Look back at the year just ended. If it doesn’t invoke tears of either joy or sadness, consider the year wasted. — John Cage, on an episode of Ally McBeal
I was reading this article in the paper about a year ago. They were talking about an undertaking by the U.S. Military. There are these sections of New Mexico desert where they did all their nuclear testing. The area is so radiated, that it’s not safe for humans to enter until the year 10,000. The problem the military had was how do you design a warning sign that will be just as easily readable 8000 years in the future as it is today? You can’t just stick it in English because English changes. Anyone who read Shakespeare in high school will attest to that. Experts say that only 12% of our current English language will comprise “next generation” English in the year 10,000. So what was the military to do? Some suggested that they should use instinctual archetypes; make the area just look incredibly unpleasant and people will stay away. Think of the brambles that surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle and you’ll get the image. Others said that they should do nothing. Then, as people wander into the area and die, they’ll get the message. What the military eventually went with was simple granite monoliths, 50 feet high, placed at 100 foot intervals around the site’s perimeter. Inscribed on each monolith, in the top six languages of the world, is the warning “Keep Out Until The Year 10,000,” along with pictographs of what will happen if you wander in. But I’m already straying off topic. What stuck out in my mind were the “worst case scenarios” that futurists came up with to render any such warning useless. The ones that stuck our were: a cult will consider the site to be holy ground, and die en masse on their first pilgrimage; in the year 9,982 we will all be cyborgs, and a glitch in our programming will cause us to march lemming-like into the site. And, my favorite, the Earth will become female dominated, and the warnings will be dismissed as “foolish male thinking.” Still, even with all these warning signs and predictions, you have to agree that the year 10,000 is a long way off. Like the year 2000 used to be.
When we were all children, the year 2000 seemed to be such a long time away. When someone mentioned the year 2000, we all conjured up images of flying cars, moon colonies, and robots to cater to our every whim. Oh, and not just the year 2000. When I was in elementary school, I was enraptured by this book about the future. Did you know that the hottest selling Christmas gift in 1990 was/will be wristwatch TV’s? Didn’t you get yours? Even look at Star Trek. According to the original series, from 1992-1996, we were in the middle of the Eugenics Wars; a world war fought primarily with genetically engineered soldiers. The leader of these soldiers, Kahn Noonien Singh, even became dictator of 1/4 of the planet! The war eventually ended when Kahn was overpowered, and he and his most loyal followers boarded the sleeper ship Botany Bay, to start Kahn’s new world at a Mars penal colony. But, the ship got lost in space, and Kahn and his crew were in suspended animation until the 23rd Century. With all this going on, it soon occurred to me that all the wonderful technology of the year 2000 wouldn’t just go online on January 1, 2000. It would start popping up around the mid-90’s or so. So, I began looking forward to my flying cars and robots to start appearing around 1994.
It was still 1984 when I was imagining all this. At this age, my brother sat down and did the math. He calculated that, in the year 2000, I would be 23 years old. Wow! 23! I would be a grown up! I’d be all done with school and living in my own house! I’d have my own TV and Atari and record player! I’d probably even have a wife and kids: two daughters and a son. ( I don’t know why, but every time I imagine my family, I have lots of daughters. Too much Disney, I guess. A widowed king with an only daughter. But I digress yet again.) They would stay at home and lead a life of luxury as I was an expert in my chosen career: railroad engineer. Not an engineer who builds railroads, but a person who drives trains. Yup, the year 2000 would belong to me.
And now, as I write this, there are only 5 hours left in the year 2000. What seemed so far off is now almost over. No Eugenics Wars. No wristwatch TV’s. To quote a favorite TV commercial from a few months back, “Where’s my flying car? I was promised a flying car!” But that’s not the big disappointment. No, the big one is that I’m here, and it’s nothing like I ever imagined. No wristwatch TV’s, but we’ve got DVD and PC’s. No kids, no wife. Instead of my own house, I’m still living at home, fretting that I’m going to have to put the DVD player on hold again so I can go to the dentist and find out why this molar has started throbbing. I’m looking at what I predicted for myself, and wondering what wrong turn did I take? Let’s do a quick comparison: prediction vs. reality.
Predicted: Having own TV, Atari, and record player.
Reality: Having own TV, VCR, PC, CD player.
Predicted: Railroad engineer
Reality: Overeducated bagger; treasurer of the Stony Plain Liberals; amateur webmaster
Predicted: Two daughters and a son
Reality: A dog and a cat
Predicted: Own home
Reality: Living with parents
Advantage: Reality. Think about it! I’ve got no home-owner worries!
Predicted: Flying car
Reality: 1996 Dodge Neon, borrowed from parents
The winner: Reality
So, the question now is, did I really take a wrong turn? Granted, the future is tough to call and I shouldn’t beat myself up over the imaginings I had when I was 7. But still, I at least thought I’d have seen a naked woman by now. It makes me wish I went drinking every Thursday back when I was in university. Then, maybe I’d have met some slutty freshman girl and work though this problem. But again, I stray off topic. When I brake it down, the year 2000 was pretty sweet.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that it’s incredibly hard to predict the future. In this morning’s paper, I was already reading a bunch of articles with the topic “Will 2001 be like 2001: A Space Odyssey?” The answer right now tends to be an overwhelming “no,” mainly because NASA isn’t planning any manned missions to Jupiter right now. What’s that line from Back To The Future? “No one should know too much about their own destiny.” I’ll quit anticipating and just take things as they come. I’ll leave predicting the future to the U.S. military, and our female overlords (overladies?) of the year 10,000.