Essay: Time Capsule: A Letter to the Year 2086

A Letter to the Year 2086

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Dear America,

How are you? We are fine, except for a White House mess of the moment (you | don't want to know about it), and a grinning Wall Street thief who was fined $100 million (real money these days), and a touch of the flu. Have you heard of the flu? In late December 1986 the nation half skips, half drags itself toward Christmas. We trust that your Christmases are the same. Or have you licked the season too? Have you solved everything? This letter will be propped up in a capsule at the Statue of Liberty, to be opened on the statue's bicentennial. Go ahead. Undo the lock. I see your sharp, bright faces as you hoist us into your life, superior as cats to your primitive elders. Quaint, are we not? Beware of superior feelings. The message in this bottle may turn out to be as much a warning as an artifact. We are not as dead as we seem.

What would you like to know first? A preliminary sketch? On these low-slung mornings, your long-gone countrymen are attacked in their sleep by emphatic music played on clocks and radios that are yoked together. They run a mile or two to ward off heart disease, chomp high-fiber cereals to ward off cancer, and dress in the fashions of the times, which may seem starchy to you but in fact have never been looser. They proceed then to offices populated with machines designed to give them back the free time they have nearly forgotten how to use. En route they pass some people with telephones in their cars, dealing with those they cannot reach because of traffic jams. Some others they pass make homes out of shopping carts, speak the language of the mad, and stare at their own loneliness with disbelief.

Children squeal and flutter into schools where the poor are taught poorly and the rich look forward to careers in international banking. Men and women in nearly equal numbers take their stations at jobs that have less and less to do with making things and more with providing "services." (A service manufactures happiness for the sedentary.) Messengers deliver messages, cleaners clean, lawyers bill. The pace is heady, overwhelming, if one does not include cities like Youngstown, Ohio, where the steel industry has been nailed shut for the past few years, and small farms in Kansas and South Carolina that lie as graveyards to unpaid mortgages. Everybody seems to know everything everywhere. The television news displays a riot in an overcrowded Tennessee prison, a newly discovered poem by Shakespeare, an earthquake in Mexico, a bombing in Libya, starvation in Africa, a dinosaur bone.

There is, nonetheless, a strange suddenness to our times. Days, months sweep by without a ripple, and then from nowhere the news leaps out and grabs one by the collar. (What is news? Do you people know nothing?) This year alone, a widowed housewife deposed a foxy tyrant, a stockholder took hold of a giant entertainment company, a space vehicle that was supposed to fly crashed to earth, a peace meeting between the world's two leaders that was supposed to fly crashed to earth, a disease took on the look of a plague, a nuclear power plant exploded, a country that keeps blacks and whites apart started coming apart.

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