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Happy '09 from a futuristic view

Every year the Futurist magazine compiles the forecasts and predictions of assorted visionaries and is now out with its "Outlook for 2009 and Beyond."

Contemplating our immediate future would seem to be a dispiriting and joyless task -- look what it's done to Al Gore -- but these futurists come across as a cheerful and optimistic bunch. Takes this forecast:

"People will have more sex." The reason is that women's growing economic power around the world will give them more choices, and one of those choices apparently will be to have more sex.

Perhaps that has some bearing on another forecast: "Americans may turn away from antidepressants." According to the anthropologist who made this call, the 100-million antidepressant prescriptions Americans take "kill the sex drive" but many may quit taking them, one surmises, so they can participate in the general randiness of women having more economic power.

Even stuff that we lay people think is almost surely bad, the futurists view with equanimity like, "Everything you say and do may be recorded." Implanted nanodevices will allow all our conversations and activities to be recorded and recoverable, enabling you to relive junior high at will.

That's because digital storage capacity will grow so large that it will be measured in "yottabytes" -- 1 septillion bytes of data -- allowing "the ability to record and store every second of one's life on a computer (and no doubt post it on Facebook)." Woody Allen said that 90 percent of life is just showing up. Now you won't even have to do that.

This development will come too late for some of us. "Retirees will increasingly return to the work force." It would be nice to be able to send a replacement. This forecast didn't say the retirees were doing it out of boredom or necessity, but implies it's the latter. One-third of Americans who retire are back on the job two years later and -- here's something to look forward to -- "40 percent of seniors say they plan to continue working until they die, and two-thirds of Americans say they doubt that retirement is possible for the middle class."

Those oldsters going back to work will be grateful for another development, "Better blood flow, more energy, thanks to high-tech underwear."

Here's a cautionary forecast: "Saving snakes may save ourselves." The venom of snakes like the timber rattler may have undiscovered medicinal properties but many species are endangered.

And there's one hardy perennial that's been with us since at least the 1930s. "Flying cars may be on the way at last." The Futurist cites an entrepreneur working on designs for a Skycar that fits in a suburban garage, takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies 380 mph. Our suburban garage remains empty of air cars, but hope springs eternal.

As unfazed by what lies ahead of us as the futurists are, no compilation of predictions would be complete without something truly apocalyptic, some looming disaster to brighten Al Gore's day. And here we have it:

"Increases in the Earth's temperature, no matter how slight, could trigger global mayhem and destruction." The Amazon rain forest would become a desert, the glaciers would disappear and, "Conflict over scarce resources would most likely cause human civilization to collapse."

Happy 2009. Check your driveway and save your snakes.

-- McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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