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Jewish World Review Aug. 23, 1999 /11 Elul, 5759

Bob Greene

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If you don't like this
story, blame the
robot who wrote it --
SORRY IF I'M A LITTLE OUT OF BREATH. The giant hovercraft was 20 minutes late getting me downtown, and once we arrived at the hovercraft port the pneumatic tube that gets me to the newspaper office was jammed and stiflingly hot. The robot forgot to get me new clothes after throwing last week's shirts in the trash. . . .

Hello. Just amusing myself here. I've been reading an old clipping that was sent to me by a reader named Honore Wisniewski, of Hoffman Estates. Mrs. Wisniewski cut the story out of the Tribune 30 years ago this summer, and vowed to save it.

She wanted to check the paper's accuracy, as it were.

The story -- a United Press International dispatch from Lafayette, Ind. -- bore the headline:

"Life to Be Easier in the Year 2000."

The lead two paragraphs:

"Having a day of horrors on the homefront? Toast burned, coffee boiled over, fuse blew, furnace went blotto?

"What you need to calm yourself is a look through rose-colored glasses with Wallace Denton of Purdue University's department of family life. His special tinted glasses are telescopic and zoom in on life in the year 2000."

Now that we are on the verge of 2000, it is instructive to take a look at what the professor foresaw for us -- and to decide which aspects of life he was right about, which aspects of life he was wrong about, and which aspects of life both he and we were, and are, constantly confused about.

Denton's prognosis -- 30 years ago -- of what the United States would be like by Jan. 1, 2000:

- "You'll probably be living in a mechanized, high-rise, windowless apartment."

- "You will travel across town by pneumatic tube."

- "For long trips, you'll share a hovercraft with about 2,000 persons."

- "A computer will prepare a balanced diet, and at the appropriate time food will come out of the freezer and move into a microwave oven where it will be cooked in a matter of seconds."

- "The family may eat this (meal) off plastic plates."

- "A machine will clean the plates, remelt the plastic and form new plates."

- "No-calorie foods made of cellulose will be common and tasty, even cookies and cakes."

- "You'll wear clothes a few times and throw them away."

- "Fabric clothes will be cleaned by sonic waves, ending the need for present-day dry cleaning."

- "Each household will have a robot maid to do the routine housework. The robot will cost about the same as a small car."

- "To keep in touch there will be the home communication center. Here will be a composite radio, television, telephone and printer, the latter to bring you daily newspaper pages."

- "Family members will be assigned numbers for everything."

- "A woman risks losing her sense of significance in (a home where the people are identified by numbers)."

- "An increased number of wives will be working outside the home for pay."

- "Bosses (should) come up with significant part-time jobs (for the working wives, presumably to spare them from having to work full-time)."

- "Churches, clubs and schools (will bear the burden of providing) more and more meaningful activities for family members."

- "The human psyche in this new era (of life in the year 2000 will be filled with) anxiety."

- If the churches, clubs and schools fail to come up with ways to give people significant, constructive and pleasurable avenues of release in the technologically advanced world of 2000, "We will have mental health problems, aggressive behavior, and inability to relate to others and to function effectively."

Efforts to locate professor Denton to comment -- 30 years later -- on his predictions were unsuccessful. There is no longer a department of family life at Purdue.

Among other questions raised by the old news article is this:

Could the United Press International reporter who wrote the story about life in the year 2000 have predicted that, by the year 2000, his own wire service would no longer be concentrating on providing stories to newspapers, or to radio and television stations, but instead be betting its future on providing news to something called the Internet?

If the UPI reporter had known that, he'd probably be making sure that his commute home was via a pneumatic tube that had a bar car.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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©1999, Tribune Media Services