Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mount of the future, 1930

CAME ACROSS a cute story in Lightning 1930, the yearbook of St. Mary's Academy, on whose campus the College met between 1925 and March, 1930.

A short story called "Can This Be Saint Mary's?" by Vivian Hainley '30 describes a classroom scene in which the instructor, Sister Agatha, notices two of her students are missing. She promptly picks up her Visiscope, which the author explains is a phone-telescope combo. She spots the truants chatting away under a palm tree. They're summoned to class.

Next, our tech-savvy Sister hands out a demerit to a student who was caught talking by the Merit Monitor, the "hall machine [that] records everything." You see, the author advises, "Saint Mary's now has complete modern equipment." And wow, are they ever strict.

Finally, Sister lights into poor Mary for being late to class again. The student earns knowing smirks from her classmates. How many times have they heard this?

"My plane wouldn't start," Mary tells Sister. The campus, we're told, quickly filled with small planes every morning as students arrived.

Can this be St. Mary's? Yes, writes the author, in 1950. To Vivian Hainley, this is what the bright future was going to look like in just 20 years -- all-seeing monitoring devices, videophones, and a truly modern solution to traffic jams.

If Vivian could have seen ahead 75 years she'd be almost right -- except for the traffic solution. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "gridlock" didn't show up until 1980. We're still waiting for our airplanes, but I don't think Vivian would be surprised by video chat on a hand-held -- do you?


  1. I have always marveled at how futuristic fiction can be so prophetic about the actual future. Re-reading Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, it is always interesting to see how close they came to the real world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Now I can add this piece about the original hi-tech nun to the list. What a treat! You are so lucky to have access to the archive, Vicky. So much to read and discover!

  2. Thanks, Paul. Yes, indeed, I am. Come for a visit soon.