[PW] Saying: It is easy to predict the automobile but difficult to predict the traffic jam (or changes in courting and mating habits)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Thu Oct 24 07:11:57 PDT 2019

I received a request to explore sayings that circulate in the science
fiction community. The general import of the sayings is: It is easy to
predict the primary effects of an invention but difficult to predict
the secondary effects.

I found a pertinent quotation from Isaac Asimov in a 1977 collection
called "Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction".
Asimov's essay apparently appeared first in 1953. There are some
knowledgeable SF enthusiast on this list. Perhaps one of them has
access to the following book and can verify this citation in 1953:

Year: 1953
Book: Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future
Editor: Reginald Bretnor
Publisher: Coward-McCann, New York
Essay: Social Science Fiction
Essay Author: Isaac Asimov
Start Page 157, Quote Page 172
(This metadata may be inaccurate)

[Begin excerpt]
It is easy to predict an automobile in 1880; it is very hard to
predict a traffic problem. The former is really only an extrapolation
of the railroad. The latter is something completely novel and
[End excerpt]

The 1977 collection also contains an essay by pertinent essay by
Robert Heinlein which apparently appeared in 1966. Maybe someone can
help me to verify this citation and determine the precise metadata:

Year: 1966
Book: The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Essay: Pandora’s Box
Quote Page: Unknown
Publisher: Ace Books, New York
(This metadata may be inaccurate)

[Begin excerpt]
Many people correctly anticipated the coming of the horseless
carriage; some were bold enough to predict that everyone would use
them and the horse would virtually disappear. But I know of no writer,
fiction or non-fiction, who saw ahead of time the vast change in the
courting and mating habits of Americans which would result primarily
from the automobile—a change which the diaphragm and the oral
contraceptive merely confirmed. So far as I know, no one even dreamed
of the change in sex habits the automobile would set off.
[End excerpt]

Heinlein's 1966 essay was a revision of a piece from 1952, but I do
not think that the original essay contained the excerpt above.

The QI website now has an article on this topic, but the citations
given are from the 1977 book, and it would be helpful to improve them.

Thanks for any help you can provide
Garson O'Toole

More information about the Project-Wombat-Open mailing list