Predictions, Anyone?

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The New York Times Syndicate/Guardian of London on 1 December 1998

As a writer who openly and on record detests futurists of almost all breeds, I thought it might be fitting to close out 1998 with a list of predictions of my own. As you’ll see, each of these 10 prophecies for 1999 is part of a pair equal and, in most cases, opposite counter-prophecies. For the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Prediction One: The Y2K computer glitch will impair only the most peripheral and seldom-used systems. One or two power outages will occur in many countries, a few smaller banks will close for up to 48 hours, and improperly dated email will get lost in the wrong parts of users’ Eudora lists. Almost no one will notice any significant inconvenience to their daily functioning.

Prediction Two: The widespread but unfounded panic about the Y2K computer glitch, fueled by the incessant millennial prophecies of irresponsible apocalyptic preachers, will lead to a run on the banks, a shortage of generators, fuel, and other survival supplies, an oppressive social atmosphere of personal greed and an uncomfortably mercenary ethic of “every man for himself.” After seeing our own true colors, we will require at least a decade to regain any semblance of trust in one another. Civil society may be forever thought of as unattainable.

Prediction Three: Internet 2, an new international computer network dedicated to education, research, and public use, will be off and running by mid-year. Students, teachers, scientists and civics activists will flock to the system in droves, and begin communicating about issues of great importance to one another, without the bandwidth problems, costs or distractions imposed by commercial users.

Prediction Four: Internet 2 will work so well, and at such little cost, that commercial users will insist on being able to participate on the network, and engage in costly First Amendment and Free Speech lawsuits against Internet 2’s administrators, who will be forced to grant access. As “payback,” major corporations will sponsor an increasing proportion of school curriculums, requiring students to visit commercial sites with advertisements in order to do their homework.

Prediction Five: Microsoft will win its battle with the US Justice Department. One after another, the states suing Microsoft as part of the anti-trust action will back down and withdraw from the suit. The States Attorneys General do not understand the intricacies of Microsoft’s arguments, and will be afraid to look stupid or, worse, threaten their own relationship with whoever is going to win the Internet wars. Left alone and without resources, the Justice Department will accept a face-saving negotiated agreement that will actually grant Microsoft greater control over standards setting than it had before.

Prediction Six: The shareware and open code movements will continue their tremendous comebacks. Users will make a conscious effort to buy from ethical and open-source software companies. Mass support of Linux, Palm Computing, and a Sun-Netscape-AOL-Yahoo alliance will tip the balance away from monopolistic control of standards setting, bringing Microsoft to its knees. Kid coders will again lead software and networking innovation.

Prediction Seven: Apple will release a stunning new series of G3-400mhz laptop computers that weigh less than six pounds. Reviewers will heap unanimous praise on the new models and on this final phase of Steve Jobs’ miraculous turnaround of his company.

Prediction Eight: Apple will only be able to produce 30 percent of the total number of new G3 SuperLaptops ordered. These supply shortages, combined with lawsuits made against the company by angry retailers, will more than offset anticipated profits. Further, in the rush to create peripheral devices for the new super-machines, third-party manufacturers provided with improper specifications will develop incompatible and worthless components. These devices will create conflicts in the Mac System that make Win98 look stable by comparison.

Prediction Nine: The first successful cloning of a human embryo, conducted by a renegade scientist in a Third World pharmaceutical laboratory will be announced by Saddam Hussein. Time, Newsweek, and The Economist will run horrified cover stories, CNN will begin round-the-clock coverage of efforts by a new “international scientific regulatory agency” to track down the culprit.

Prediction Ten: The entire experiment and its results will be revealed as a hoax or improperly conducted. Conspiracy theorists will assume this is just a cover-up to prevent panic. Paranoid conspiracy theorists will conclude that the entire story was concocted by a covert international cartel as a way of justifying additional expenditures on science regulation, to keep these powerful magics in the hands of the capitalists.

Bonus prediction eleven: At least half of my predictions will prove incorrect by the end of 1999.

Bonus prediction twelve: No one will bother to check.