Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I like to think of how I'd explain the world of 2004 to a citizen of the 1940s or 50s . . . someone with a good grasp of science for whom descriptions of ubiquitous marvels like DVD players and global positioning systems would seem like technology, not fantasy or mysticism. Nevertheless, a daunting task.

Let's say I've got only a couple minutes to sum up the post-millennial zeitgeist. Where should I start? Even a typical street scene is liable to sound like bad science fiction, what with people coasting by on Segways as they prattle into cellphones that double as cameras. To say nothing of those drinking $2.50 cups of organic coffee as they establish wi-fi connections with their laptops, which they use to "surf" this enigmatic thing called "the Web" and transmit messages that dance across the globe in fiber-optic cable.

Blogs. Depleted uranium. The search for Hawking radiation. 9-11-01. Stem-cells. Global warming. Computer viruses. Mars rovers. Chat-rooms. Dish TV. MP3s, PDAs, GMOs, SUVs and MRIs. The Higgs boson. Quantum encryption. Transgenic art. Dirty bombs. Solar sails. Google.

Actually, here's what I might say to my hypothetical friend from the 1950s: "Do you read science fiction? There's this author, Philip K. Dick. You might enjoy him . . ."

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