Wineka: Modern anxieties are age old
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — I’m famous around our house for making wacky predictions.
I said with confidence in 1982 or ’83 that the Aussie group Men at Work would some day be as big as the Beatles. They disbanded by 1985.
Years back, I also was convinced that, in the future, every car and truck would come with telephones as standard equipment.
It never occurred to me that soon every person would have a phone.
Another famous forecast: Anyone named Barack Hussein Obama could not be elected president of the United States so soon after 9/11.
My efforts at predicting the future usually crumble like the food pyramid.
I recently broke bread with the Salisbury Civitan Club, which asked me to speak a few minutes about the history of the Salisbury Post. Fearing the topic would send the Civitans into a deep sleep or convulsions so soon after eating, I searched desperately for another topic.
Of all things, I settled on the 1980s. At the end of 1989, I wrote stories for a special section devoted to the decade of the 1980s, and one of those articles was forward-looking, asking educators, businessmen, professors, health professionals, politicians, economic developers and others what the future held.
The headline for the story: “Where do we go now?”
I decided to share my introduction for that piece with the Civitans. Here it is:
What is it about the 1980s that leaves us a bit on edge, nervous about the years to come?
Advanced technology, from computers to fax machines, opened up a new age of information. The United States experienced its longest peacetime recovery and its second greatest economic expansion. As 1990 approaches, interest rates are down, inflation’s in check and most Americans have a job.
Women and minorities made significant political, social and economic gains. The Iron Curtain hangs by a thread.
But to borrow a huckster’s phrase from the decade: Where’s the beef? Underlying all the pluses are serious minuses.
A bureaucrat, national budget director Richard G. Darman, probably described the 1980s best: “Collectively, we are engaged in a massive backward Robin Hood transaction: robbing the future to give to the present.”
The 1980s, which on the surface appeared to be the best of times, leave us with uncomfortable questions:
• How many more lives will AIDS claim?
• Will the next generation be able to pay the debt run up by this generation?
• Will American students be able to compete in the global marketplace?
• What has the ’80s lifestyle done to our values?
• How much more can the environment take?
• Do we have the compassion to deal with new kinds of suffering in the 1990s?
These kinds of questions affect Salisbury as much as San Francisco. If the 1980s taught us one thing, it’s that the world keeps getting smaller.
A decision in Tokyo can mean new jobs in China Grove. A woman in Mooresville can have test-tube triplets as easily as a woman in Malibu. A computer virus spreads everywhere, as does a stock market crash.
We worried about ducks caught in the ice at City Lake, or whales caught in the ice off the Alaskan coast. New York has shelters and soup kitchens. So does Salisbury.
Where do you put the growing amounts of hazardous waste, solid waste, low-level and high level nuclear waste. It was a local question and a national one in the 1980s.
Nervous? Who’s nervous?
I guess my point in reading this passage to the Civitans was this: As a country, we still seem to be talking about the same things. It’s the old saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We love our technology, but it scares us, too. I’m on Facebook in three different places. I tweet. I text. But I’m still not sure it’s making my life that much easier or better. And I don’t have to mention how the Internet has changed not just the newspaper industry but businesses everywhere.
With these “advances,” especially in social networking, the world indeed keeps getting smaller. It’s as though we have to know everybody’s business.
I could go on — and did with the Civitans — but you will hear all of these things again during the next presidential race. Candidates will pay a lot of lip service as always to education, the economy, values, the environment and the debt.
My escape back into the 1980s only confirms that.
We keep thinking and saying — without ever doing much about it — that a future generation will pay for all our mistakes and excesses.
My latest wacky prediction: One of these days, we’re going to be right.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.