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Cary Brunswick

January 29, 2011

Our vision for future demands a response now

On Tuesday night, President Obama in his State of the Union address offered his vision for our future, but what will the world really be like in 2040? Peaceful, poisoned, hungry or thriving?

The doomsayers, and many of them are scientists or experts in their fields, believe climate change, pollution and a shortage of resources or food will threaten life on the planet. Others believe our rapid progress in technology will save us and we'll adapt to different kinds of "wireless" life.

About 40 years ago, I was in a college cultural anthropology class that had an assignment to write about what the world would be like at the turn of the century, or Y2K as it came to be called. The other day, cleaning out an old filing cabinet (which is becoming obsolete), I found that old paper. Naturally, my naive speculation was way off the mark in many ways, but not completely.

But it did lead me to realize how difficult it is to predict 30 years into the future, and how much more challenging it would be to do it today for three decades from now.

I was fairly accurate about the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. vying for ideological domination in the 1980s through nationalist struggles in Latin America and Africa. But I had mistakenly figured China would be more of a major player by then.

Despite President Eisenhower's farewell warning about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, I had no doubts that it would continue to dominate our economic well-being. By 1990, I suggested, the nationalist wars would be replaced by imperialist conflicts between the U.S., Russia and China for control of dwindling natural resources.

"It will be obvious by 2000 that the `Big Three,' or communism and capitalism, are going in the same direction and that all conflict will be economic, not political," I wrote.

And lo and behold, wasn't the real source of the Iraq war economic, since there were no weapons of mass destruction? But since the propaganda was that we were liberating the Iraqi people from a ruthless tyrant, why haven't we invaded Myanmar? What, no oil? The politics and repression really don't matter.

Clearly, I failed to foresee the breakup of the Soviet Union and the economic and political ascension of the Arab nations because of their oil.

And I have to admit that, even though I had been impressed by Hal in "2001: A Space Odyssey," I had no idea where computers were going and that they would come to dominate our way of life. In fact, even 30 years ago, since I was writing newspaper stories on a typewriter, I was able to say that I would never have a computer; yet here I am, writing about my shortsightedness on a laptop.

As a pessimist, my forecasts for technological change were dire, having assumed that electronic communications would be controlled by the state for use in manipulating the population. While some may say that has actually occurred, thanks to the freedom of the Internet there is much more individual liberty today than I envisioned.

I also supposed that advances in technology would make it possible for most Americans to stop working so much, and I wasn't referring to the negativity of a 10 percent unemployment rate.

The line between work and leisure would fade, I figured, and people would be happy doing a variety of productive activities not associated with drudgery and the 40-hour week just to make ends meet. What was I thinking? Well, I guess it was that most people, if given the opportunity, would be creative and constructive even if they didn't have to in order to get a paycheck.

Let's hope my pessimistic conclusions were just as inaccurate.

"Change becomes superficial. The world is beginning to seem like an electronic being unto itself, with an inevitable end approaching as pollution, lack of natural resources and over-population begin to take their toll," the paper ends.

Can it be possible today to look more positively on the condition of the nation and the world 30 years from now? The president obviously thinks so, as he hopes government can harness technology as an ally in our struggle for cleaner energy, different kinds of work and alternative resources _ in effect, a better future.

His antagonists in Washington would rather our future be thrown to the winds of private enterprise, where they believe the unrestricted drive for profit will somehow result in what is best for our nation and its people.

Right now, it is difficult to feel good about the chances for either government or the corporations being successful in achieving a bright future for our country. People have to decide what they should be doing now to help fulfill whatever best-chance scenario on which they rest their hopes.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor of oneontatoday.com. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.

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