Anybody’s guess

25 June 2525 — Space Colony Mars — George Orwell’s 622th anniversary of birth

No one has ever referred to me as a world traveler. This is due to the fact that I seldom leave home (even with an American Express card). But you know me, dear readers, I often visit far-off places in my mind and manage to get back in time for supper. 

One overcast afternoon here on sunny Cape Cod, I decided to travel through time. I went back to the future. I went back to see how people in olden days imagined what life would be like today.

I saw a postcard from a hundred years ago illustrating how we human beings will be able to one day control the weather. It showed a giant fan blowing away storm clouds. There is an eight-in-10 chance that, due to the wonders of geoengineering, this will happen — but maybe not with a giant fan. When that day comes, it will be a great boon to the tourist industry on Cape Cod.

Thomas Edison predicted that by the 21st century steel would be the one and only building material. Not only office and commercial buildings, but also private homes — and their interior furnishings — would all be made of nothing but steel. He also predicted that we would be able to take iron and convert it into endless bars of pure gold. Alchemists have been working on this for centuries. It has yet to happen. This is quite unfortunate, since unlimited amounts of gold bars would alleviate the debts of financially challenged parishes. 

In 1949, “Popular Mechanics” magazine predicted that in the coming age of technology, computers would be very small indeed. They would weigh a mere ton-and-a-half and have just 18,000 vacuum tubes. What’s a vacuum tube?

In 1966, “Reader’s Digest” said that by the turn of the 21st century, we would have rocket belts, domed cities (on the earth, under water, and on other planets), and flying saucer-shaped vehicles. To be fair, it also predicted there would be moving sidewalks as can be found today in every major airport. “Reader’s Digest” gets extra points for the latter.

Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners were expected to be available by 1965. Thank heavens we missed out on that one. Who would risk a nuclear meltdown in their own living room? 

A certain John Watkins foresaw a 21st-century alphabet without the letters C, Q and X. By now, these three letters should have “beome etremely unneessary” (sic). 

The famous Marconi was convinced that his invention of wireless communication would make wars between nations nonsensical since war is nothing more than a failure to communicate (What we have here …).

My journey back to the future proved to me once and for all that the predictions of futurists are even less accurate than those of weather forecasters — and that’s saying something. 

And now, dear readers, I will travel ahead to the future. Hang on to your hats. 

The acclaimed professor of theoretical physics, Dr. Michio Kaku, says that within 10 years the Internet will be replaced by what he calls the “brain-net.” Your thoughts, feelings, and memories will be read by a computer and telepathically conveyed. Personally, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I don’t want to know what people are thinking when I’m preaching a homily or counseling a couple before Marriage. Or vice versa. It would be very disconcerting. 

The director of engineering at Google, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, says that before long we will be able to visit people anywhere by using virtual reality. We will create avatars of ourselves which will have the ability to see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Although it would certainly ease the vocations crisis, I doubt very much that Sacraments administered by avatars would ever be considered licit.

Of course, avatars will not be in common use until the 2030s. 

Dr. James Canton of Global Futures, Inc., based in California (where else?) is quite sure that in the future humans and robots will physically and digitally merge. Surgery, for example, will be performed by human doctors/robots, using an endless supply of 3D-printed replacement organs. Artificial intelligence, he says, will be the basis of the economy, which will use digital Bitcoin, not hard currency, checks, or even credit cards. There will be only a single currency worldwide. This will surely replace the current parish budget envelope system. It even goes way beyond online giving.

There is also an eight-in-10 chance that, before the end of this century, there will be only three languages spoken in the world — English, Spanish, and Mandarin. Localized languages are rapidly dying out. As for major languages, many people can already speak more than one. Pope John Paul could speak eight languages fluently; Pope Benedict, seven languages. Pope Francis speaks Spanish, Italian, and German. 

And what will the future of our Church be like, dear readers? That’s easy for me to predict. As history has proven time and again, the answer to that question is anybody’s guess. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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