Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Back to the future

Lord Mayor Naomi Long will seal a copy of today's Belfast Telegraph in a time capsule to be opened in 103 years. Malachi O'Doherty leaves this message for our readers in 2112

People of the 22nd century are unlikely to know much about the Belfast of 2009. And why would they, with so much else to worry about?

The most crucial information about us is that most of us died prematurely from heart disease, cancers and road accidents.

The scale of death on our roads was equivalent to the toll of a small war, though they may not remember what war was.

Somehow, I think that that concept will still be alive for them, though the technologies of war will have changed.

The motor car was our chief mode of transport back then and each car had to have its own individual driver.

We were just developing the technology of satellite navigation, but it would be another 20 years before vehicular traffic was fully automated and road carnage brought to an end.

But they may wonder why exactly we had to move around so much anyway.

I think the image that would most surprise them would be of the congested traffic on the motorways into Belfast on a normal morning.

Why, they would wonder, was everyone going into the city?

We would have to explain that people worked and lived in separate locations, even two decades after the development of the internet.

People still shopped in person for much of their needs, rather than online.

They may take some persuading that we actually enjoyed doing that.

And everyone had their place within an economy which was committed to continuous expansion, or ideally would have done.

In fact, many were state-paid public servants then, too.

We were, in 2009, just at the start of the great obesity epidemic. The average person of that time was light and mobile.

It would have been no trouble for children then to walk as much as a mile without having to take a rest, if their parents had not insisted on driving them to school.

School?

That was an institution in which they received instruction in groups on basics like how to write or count.

Even though speech-recognition software and pocket calculators were available in 2009, people seem to have been hampered by a moral sense that they should be doing some things for themselves, unaided.

It was not unusual for a full grown man to have a waist measurement of 30 inches. But even then, people had begun to understand that the ordinary work of sustaining themselves would not exercise the body sufficiently to maintain health, so they joined gymnasiums and would run on the roads at night, for no other purpose than to tighten their muscles and burn fat.

This preoccupation with health stemmed from a fear of death.

People in 2112 will be getting a reading of their lifespan as easily as those of 2009 would have their blood pressure taken.

And with this knowledge they will plan their lives with care and adapt themselves to their mortality with adequate time to prepare for the end.

Their religious culture will have a strong Confucian input and indeed a strong sense of collective responsibility.

They will not regard the death of an individual as a tragedy, but will be more concerned about the well-being of the whole world, or at least of the half of it controlled by China.

They may be interested to know that in 2009 Chinese culture had little impact on Northern Ireland.

Of course, most of our electronic goods were manufactured in China, but had to be transported to us by sea.

Only a few people among us were fluent Chinese speakers then and these were all descendants of migrants.

Ulster in the 22nd century will be part of the Chinese fringe extending from the arctic circle - so called in memory of the once icy landscape there - to South Africa.

Hopefully war with Great Brazil for control of arctic mineral wealth will have ended and they will have begun to co-operate on the threat of climate change.

The disintegration of the moon after over-exploitation in the mid-21st century will be threatening to enlarge our orbit around the sun by a fraction, but sufficient to chill the atmosphere and even bring back icy precipitation or snow.

One possible solution to this will be the organised incineration of carbon across the whole of the planet.

By then, of course, there will be no need to burn carbon for any other purpose than to generate the friendly greenhouse gases that will provide us with a snug blanket of smog.

People will not be happier in 2112. They will complain, as ever, about the quality of entertainment they are provided with.

Back in 2009, television was two dimensional though with surround sound.

Even with the three dimensional holographic experience there will be the standard programme formats, surgical body make-overs, personality swaps - hilarious when they first came out, but a bit repetitive now - and interactive sex-shows.

But for those who can still walk the length of themselves, there will still be the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, where people will be able to enjoy a real Bacardi Breezer and listen to ancient music through an iPod.

And if they stop to consider that times may have been better in the old days, well, let them try eating charred flesh without wearing a bib, or driving their own car, at risk to their lives, just to get to work when who needs a job anyway?

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