The Atlanta skyline in 1990.
Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Special Collections and Archives
Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Special Collections and Archives

AJC Deja News: How well did AJC reporters predict the future? (1972)

A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Sunday, May 7, 1972, edition of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. 


AJC reporters predicted Atlantans would get their news from an iPad-like tablet someday. They were just off by about 20 years.

In the paper’s “Atlanta 1990” seven-part series, Journal reporters Bill Montgomery, Maurice Fliess, John York, Richard B. Matthews and Harmon Perry introduced readers to Charles Fleming, a fictional business executive returning to Atlanta in 1990 for the first time since 1972. During his visit, Charles references the newfangled ways to get news, steam- and electrically-powered cars, four-day workweeks, VCRs and “the cable” -- all commonplace to Atlantans in 1990. Or so our reporters predicted.

The May 7, 1972, Sunday edition of the Journal and Constitution took a whimsical future look at the Atlanta of 1990.

Here’s what our intrepid band of prognosticators got correct back then. 


Online newspapers and tablet readers -- In our May 7 article, the fictional hero Charles asks his nephew, Dave, “Haven’t you got one of the new facsimile news receivers yet? You’ve already got the cable television hookup for it.” Dave says he’s considering buying one. Tablet prototypes have been around since the mid-’80s, but the technology didn’t become commonplace until Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. But media companies didn’t sleep on the idea of personal news readers. In 1994, Knight Ridder produced a mockup of a tablet-style news reader that bore an uncanny resemblance to the tablets we know today. 

VIDEO: The Tablet Newspaper: A Vision for the Future

Electric cars -- While electric vehicle (EV) sales in Georgia won’t worry our friends in California, they’re by no means anemic. 2018 saw a 147% increase in Georgia EV purchases. Over 6,000 Peach Staters bought some battery-operated wheels this past year. Georgia suffered a massive drop in EV sales in 2015 when lawmakers here killed a $5000 state income tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle and installed a $200 registration fee instead. But there’s a bill on the table for the 2019-20 legislative session (HB 732) aimed at restoring tax credits for EV owners. 


>> Check out what we’ve covered before (and again)

Flexible work schedules -- The four-day workweek is not a reality for most of us, but many Atlantans are encouraged to work from home at least once a week in order to keep cars off the roads and lessen air pollution and traffic tie-ups. In 2016, the AJC reported on how the small Georgia town of Grantville, south of Atlanta, approved four-day workweeks for city employees. In 1990, though? Commuting to and from the office five days a week was the norm. Our 1972 writers got the idea of flexible work schedules correct, but were overly optimistic about how soon we'd see them.

VCRs and video cassettes -- Blockbuster Video was raking in profit during the ‘90s, eventually boasting 9,094 stores worldwide by 2004. In 2013, the once-mighty entertainment company shuttered all its U.S. stores. VCRs and video cassettes have long been the sort of relics suitable for "remember when?" conversations thanks to small gadgets like the Amazon Fire Stick that make a world of streaming content available almost anywhere. But in the 1990 Atlanta our writers envisioned, videos were all the rage since Dave’s kids were watching “the cable” or they’d “checked a movie cassette out of the library.”


"The cable" -- Speaking of the kids’ favorite type of TV... Cable TV was around in the '70s, but it was pricey and rare. By the early 1980s, however, cable was booming as rates came down, more channels were added to lineups and markets expanded. But "the cable" now fights for its own survival as online streaming network services (Netflix, anyone?) have dramatically changed how consumers watch television. In his March 11 blog, the AJC’s Rodney Ho says “about 11 percent of homes in the metro [Atlanta] area choose not to subscribe to cable or satellite, according to the latest Nielsen data. About half of the ‘cord cutters’ only watch broadcast TV or about 5.5 percent. The other half uses a combination of a ‘skinny bundle’ via streaming or some use of Netflix, Hulu and the like.” 


Steam-powered cars -- Our team of soothsayers flopped on this one. Steam-powered cars aren’t anything new; they were one of the original alternatively-powered vehicles as the internal combustion gasoline engine came of age. But they were stultifyingly inefficient machines. According to “steam-powered automobiles, which were at one point manufactured by 125 different firms, could take up to half an hour to light the pilot, fire up the boiler and build the requisite pressure to move.” Not even a typical Atlantan back in 1990 would have such patience. 


In this highly irregular series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.If you have a story you’d like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know. Email: Use the subject line “AJC Deja News.”

>> MORE AJC HISTORY HERE: AJCreprints.comPhoto reprintsContent archivesFlashback Photos

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