Kids are often some of the most interesting futurists. Their ideas about what tomorrow might bring usually include the most optimistic and far-out predictions of the culture. But they're also shaded by the fears and neuroses of their parents. The first grade class of 1988 was no exception.
In the 1980s, the New Castle News in Pennsylvania started tracking the kids who would be graduating high school in the year 2000. But what stands out in their predictions—like the ones below from 1988—is just how banal most of their responses were.
Sure, there's the odd driverless car here and there. But for the most part, what comes across is that the kids have a rather limited imagination. Or maybe it was just the way that the questions were asked.
One youngster, when asked what houses of the year 2000 will look like, simply replied that his house will have more spider webs in it... unless his mom cleans. For the most part, the kids don't seem particularly inspired or terrified of the future. Above all, there just seems to be a kind of numbness that drips off the page.
Catherine Book, first grader in 1988
On what will happen in the year 2000: Things will be different. Cars will be different. All you'll have to do is tell them where you want to go and start up the engine and it will take you. Hair'll be different. The people that are young now, their hair will probably be gray and I don't know what color ours will be.
On what houses of the future will look like: They'll build the houses so they have zig zags. Then they'll have trees on the outside of the zig zag so if a skunk tries to walk through the house they can't because the ends will be so sharp that they'll prick them.
On McDonald's and dining out in the future: I won't get tired of eating McDonald's, cause I love eating McDLTs. [Note: For those too young to remember, the McDLT was just a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo.]
On college: It's a place where you go before you go to work and stuff. There's like different places you can go. And like, if I wanted to be a doctor I would go to where doctors will teach you.
On whether she wants to go to college and what she'd like to be when she grows up: Can't decide. Five things, doctor, teacher... I can't think of any more.
Brad Shaffer, first grader in 1988
On what will happen in the year 2000: It'll be different than in kindergarten. We'll have different desks, different chairs. Maybe even the teacher will be different.
On what houses of the future will look like: My house will get older and more spider webs . . . It'll just get more unless my mother cleans it.
On McDonald's and dining out in the future: The reason I like to eat at McDonald's is I love those Chicken McNuggets they have and french fries and maybe a Coke. Depends on if it is still standing or not (whether he'll eat there).
On college: I know all about college because my friend is in college. His name is Gary. Well, it's a big place where they have things you can be and you can be almost anything you want. They have big desks and things and sometimes you have to stay there all night. Sometimes you have to help at the college. If you have to stay there, you'll get bunk beds or something you can sleep in. And you can do most anything you want.
On whether he wants to go to college and what he'd like to be when he grows up: Yes. A fireman.
Brianne Donegan, first grader in 1988
On what will happen in the year 2000: Shoes might look different. They might look like, like cosmetics... pink. Boys will wear blue.
On what houses of the future will look like: The houses might be colored... rainbow colored.
On whether she wants to go to college and what she'd like to be when she grows up: Yes. A teacher.
Joshua Hohmann, first grader in 1988
On what houses of the future will look like: It (my house) will be different because we're going to put in a... my mom and dad said that they might put in a swimming pool.
On McDonald's and dining out in the future: I think that the foods they have now, I think, they won't do them and (they'll) get new foods, like Italian.
On college: College is real big, like 19 swimming pools hooked together. Because they can fit like a 100 people in them, they have to be big cause all the people are coming to them. All the teenagers are going to them cause they want jobs.
On whether he wants to go to college and what he'd like to be when he grows up: Yes. A doctor, cause I don't know any other jobs that have that much money.
There's almost something valuable to the simplistic thinking here. For years, mention of "the year 2000" elicited visceral responses in most people. But by the late 1980s, it was fast becoming just another year. For a number of people, it was already a punchline.
In fairness to kids like Brad and his banal answers to the questions, they sound pretty much like how I would've responded when I was his age. These are just kids, after all. And some of the questions were pretty dumb. Why was there a question so specific to the future of McDonald's? I'm not sure. But if you would've asked six-year-old me I'm sure I would've responded like Brad. McDonald's chicken nuggets? Sign me up for a bucketful of those. Then again, I'm almost certain I also would've mentioned a flying car or three.
Images: From t he August 18, 1988 New Castle News in Pennyslvania