Back in the Victorian era, steam engines were on the bleeding edge and electricity seemed magical and revolutionary. In those times it seemed that all could be solved by technology and in many ways this was true. Inventors like Edison, Tesla, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace inspired authors like Jules Verne and H.G Wells. These thinkers were setting down what the future would be like in ways that we are only now, in the second decade of the 21st Century are beginning to understand .
In many ways this is literary archaeology. By revisiting the classics with our 2011 minds we recognize gems that others might have passed up in the past century. The following are several inventions from the texts of the greatest Victorian Scientific Fantasy authors.
1899 iPod Touch: HG Wells, in his 1899 short story “When The Sleeper Wakes”, good ol’ George foresaw a device that could be carried on the palm that had the sole purpose of storing and displaying movies and music. As his protagonist fumbles with the device he discovers that:
He pressed this and a rapid clicking began and ceased. He became aware of voices and music, and noticed a play of colour on the smooth front face. He suddenly realised what this might be, and stepped back to regard it.On the flat surface was now a little picture, very vividly coloured, and in this picture were figures that moved. Not only did they move, but they were conversing in clear small voices.
1889 Skype: In his prophetic “In The Year 2889″ Verne prognosticates a future with fiber optic communications and video calling ala Skype or Google Hangouts. The motivation is very similar to an Apple’s Facetime app:
Incredible though it seems, in the 10 years since their marriage, this is the first time Mrs. Edith Smith, the professional model, has been so long absent from home; two or three days usually suffice for her frequent trips to Europe. The first thing Mr. Smith does is activate his phonotelephote, the wires of which communicate with his Paris mansion. The telephote! Here is another great triumph of modern science. The transmission of speech is an old story; the transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires is a thing but of yesterday. A valuable invention indeed; Mr. Smith this morning is full of blessings for the inventor, when by its aid he is able distinctly to see [and speak with ] his wife despite her great distance.”
1899 Multi Touch iPad: Wells also delved into portable computers complete with multi touch interphases. Again from “When the Sleeper Wakes” in which the main character sleeps for 250 years and goes to the tailor in the future, the tool the tailor uses to show the sleeper different styles should sound very familiar to us.
“You lived, Sire, in a period essentially cylindrical — the Victorian. With a tendency to the hemisphere in hats. Circular curves always. Now –” He flicked out a little appliance the size and appearance of a keyless watch, whirled the knob, and behold — a little figure in white appeared kinetoscope fashion on the dial, walking and turning. “Trust me,” said the tailor. “My machine follows. What do you think of this?”
“What is that?” asked the man from the nineteenth century. “In your days they showed you a fashion-plate,” said the tailor, “but this is our modern development. See here.” The little figure repeated its evolutions, but in a different costume. “Or this,” and with a click another small figure in a more voluminous type of robe marched on to the dial. The tailor was very quick in his movements, and glanced twice towards the lift as he did these things.”
1889 Podcasting: Yes, we all know he also came up with the submarine, moonshot, airplane et. al. But this jewel was long forgten until recently. In between eating crepes zussette and buying baguettes, Jules proposed that in the future news would be consumed via telephone like contraptions conected to recording devices in his 1889 story, “In the Year 2889″ . Even the concept of subscribing to podcasts is mentioned. You can imagine a Steampunk version of Scott Johnson or Tom Merritt speaking to the masses through their wired conections to the brass and wood Apple portable phonographs. Here is an excerpt:
“Instead of being printed, the Earth Chronicle is every morning spoken to subscribers, who, from interesting conversations with reporters, statesmen and scientists, learn the news of the day. Furthermore, each subscriber owns a phonograph, and to this instrument he leaves the task of gathering the news whenever he happens not to be in a mood to listen directly himself.”
Recently there have been great deal of discussions over who invented what technology and who came up with this idea or that one. The fact is that the far thinking Victorians foresaw even the information age back in the 19th. So you see, there is prior art in everything and we are indeed living in the Victorian equivalent of technological paradise. So who knows what else is posible from cavorite to the flugurator all manner of wonders prognosticated by the visionaries from the Steam Age might be coming soon. I guess there is something to donning hats with goggles after all.