What will they think of us when we’re old?

Lunar capsule

Lunar capsule, Air and Space Musuem, Washington, DC

It’s 41 years since Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. At the time dreams of lunar colonisation and regular shuttles to and from our neignbouring world seemed highly plausible.

Yet no-one has set foot on the moon since 1972, a fact made all the more remarkable by the massive technological advance we’ve made since then.

Looking back now, we might consider the achievement of that first lunar landing to be the start of a modern age. And yet many practices that we might consider ancient continued beyond that time; something that suggests our journey toward civilisation has not come as quickly as we might believe.


We think of the guillotine as a method of execution from the bloody days of Napoleon, yet it only been retired for a few decades. In fact the French officially abolished the death penalty, and with it the use of the guillotine, in 1981. The last execution by this method took place in 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi was put to death for torturing and murdering his victim.

Garrote (Madame Tussauds)

Garrote (Madame Tussauds)

The Spanish meanwhile used the garrote as their execution tool of choice, and this involved strangulation by tightening a metal band around the neck. Again a primitve sounding device to us now, yet it was last used in 1974, and was only abolished in 1978 when the Spanish too abolished the death penalty.


We might communicate by all manner of mobile devices today, but it’s not so long ago that we were restricted to two principal methods: the hand written letter and the public telephone box. My parents acquired a phone line in the house in the late 1970s; before that our phone-owning neighbours would relay messages to us in an emergency.

How we are viewed

So how will the world of 2050 look back on us in amazement at our archaic lifestyles? Will they mock our transport system, and how our trains were so unreliable, our roads so congested and the fact that it took us more than a day to reach the other side of the world?

Will they look at our use of technology and wonder why we still commuted into large cities in ignorance of the potential of the technology we had already developed?

Or will there will be a sense of amazement at how we still chased oil as if our lives depended on it; about the wars we fought, the seas we polluted and the nations that were pillaged in search of the black stuff?

It’s impossible to predict how we will be viewed by the next generations; much will depend on how events unfold in the next decades. But we can be sure of one thing. People will look back at many aspects of our lives 2010 and say “I can’t believe they were still living like that in the 21st century!”

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2 Responses to “What will they think of us when we’re old?”

  1. Andy, the point you make about putting men on the moon is true. Perhaps the reason is that the resources required to send men back to the moon as effectively moon tourists outweighs any social, scientific or financial benefit. That is why the effort has been in exploring using space probes while simultaneously researching space colonisation via the ISS. The same applies to supersonic passenger flight, there are plenty of downsides, but no real benefits in a world where you can do teleconferencing in 3D if you so wished.
    Personally, I think that the world of 2050 will look back at us in amazement, at the way we recklessly wasted fossil fuel resources and increased the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere many times over. Why we even wasted energy watering, then mowing grass when that area could grow precious crops. They will find it incredible to think that we would fly to Prague, Riga etc just for a drunken Hen /Stag Party. Then as you point out waged wars to keep supplied with our fossil fuel fix.
    They will wonder why we allowed so much of the world’s forests to be felled, for the ocean’s to be emptied of their fish and for ocean floors to be depleted of life by bottom trawling.
    Of course, I hope I am wrong in the above points. What I would really like the world of 2050 to look back and say is “Wasn’t medicine so barbaric and primitive back in 2010.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:44 am Reply
  2. Thank you John for your fascinating response. I really enjoyed reading your comment and came back to it several times before replying. You touch on so many contradictions in our modern world. Perhaps our wars will be fought over war rather than oil – we already know about the likely shortages of water yet continue to waste it as if it was in unlimited supply. And your illustration of the stag party flights is hard to argue with – will they also wonder why we travelled so much around the planet just because we were curious? I hope not.
    We all share you hope about medicine too. We are on the cusp of so many advances that hopefully we’ll see that big change you wish for. Thanks again for sharing your valuable thoughts.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:26 pm Reply

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