Unpredictable nature of our world makes predictions a waste of time

The future has a way of arriving unannounced.

-- George Will

Last week, I spoke to a professional group that asked me to look into my crystal ball and tell them about the future of journalism, newspapers and the Internet.

I shared some thoughts but cautioned them against believing anyone who dramatically claims clever clairvoyance.

"Nobody ever gets the future exactly right," I said.

I offered examples.

Centuries ago, Leonardo da Vinci thought man would fly, but instead of airplanes, he figured we would flap through the clouds in individual hand-powered gliders.

Thirty years ago, journalism's fearless forecasters predicted you would soon look at your home TV screen, review a menu of available news stories, then push some buttons that would print out your customized newspaper.

That sort of describes the current Internet habit, except the TV screen became a PC monitor. And most of us don't feel the need to print out everything we read.

A decade ago, our brightest communications thinkers told everyone that we would soon be talking back and forth on telephones that included small cameras so we could see who we were talking to in real time and they could see us -- just like movie space man Flash Gordon in the 1930s or comic strip detective Dick Tracy on his wrist radio in the 1950s.

But that really hasn't happened, although the technology exists.

Yes, you can share photos of your face on a cell phone or the Internet, but most people don't feel compelled to see the person they're talking to.

In fact, we've gone the other direction. With the increased popularity of text messaging, we don't seem to need to hear somebody's voice, much less see them.

In the end, I guess, it's the message that most matters.

It's the same with newspaper companies delivering information. We can provide it in many ways, and I'm not really sure what will be the most common medium a few years from now.

Besides, I quit making predictions back in 1990 when a friend asked me why I spent a vacation flying to Minneapolis to watch the last-place Minnesota Twins play a baseball game.

"Just scouting out the Braves' opponent for next year's World Series," I said, describing Atlanta's last-place team.

He laughed at me like they laughed at da Vinci, but I think most of us agree that 1991 World Series was pretty special.

Unpredictable, too.

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