They have seen the future and it whirs.
The editors of U.S. News & World Report are celebrating the magazine's golden anniversary with a special supplement, "What the Next 50 Years Will Bring," in the May 9 issue. Its 46 pages may constitute the most hallucinatory exercise in Pollyannaism since Gerry Ford's "Whip Inflation Now."
"Ominous predictions of apocalypse have not come true," burbles this verbal smile button. Thanks to the inevitable momentum of science, America is on the verge of "a renaissance," a lollipop daydream of cancer cures and gene-spliced mega-veggies, bridges over the English Channel and mining on the moon, "levitating trains," "floating cities," a chicken in every electro-pot and computers everywhere. It means "a population with more material wealth and personal liberty than ever before." Freed by technology from "life's drudgery," they'll "at last have the time to allow their creativity to flower."
Never mind that we're already up to our Calvins in technology, and yet our average river is a suppurating trench, our cities pits of squalid woe, our "education" system a national disgrace. Forget that we have ample leisure now, and use it to sit stupefied in front of "Dukes of Hazzard." Or that despite our fabled "know-how," it took Detroit 10 years to comprehend that people wanted small, efficient cars--and then it bought them from the Japanese. No such stubborn reality, no sense of plain human inertia, intrudes on U.S. News' vision of techno-miracles and compulsory bliss.
* As "serial marriages" become de rigueur, nippers will adjust to "double sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and brothers and sisters." The profusion of kin will make them "more communal and cooperative" in a new "togetherness." No wonder: The average family dwelling will shrink to a kennel of some 900 to 1,200 square feet (down from about 1,500 now), but get more use. "While robots vacuum floors, mow the lawn and do laundry, family members will use computers to pursue their careers, get their educations, shop for clothes fat chance and have medical checkups--without ever leaving home." (Just like Sing Sing!)
* Manufacturing will wholly migrate to Southeast Asia. So at home "eight out of every 10 workers will be employed in making computers and providing services and information." How will we retrain millions of grease-dappled sons of toil to diddle with microchips? U.S. News omits to say. But unemployment somehow will decrease--despite the fact that we're going to live to be 100 but look 50, thanks to "superdrugs" and "spare-parts medicine" that will replace our defunct gizzards with parts from piggies "whose organs are most similar to human hearts and lungs." Watch for a sudden national loathing of pork--the swine remembers.
* Where will we get the chow for the 9 billion earthlings expected by 2033? No problem. What gene-tampering can't do with plants and animals (U.S. News is bullish on rabbit), preservative techniques can: "Perishable foods . . . will be exposed to high radiation" to extend their shelf life. (No more need for refrigerator lights!) And although our cities will bleed population and the ghettos will get worse, somehow we're due for "urban utopias" with grassy fields and superb services. Who'll pay the taxes? See retraining, above. And although the world creates a billion tons of solid waste a year, nuke swill included, somehow the planet's going to be as tidy as a tea room.
* Families will cavort in holographic playrooms, fuel will be cheap, the Soviets will sink to bush-league status. And the U.S. "will have a woman president, a Jewish president, an ethnic president and perhaps a black president." (Jews and blacks, apparently, will have ceased to be "ethnic.")
Pie in the sky? Hell, it's a vast galactic Twinkie. And if it all sounds strangely familiar, it should: It's what pundits were saying 30 years ago about life in the '80s.