We began 2014 awed by the power of predictions. Fifty years ago, sci-fi writer/prophet Isaac Asimov penned a series of hyphotheses for our far-flung present day that were surprisingly accurate. He correctly imagined automated coffee makers, cordless electronics, self-driving cars, video chat, and the world’s population boom.
At the end of 2013, we made our own predictions for the coming year, envisioning a world of Google Glass-wearing space travelers booking tickets to the stars. But we all can’t have the foresight and imagination of Asimov, and 2014 certainly took us by surprise—whether it was in the form of a virus of biblical proportions, a (still) missing airplane, the rise of ISIS, or the brazen resurgence of Russian colonialism. Here’s what we thought the year would look like 12 months ago—oh, how naïve we were.
Booking a Ticket to Space
Billionaire explorer Richard Branson has been promising a trans-galactic flight every year, so we’ve learned to keep our expectations down. But 2014, he pledged, would truly be the advent of commercial space travel. “We will show that it is possible for a private firm to give thousands of people the full astronaut experience, safely and within a commercially viable framework,” he wrote in the Economist’s “The World in 2014” issue. With those words was a promise to launch the first group of passengers in the coming year. Instead, the flights look more precarious than ever. Branson’s SpaceShipTwo went down in a fiery mess during a test flight in October, killing one pilot, and tempering hopes for space tourism. “We would love to finish what we started some years ago,” Branson told journalists at a news conference with notable hesitancy.
Bitcoin’s Currency Domination
A year ago, we were punching ourselves for not investing in the wunderkind currency—but now it seems that trusting our plain old dollars-and-cents was the right decision. Bitcoin began 2013 with a roaring price of $770 per unit, and businesses right and left were converting to the ethereal product. From your neighborhood bar to OkCupid to the aforementioned Branson-operated space flight, retailers and innovators latched on to a promise of a payment method that resembled a video game. But it was better left for the virtual world—by the end of 2014, Bitcoin’s price was down more than half its value. Against the anticipation built by techies and even those old fashioned brick-and-mortar institutions—Bank of America gave a maximum estimate of each share rising to $1,300 by the end of 2013 and others were even more optimistic at $5,000—Bitcoin fell just as dramatically as it soared, and has so far failed to materialize the currency revolution we anticipated.
The Miley Trainwreck
Miley Cyrus ended 2013 with not just one bang(erz), but a whole series of implosions that turned her from an edgy former Disney star to an all-out charade. By the end of the year she’d added a naked music video, a twerk-and latex-filled performance, an onstage blunt, and a messy cut-off engagement to her repertoire. She was Google’s most talked about celebrity of the year and seemed to be basking in it. All signs pointed to the pop star continuing her train wreck through 2014—but instead, she quieted down, skipped the Grammys, hung out with the Schwarzeneggers, and made fun of Justin Bieber’s law-breaking antics on Instagram. Sure, she’s been a little risqué in 2014, but as of late the biggest outcry she caused was from a decision to paint her pet pig’s nails.
The Google Glass Revolution
In mid-2013, yours truly described the Google Glass team as crafting “an anticipation level and comprehensive user experience previously reserved for Apple’s latest and greatest” before the planned 2014 launch. But more than a year later, the future of wearable technology is far from what we’d imagined. Instead of decorating every face on the street, Google Glass hit a contrarian rip tide. Once Google Glass hit the market, with a price tag of $1,500, the response from the carefully curated “Glass explorers” was underwhelming. Even with the cameos on the runways—DVF proudly unveiled “Made for Glass in June—and high-fashion spreads in Vogue, there was no promotion strong enough to counter the tepid reviews, legal issues, bar brawls, and sneaky shots captioned “Glasshole.” Google itself has taken a break and put plans for mass production on hold.
Failure of Obamacare
The launch of the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace in late 2013 was a mess and hopes were low for registration numbers by the March 31 coverage deadline. And with a series of lawsuits and resignations, it seemed that the promise of affordable healthcare for the country would be less than promised. When the campaign ramped up in the spring, unflattering speculation was rampant: that coverage would go unpaid, premiums would soar, businesses would stop hiring, and most of all, there was no way the target signup of 7 million would be reached. But Obamacare picked itself up and dusted itself off surprisingly well. By the deadline, 7.1 million people enrolled in the program, according to the administration, and the total number covered has now hit 10 million. The number of uninsured sank significantly, Gallup found, enrollees did in fact pay for their coverage, and there was scant evidence that employers were choosing to hire part-time staff because of the insurance mandate.
As we round the bend into the new year ‘tis the season for a new pile of lists, which are sure to inspire a similar scoffing when 2015 meets its end. To avoid retracting your best guesses, then, there’s a simple strategy: stick with the broadly applicable, wide-reaching, and doom-foreshadowing. Perhaps the finest example of this is the annual predictions made by Cuba’s Santeria priests. On the first day of 2014, they warned in a fiery letter than the coming year would be full of “outbreaks of disease, environmental disruption, familial disorder and conflict between people and nations that risks spilling into war,” according to the AP summary. It’s as vague as your neighborhood palm reader, yes, but in hindsight seems to perfectly encapsulate the past 12 months.