Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crystal Gazing

You may have noticed that I tend to hark back a lot as opposed to peering into the future. The reason is that, whilst I can relate to the past, I’m not much good at predicting forthcoming events. Thus it was something of a relief to find that Professor Stephen Hawking was equally foggy about the future – even to the extent of asking for opinions on the Internet.

Soothsayers and the like have had a bit of a chequered history. William the Conqueror had one of board one of his ships on the way to Hastings, but the vessel sank, prompting William to remark that couldn’t have been much of a soothsayer. Nostradamus seems to have done well for himself and Old Moore has resisted the ravages of time – and a good many errors in the prognostication department.

Fifty years ago, popular scientific magazines were full of pictures of us flitting hither and thither in our own personal flying machines within the next decade or so and George Orwell got the date wrong for 1984, although, come to think of it, the Big Brother part now looks realistic.

That the prediction industry is alive and well is evinced by the horoscopes that appear daily in a good many publications. They do tend to deal in generalities, however, and rarely get down to the specific stuff we really want to know. For instance, a suggestion that your day may include something to do with water and a stranger is more likely to indicate a burst pipe and a visit from the plumber than a romantic arrival from overseas.

Zodiac signs are something of a female predilection. “What are you?” she asks. “Uh?” you say. “I mean, what’s your sign?” “Oh, Taurus, I think,” you say, uncertainly. “Might have known,” she sniffs, and wanders off to find someone more compatible.

This compatibility of signs business apparently needs to be taken seriously. Perhaps when dealing with your bank manager concerning an overdraft, it’s one of the first things you should get cleared up. “Oh, so you’re a Pisces. I’m sorry, it’s just not going to work for us. I’d better try another bank.”

And when writing science fiction, it would be better to avoid Orwell’s problem and put the date a few millenniums ahead. With any luck, by the time it arrives, if the human race has managed to last that long, they won’t be reading books anymore. It will all be done by osmosis via television.


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