Faith in the future 


Those who have any familiarity with the Oprah self-help branch of pop culture probably have heard the phrase "living in the moment." It sounds kind of funny; after all, what else are you going to live in? If you have a time machine you can live in the future; if you are crazy and stagnant you can live in the past. But most of us are stuck with the present. The fact that we have to be reminded to live in it (the phrase actually refers to enjoying your life now instead of fretting over past mistakes or future problems) points up the fact that The Moment is often disappointing, and it's cozier to dwell elsewhere.

Besides, we're always being told to plan ahead, be it for the perfect holiday, the videotaping of must-see TV, or our own deaths (mainly by ads for life insurance, which assure us that we can still be jackasses even after we die by not getting adequate coverage for our families). It's hard to live in the moment.

One person who has built a fine career out of ignoring the moment in favor of the future is Faith Popcorn, a trend analyst who has a knack for telling us where we're going without benefit of a crystal ball. By dwelling on the days to come and tickling us with the previews, Popcorn has made a name for herself in the present, and presently she and co-author Adam Hanft have a fascinating new book out, the "Dictionary of the Future."

Word processor

As the title suggests, this peculiar dictionary doesn't just define the things we already have, but predicts what we will have. By researching what's going on and what we're on the verge of -- from the cultural to the scientific to the domestic -- Popcorn and Hamft give a taste of the lexicon to come. Some of the words, Popcorn writes in her introduction, are already in use; some are used in the trades they spring from, and some were made up by the authors to propel an idea that was just too good to let lie. A few examples from their exhaustive list:

Yogurt Cities. "Places to live that have active cultures," which the authors predict seniors will prefer to the present, sedate "retirement communities." The old will not only be old longer, they'll also apparently be vying for space at open-mike nights.

Eternity Leave. Taking off work to care for a terminally ill friend or family member. It's the Dictionary of the Future, not the Dictionary of the Rosey Perfect Future.

Crackcines. "There are vaccines in development ... that block the ill effects of drugs like cocaine, PCP ... even nicotine." Rehab workers might want to start thinking about going back to school now.

Adulescent. "Our youth obsession creates the phenomenon of men and women who refuse to live their age." I'd tell you more about it if I didn't have to go watch the WB.

Mannies. "Coined by USA Today to describe the unexpected growth of both domestic and foreign-born male nannies." Ready for "Larry Poppins"?

Scarevoyants. "Those who warn of upcoming cultural, environmental and political dangers." In other words, the news.

Pump and Dump. "The technique, basically illegal, of buying a stock, using the Internet to drive the price up and then getting out of it." Note that this phrase is under "personal finance" and does not reappear under any "dating" category.

Free Range Children. Opposite of "The Overscheduled Child," these kids aren't inundated with planned activities like soccer practice, play dates and band camp. Future kids evidently will not have to consult Palm Pilots in order to know what they're up to.

Buysexuals. People who "cross-shop at status stores -- like Prada and Vuitton and Tiffany -- and mass marketers like Target and Wal-Mart." Most of us already do this, only without the Prada, Vuitton and Tiffany part.

Personal Aroma Center. "Appliances that are capable of re-creating just about any smell in the world -- from an apple pie in the oven to a Paris flower market to the beach after a rain." Smells can now be encoded into software and sent by computer. Sounds great, but beware your practical-joking friends who say they're sending you "roses" which turn out to be "cat pee."

I'm so in-cited

This is just a tiny taste of this giant Popcorn bucket of cultural coming attractions. Many of these brave new words are too complex to explain here. But leafing through the definitions of flexpertise, nowherians, drownloading, the cosmetic underclass, the God-Forbid room and ex-thusiasm is a great pleasure read for anyone interested in language (a lot of these words are reminiscent of The Sniglet), human behavior and what's up next. What could be more interesting than a book that's all about us? (Or maybe I'm just being a little adulescent.)

Yogurt Cities. "Places to live that have active cultures," which the authors predict seniors will prefer to the present, sedate "retirement communities." The old will not only be old longer, they'll also apparently be vying for space at open-mike nights.


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