The future, inch by centimeter,
is still a long way off

June 30, 1989

   Back in the 1970s, when I was a grade-school puppy, my teachers used to have the class envision the future in crayon. Usually we were supposed to draw life in the 21st century, but sometimes they's ask us to think small and envision the 1980s. We knew there'd be no vacation homes on the moon by then, but we figured that at least everybody would have aircars.
   Just aircars. Nothing much to ask. No personal helicopters or antigravity pods or anything, just aircars. You'd float a few inches above the ground, but you'd still need roads. Unambitious but impressive.
   Later on, the teachers took away the paper and crayons and got down to the serious business of scaring the scoot out of us about the future. One teacher pointed to the tiled floor and told us that by the end of the 1980s, the population would be so big there'd be one person for every square foot of dry land. An area the size of a tile.
   A world tiled with people. A planet swarming with hungry, bee-menaced humans, and not a fossil fuel left in sight.
   Of course we'd need those personal helicopters. How else would we get to the store to buy food pills?
   Our teachers had one more thing they were sure about, we'd all be using the metric system.
   The 21th century is almost upon us, but our cars still move along the ground, but they're miniaturized and come from japan, the home of Godzilla and cheap robot toys. We don't have to share a tile with anyone and can even get the bathroom to ourselves now and then if we're lucky. Our food is till roughly food-shaped and and not pill-shaped, though some people take pills so they won't eat so much food.
   And we're still using the English system of measurement.
   America fought off the metric system like a foreign invasion. Metric was logic's Vietnam. pro-metric people tried replacing a perfectly good but incomprehensible system with some funny-sounding method using prefixes and suffixes (``What's with all them Latin words -- are you a tool of the Vatican or something?'') and multiples of ten. The metricites tried showing us the advantages of units of measurement that actually had something to do with one another. No wonder they failed.
   Americans don't care if the rest of the world has already gone metric. All that argument did was tie the English system to rugged individualism. Those damn Brits went soft and started using centimeters and kilograms. leaving us to hold the banner for senseless units of measurement. They'll be speaking Esperanto next, the spineless gits.
   We could see the effects fo the metric sustem, and we didn't want any part of it. Canada was the first country to go metric, and it had two languages and a separatist movement in Quebec. We've already had a civil war, thank you, and we don't want another one over inches and centimeters.
   Besides, the Canadians stole our idea of using dollars for money, and their dollars still aren't worth anything. their quarters jam up our pop machines, so we have to go buy Coke in two-liter bottles. The clever metric bastards.
   If my old teachers asked me to draw a picture of life in the 21st century, I'd pencil in some really tiny cars that barely go down the road, much less above it, and tiles that still measure a foot to a side.

© 1989 Randel Shard
First published in The Minnesota Daily on June 30, 1989