Sep 24 2011

5555? No Way! The Future Is Now

1969 was a memorable year for all sorts of reasons, some good and some bad. For one thing, Farwell wasn’t killed. He was as surprised by this unexpected piece of good fortune as he was pleased. And here’s another item from the “good” column: It was the year a song called “In the Year 2525” briefly topped the charts. Funnily enough, it wasn’t your typical flower-power, peace-and-love anthem. Instead, it was serious, even somber, reflection on the human prospect. But it still made it all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100! Go figure.

Anyway, one stanza of this unlikely pop hit has stayed with me over all the intervening years:

In the year 5555
Your arms are hanging limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin’ to do
Some machine is doin’ that for you …

Why is this still echoing through the corridors of my memory palace after so much time has passed? Well, just look around you. Do you see many people doing things with their bodies? When’s the last time you saw a kid pushing a lawn mower? Or a man shoveling his driveway after a snowstorm? Or a woman turning over her garden with a—wait for it—spading fork? Or anyone over the age of 16 riding a bike to go to school or work? I’ll bet you don’t see any of these sights very often, do you?

I certainly don’t. And things are no different when you step inside. Stairs are vanishing from public buildings. Where they still exist, they’re tucked out of sight, in dark corners. Back home, our clean clothes are dried by a machine, not hung on a line. In the kitchen, an electric mixer has replaced the old hand-cranked rotary beater and manual whisk. It’s not much faster, but it’s so easy. Even the can opener is now motorized, if you can find it. Many cans now have pull-tops, requiring only a single tug to open. Are you ready to serve? No need to break a sweat. Carving knives are driven by electric motors, and any non-electrified knives still left in the house are sharpened by—you guessed it—an electric sharpener. But who needs sharp knives, anyway? Most home cooks get all their meat pre-trimmed and all their veggies pre-chopped.

So let’s go shopping. You’ll have to drive, of course. Not many of us live within walking distance of a grocery store, and everybody knows that bikes are just toys for the weekend. As for buses… Get real! No sweat, though. Just shuffle over to the car, and when you get to the HyperMart, spend ten minutes driving around in circles, waiting for one of the spots closest to the door to open up. Then, once you’re inside, join the queue forming around the store’s fleet of electric shopper-scooters. These used to be reserved for the disabled, but, hey, we’re all hurting nowadays, right? And who wants to risk sore feet walking up and down the aisles? So grab the first available scooter and drive off. But then suppose, just suppose, that you find you gotta go—you really, really gotta go!—when you’re only halfway down the diet soft-drink aisle. Well, if you gotta, you gotta. So motor over to the toilet. And that’s when you discover that some things still have to be done by hand. Bummer. Still, look on the bright side. Chances are you won’t even have to flush the toilet or turn a tap. You will probably have to get off your shopper-scooter to do the biz, though. Life is tough. But don’t worry. Our engineers are working on the problem.

Done shopping? Then it’s time for fun! What’ll it be today? Take the golf cart out for a spin at the country club? Do a few circuits of the lake on your jetski? Or—it’ll be winter soon, right?—how about firing up the ski-doo (sorry, “sled”) and doing twenty-thirty miles on the trail? Whatever your pleasure, it’s all good. And afterward, when you’ve gotten your fill of fresh air, just put your clothes in the washer. Be sure to use a detergent with a perfume that’s strong enough to kill the stink of oily exhaust, though, and don’t forget the dryer sheet. Better use four sheets, in fact. Now shower and change into something comfortable. OK. What movie do you want to watch tonight? Pass me the remote, will you, dear?

5555? More like 2011. The future, as they say, is now.

On the Road to Fat City

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