What Will Americans Of The Future Look Like?

In 1910, the New York Tribune published this photo composite of what a "future American" might look like. Time magazine repeated the experiment in 1993 with a computer-generated blend of faces. Could either be right?

SF author Nalo Hopkinson called attention to the 1910 image on twitter, asking, "Who's missing in this pic?" In retrospect, it's obvious: The newspaper imagined that future Americans would be a blend of white ethnicities, and conveniently overlooked all the people of color whose hues would have altered that white male face of the future.

Possibly to rectify this, Time magazine's 1993 photo composite was a computer "mix of several races." Still, the 1993 face of the future doesn't really look that much different from the 1910 face - this future person is still so light-skinned that she doesn't seem like much of a racial mix at all. Maybe the mainstream media's idea of future Americans didn''t change that much between 1910 and 1993.

What Will Americans Of The Future Look Like?

But the overarching weirdness of these kinds of images really comes from the idea that a "future person" will be a blend of the existing ethnic phenotypes in a given country.

First of all, many people in the U.S. already are mixed race, including our president. Even back in 1910, many white people in the U.S. were already a blend of those national groups in the diagram. Many were also mixes that the chart didn't even admit, like Irish-Filipino, or Italian-African, or Jewish-Native.

Secondly, I'm not sure if it's ignorance, optimism, or something else that makes futurists assume people of tomorrow will be a blend of groups that today are often divided by class and culture. Who is to say that future Americans won't look a lot like they do now? Some will be mixed, and some won't. Unless, of course, we live in a future like Marge Piercy describes in Woman On The Edge of Time, where racism is supposedly a non-issue because babies are genetically engineered to be a perfect blend of different races.