"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 June 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Drunk on Futurism


Futurism isn't what it used to be -

and it never has been. Scientific

prognostication has never been

significantly more accurate at

predicting the future than Tarot

card reading or crystal ball

gazing - it just pays better.

And in these days of

Internet-induced cyber-shock,

people will line up around the

block for educated guesses about

tomorrow's headlines - even if

they're no more accurate than

today's weather forecast.



Truth is, one doesn't need a

weatherman to know which way the

winds of change are blowing, and

those who make more specific

predictions about the future

tend to cash their speaking-fee

checks quickly for a reason. In

1948, George Orwell pictured the

future as a boot stomping on a

human face forever. Today the

stompee would be the loser of a

Dr. Martens-sponsored TV game

show. A couple of decades later,

"Star Trek" predicted we would

settle our petty squabbles and

boldly split infinitives amid

the stars. Turns out we're more

interested in cyberspace than

outer space.


[Future Guy]

Those predictions went wrong by

assuming that then-current

trends would continue - and the

current wave of net-centric

futurists are just as conceited. Worse,

they're interconnected. Faith listens to

Stewart, who listens to Nicholas, who

listens to Alvin and Heidi.

Predictions are based mostly on

other predictions - and the

giant circle jerk continues

until someone realizes that

nobody's actually getting off.

Meanwhile, those outside the

circle look on intently, certain

that this exercise in mutual

self-gratification conveys the

gift of clairvoyance. Maybe so,

but it's far more likely to make

one blind and crazy.



Until recently, that circle has

remained closed to a select few.

But the Internet is good for

nothing if not making

intellectual masturbation more

inclusive, and any remaining

elitism will be wiped out by

Heineken's Futurist of the Year

Contest, which offers four $2500

grand prizes to the winners of

an essay contest about the world

of tomorrow. Not only does the

site build brand identity by

democratizing Internet punditry,

it covertly offers its own

frightening prediction: In the

future, everyone will be a

futurist for 15 minutes.



If a key part of lifestyle

marketing is making consumers

feel important, the Futurist of

the Year contest is nothing

short of a work of art.

Relentlessly complimentary of

its audience, the site says that

"we know you have that certain

creative, dynamic, innovative

and original quality." (We'll

bet they say that to all the

customers.) In any case,

futurism feeds people's egos

almost by definition. Start

believing you know tomorrow's

stock prices and life gets

considerably richer. And as

Bruce Sterling has pointed out -

indeed, has made a living out of

pointing out - apocalyptic

pessimism feeds our sense of

significance like there's no




Already convinced that the geeks

shall inherit the earth, the Web

is especially susceptible to

this sort of ego-stroking.

Luckily, Heineken agrees that

"you, the Internet population,

will form a large part of the

future." No doubt

Heineken-filled beer bellies

will only make that portion

larger. And in a nod to our

none-too-literate future,

multimedia files can substitute

for essays as entries. At last,

anyone with a dollar and a dream

can attempt to make money from

their crackpot theories about

how the net will transform

banks, schools, and stores. Best

of all, the prize comes with an

"official document" that should

at least guarantee the winners a

few paid speaking engagements.

And in the unlikely event that

one of the winners really can

see tomorrow, that $2500 could

turn into quite a fortune in the

stock market.



Since Heineken reserves the

right to use all the entries as

it sees fit, it's probably best

not to submit one's foolproof

stock picks, but rather a

less-valuable forecast that has

a better chance of winning.

After all, if futurism is mostly

sci-fi flattery, why not boost

your odds by looking into

tomorrow through beer goggles?

The Suck entry, for example,

predicts bankruptcy for Beck's,

bullish years for the booze

business, and a global

government under the control of

the Netherlands. We think there

may be a check in our future.

courtesy of Dr. Dreidel