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Alex Beam

Futurists go extinct; bad writing lives on

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / April 14, 2008

Two futurists from Australia have designed an amusing and provocative "Extinction Timeline," which purports to predict when certain social phenomena, e.g., love biting or dial-up Internet service, disappear. Naturally I searched immediately for "newspapers" and discovered that they see "physical newspapers" lasting until 2048, the year when they predict the demise of Google and of blindness. By their calculation, newspapers will outlast national currencies, deafness, and a good night's sleep, which will become extinct around 2040.

So that's good news, right? I asked Ross Dawson, the timeline co-creator and CEO of the consulting firm Advanced Human Technologies. Only sort of. What he means by "physical" newspaper is some sort of electronic gizmo, maybe just a flexible, reprogrammable plastic screen. (You can view the Timeline at nowandnext.com/PDF/extinction_timeline.pdf.)

Speaking to me from Sydney, 14 hours in the future, Dawson explained that the timeline, created with colleague Richard Watson, might have been buried on a computer server in the Southern hemisphere, had they not predicted the demise of public libraries in 2019. That caught the attention of the Internets. Also headed for the exit in 2019: sit-down breakfasts (perhaps, I say); post offices (probably; Dawson is already talking about three-dimensional fax machines); direct marketing (one can only hope); butchers; free parking; World War I survivors; and unfenced beaches.

Why butchers? Because fewer and fewer people will be eating meat, Dawson said.

He and Watson are strong believers in global warming. They see the Maldives disappearing in 2024, along with spelling and blogging. Glaciers will be history as of 2036, when they likewise predict the demise of British royalty (wishful thinking from Down Under?) and natural childbirth. Roughly 10 years later, they predict the disappearance of futurists, lists of predictions, and Cher. Yes, they have a healthy sense of humor.

But they do take the future seriously. Watson, who writes for Fast Company magazine, has carved out a niche as a consultant and trendslinger. "Dieting is the new eating," he correctly proclaimed in 2006. It was Watson who claimed that love bites, along with hope, innocence, Swiss Army knives, habeas corpus, and Enron, all became extinct in 2001, the year of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Why love bites? They "just seem to have disappeared," he e-mailed me. "I can't remember the last time I saw a 13-year-old with a love bite. Why 2001? Just feels about right. I'm adding 'extinctions' all the time, and someone reminded me that kids with grazed knees and elbows appear to be on the edge of extinction also."

His partner Dawson has been pushing robotic pets, which I find strange because I only recently began to enjoy actual, live pets. When we talked, Dawson had just returned from an around-the-world trip with his wife, his infant daughter, and a compact, programmable robotic dinosaur called Pleo. As you can imagine, Pleo ("the smartest robot pet yet," according to Popular Science magazine) isn't much trouble on the road, consumes nothing but the occasional jolt of electricity, and doesn't fidget in airplanes. You can see one at pleoworld.com.

Dawson said that Japan, with its declining population, has embraced the notion of robotic baby sitters, and that "research in America shows that elderly people in nursing homes respond just as well to a robot dog as to a real dog. We can form emotional ties with robots."

I have seen the future, and it may need oil.

Good bad prose!

Today is the entry deadline for the coveted Edward Bulwer-Lytton bad fiction award, which celebrates the best in bad writing. The prize is named after the man who wrote the immortal phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night." I was tempted to nominate Ben Mezrich, but we know there's nothing fictional about his work, right?

My candidate? Ex-soft-core pornographer and vampire gal Anne Rice, who has just penned a bestseller "Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana," in the voice of Jesus Christ:

"Oh, if only I could indeed stop time, stop it here, stop it forever with this great banquet, and let all the world come here to this, now, streaming, out of Time and beyond Time, and into this - to join with the dancing, to feast at these abundant tables, to laugh and sing and cry amid these smoking lamps and twinkling candles. But it was not to be."

Good luck, Anne!

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

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