21 times people were very wrong, and counting
I find it reassuring. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
It's been a month now since Elon Musk officially took over Twitter and laid off half the staff, which led to widespread predictions that Twitter would collapse.
So far, Twitter hasn't collapsed. Although it has become a different place.
Today’s newsletter isn’t about Twitter, though. Instead, it’s about being wrong. Because weirdly, of all the things I'm grateful to have learned in life, the recognition that I'm often wrong ranks pretty high.
A while back, my colleague Jessica Stillman compiled a list of historically wrong predictions that we can laugh about now, and I added a few of my own to the list.
I think you'll find there's something reassuring about how people could be so sure, and yet so clearly incorrect. I invite you to add other examples in the comments. (But be nice!)
"What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?" — “The Quarterly Review” of London, 1825.
"The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys." — Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1878.
"When the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it." — Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson, 1878.
"Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure." — Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison's light bulb, 1880.
“The phonograph has no commercial value at all.” — Thomas Edison, also 1880.
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." — Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society, 1895.
"The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad." — Michigan Savings Bank president, advising Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903.
"The cinema is little more than a fad. It's canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage." — Charlie Chaplin, 1916.
"To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth—all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances." —Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926.
"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." —Albert Einstein, 1932.
"[Television] won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." —Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.
"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years." —Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp., in the New York Times in 1955.
"The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most." —IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, 1959.
"The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases. We have basically wiped out infection in the United States.” —William Stewart, US Surgeon General, 1967
"With over 15 types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself." —Business Week, 1968.
“I predict the Internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” —Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995.
"Children just aren’t interested in witches and wizards anymore," —anonymous publishing executive to J.K. Rowling, 1996.
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” —Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft Corp., in 2007.
"Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition." —Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes, 2008.
"I’m so certain Trump won’t win the nomination that I’ll eat my words if he does. Literally: The day Trump clinches the nomination I will eat the page on which this column is printed in Sunday’s Post." —Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, 2015. (Trump won; Milbank did in fact eat the newspaper page.)
7 other things worth knowing today
The U.S. Department of Energy said Sunday it would announce a "major scientific breakthrough" this week, after media reported a federal laboratory had recently achieved a major milestone in nuclear fusion research: a "net energy gain" from an experimental fusion reactor. That would represent the first time that researchers have successfully produced more energy in a fusion reaction—the same type that powers the Sun—than was consumed during the process, a potentially major step in the pursuit of zero-carbon power. (CBS News)
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas Monday evening after the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York shared a sealed indictment with the Bahamian government, setting the stage for extradition and U.S. trial for the onetime crypto billionaire at the heart of the crypto exchange’s collapse. The New York times reported that the charges include wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, securities fraud, securities fraud conspiracy, and money laundering. (CNBC)
CVS and Walgreens have agreed to pay a combined $10.7 billion to settle allegations they failed to adequately oversee opioid painkiller prescriptions, thus contributing to America's opioid addiction crisis. The funds will be distributed to states, local governments and federally recognized tribes and will go toward opioid crisis abatement and remediation programs. (NBC News)
Canada is preparing to expand its medically assisted death framework to become one of the broadest in the world, a change some want to delay due to concerns vulnerable people have easier access to death than to a life without suffering. Starting in March, people whose sole underlying condition is mental illness will be able to access assisted death. Mental illness was excluded when the most recent medical assistance in dying (MAiD) law was passed in 2021. (Reuters)
A Qatari photographer has died while covering the World Cup—the second journalist to lose his life at the global event following influential US soccer writer Grant Wahl’s death. Wahl, who had run a newsletter (not unlike this one) after a long career at Sports Illustrated, collapsed while covering Argentina’s quarterfinal win over the Netherlands on Friday. (NY Post)
He was a Civil War hero and a president, now Ulysses S. Grant could soon become the third man in history to hold the highest-possible U.S. military rank: General of the Armies. The proposed fiscal 2023 James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act would let President Biden posthumously promote to the rank only held by Gen. George Washington, posthumously, and Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, of World War I fame. (Military.com)
A new documentary tells the story of Richard Davis, the eccentric and reckless creator of the modern-day bulletproof vest, who has shot himself (or allowed himself to be shot) more than 192 times while wearing his products. Hat tip to highly valued Understandably reader Sarah Wall for sending me this one! (The Guardian)
Thanks for reading! Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash. Jessica wrote previously about some of this at Inc.com. See you in the comments!
predicting the future of a brand new technology would benefit from folks getting off their duffs and at least studying the early users’ behavior.
President Jimmy Carter’s “island of stability” toast to the Shah in a New Year’s Eve toast during a visit to Iran in December 1977. The Shah fled Iran in January 1979 amid rising popular opposition to his autocratic rule. The Iranian revolution followed and November 1979 radical students, supported by the new regime, took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, leading to a 444-day hostage crisis.
“Iran because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.
“This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.”