published Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Kennedy: Brains are wired to wonder

Born in 1958, I'm a 20th-century kind of guy. By the year 2000, I was 42 years old and my personality had already been bottled and corked.

Meanwhile, my two sons, who were both born in the 21st century, sometimes seem like creatures from a different planet.

For example, my 9-year-old son is a big Boise State football fan. It's because of ESPN and the Internet. Still, if someone had suggested in the year 2000 that I'd have a blue and orange Boise State flag attached to my house, I would have invited him or her to seek counseling.

Also, if my wife and I had known that the first decade of the 21st century would bring an attack on American soil killing thousands, a two-front war on terrorism and an economic calamity on a scale not seen since the Great Depression, we might not have decided to have a child in the autumn of 2001.

That's a great thing about the future -- it never reveals itself in advance.

Still, the human mind is wired to wonder.

Last week, I noticed an item on my Twitter feed from a journalist named Adam Penenberg, who is a former senior editor at Forbes magazine. Penenberg's tweet contained a link to an article from a 1900 edition of Ladies' Home Journal. The author of that long-ago magazine piece had consulted leading thinkers of the day to produce an article called "What May Happen in the Next 100 Years."

The predictions for the year 2000, summarized by writer John Elfreth Watkins Jr., are full of fascinating hits and misses.

Some samples:

  • A hit: There would be 350 million to 500 million people in the United States by 2000. (Not a bad guess -- the population in 2000 was about 281 million -- although the prediction also assumed the United States would by now have annexed Mexico.)

  • A miss: The letters C, X and Q would be lost from the English language by 2000. (This was based on the false assumption that condensed, phonetic spelling would become common. This might be a late-arriving trend, however. Texting may yet polish off half the alphabet in the 21st century.)

  • Hit: Hot and cold air would be piped into houses. (Correct. Central heat and air have indeed become ubiquitous in industrialized nations.)

n Miss: A university education would be given free to every man and woman. (Sorry, we always assume history will improve things. Sadly, a college education is becoming more, not less, cost-prohibitive for middle- and lower-income Americans.)

  • Hit: Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits would span the world. (Ding. Ding. Ding. In retrospect, this seems prescient. Score a big bull's-eye for the early 20th-century futurists.)

  • Miss: Everybody would be able to walk 10 miles at a stretch. (True, top athletes are in much better shape now than in 1900. On the other hand, millions of ordinary people battle obesity and would struggle to walk a single mile, much less 10.)

  • Hit: Ready-cooked meals would be bought from establishments similar to 1900-era bakeries. (McDonald's anyone?)

  • Miss: Products would be delivered straight to homes by pneumatic tubes. (UPS filled the gap here, although the tubes are still around in drive-through bank windows.)

Enough of the old stuff, though. What about the future?

Here, based on nothing but my hunches, are my predictions for the 21st century.

  • Not only will the United States have had a woman president, I predict four women will have held the office by the year 2100.

  • The last living baby boomer, born on Dec. 31, 1964, will die in 2089 at age 125.

  • Death by cancer and automobile accidents in developed countries will be eradicated. (Most cars will actually pilot themselves by midcentury.)

  • Growth of renewable energy (solar, wind, nuclear, fuel cell) along with a surge in worldwide capitalism will raise the average global standard of living immensely.

  • A single daily pill, formulated especially for you, will extend the average life-span by at least a decade.

  • Boise State will win its 15th SEC Northwest Division championship in the year 2100. (Don't laugh. Stranger things have happened.)

What are your predictions for the year 2100? Please share them with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkKennedyTFP or Twitter@TFPCOLUM NIST.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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