Sunday, January 02, 2005

What will be essential in 2020?

This week's Outlook Section in the Washington Post has an interesting article on What Will Be Essential in 2020?. The intro is particularly well written. In it, the author, Philip Kennicott, says, "If you're one of those people who use this season to clean up and throw out the accumulated baggage of another year, just take stock of how deeply a basic optimism pervades the house. In the kitchen, a little bit of desiccated saffron waits for the proverbial blue moon when you decide to color a pot of rice. On the bookshelf, Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain" still inhabits its two inches of precious space, waiting for a long, undistracted summer to be given its due. In the closet, your youth hangs in between old winter coats and forlorn ties, waiting for the new you that will emerge from the gym and a regimen built on tofu and greens." He goes on:

There is an optimism so fundamental to life that we hardly notice its presence, an optimism of essentials: We hoard and we plan and we muddle on regardless of a world that gives us little reassurance about our future. Our world is constructed of ephemera -- technology and entertainment and celebrities -- that we know will come and go. And often it feels full of dreadful omens. But before the mind darkens contemplating that glass -- half full, or half empty? -- the body thirsts, simply, essentially. So the glass and the water precede the philosophical messiness of the human condition. And it is comforting, and chastening, from time to time, to work backward, from the anxieties and ambiguous portents of daily life to the basics. What is essential? What will remain essential in . . . oh, let us say 15 years?

Accompanying the article is a list of "bare essentials" contributed by a pretty broad cross-section of Americans.

Here are a few of the contributions:

• Print. If for the past 400 years we'd been getting all of our info electronically, and somebody invented a way to put it on paper and deliver it to our doorsteps so we could read it in the back yard or bath or bus, people would say this new print technology is so wonderful it will replace the Internet.
-- Walter Isaacson,
president, Aspen Institute

• As we develop "affective" computers, remembering that simulated thinking may be thinking, but simulated feeling is not feeling, simulated love is never love.
-- Sherry Turkle,
director of the Initiative
on Technology and Self, MIT

• The great privacy of sleep; ambiguous, haunting images that come to us in the night; warm beds.
-- Colm Toibin,
author of "The Master"

• The "Oxford Book of English Verse" and sunblock.
-- Thomas Mallon,
novelist and critic

• Sunscreen, strong encryption, noise-canceling earphones.
-- Edward Tenner,
author of "Why Things Bite Back"

• Sunscreen and a dictionary; everything else for a good life will be optional.
-- Rami G. Khouri,
executive editor, the Daily Star, Beirut

• Solar power and backyard vegetable gardens.
-- Jeanne DuPrau,
author of "The City of Ember"

• An understanding heart.
-- Julia Alvarez,
author of "Finding Miracles"

• Solitude.
-- Bill Joy,
co-founder and former chief scientist, Sun Microsystems

• Basic knowledge of the Chinese language and history.
-- Minxin Pei,
director, China Program,
the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace

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