a 1956 episode of “I've Got a Secret” was the last living eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination. He had been five years old, attending the production of Our American Cousin, when he saw John Wilkes Booth leap onto the stage after shooting Lincoln, and fall and break his leg. This man, born in 1860, lived to tell his story on television. I can barely get past this fact, much less the rest of the details.
And yet here I am, living in the twenty-first century, the future. I was not a witness to anything as truly remarkable as a president's assassination, but I still remember when television simply ended at like 2 a.m., when, if you were frustrated by a busy signal, you could get an emergency operator to interrupt a phone call, when, as a kid, you could lie across the entire back seat of a car and sleep the whole way home. And these simple things are all pretty remarkable to my own children, who watch "Star Trek" with me now, and notice how not everything seems so futuristic on that twenty-fourth century ship. My favorite episodes are always the ones in which time is proven not to be a linear thing, but round, something you can catch up to if you’re not careful.
Which leads me back to Samuel J. Seymour, a man still alive in the age of television, who proved that somehow the Civil War was still present and not just part of some disconnected past. For his appearance on the show, Seymour received $80 and a can of pipe tobacco.