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Diane Mufson: Predictions are iffy; change is guaranteed

Jan. 02, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

A new year means change; it often leads to speculations about the future and offers a glance back at the last 52 weeks. Aside from being surprised at how quickly the year has passed (the older you get the truer the experience), predictions of the future are never perfect.

Who would have expected a half-hour "derecho" this summer would cause major damage to Huntington and the whole state? Who in their right mind would have believed that a young man would break into an elementary school and slaughter 20 first-graders? Republicans never predicted a win for President Obama in November or the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the legality of "ObamaCare."

A collection of recently unearthed very old quotes regarding radio and television illustrate the difficulty in forecasting future events. Sometimes predictions are eerily accurate and other times they aren't even close. Change is the only thing we can predict.

For example, in 1928, the New York Times was on the mark saying that radio listeners' emotional responses to political candidates, "Would play an important part in the race to the White House." If the writer could only have heard this years' overload of obnoxious political commercials, he would have been smiling broadly.

In 1924, a man named Waldemar Kaempffert stated that because of the United States and Great Britain's lead in radio, "English must become the dominant tongue." While most young people today assume English has always been the preferred international language, the French can remember, and will gladly remind those who will listen, when it was not so.

But not all predictions were on target. A 1939 New York Times editorial writer really didn't understand TV. He wrote that "The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued to the screen; the average American family hasn't time for it." The writer obviously never envisioned our nation's TV connection to the Super Bowl, ESPN, "American Idol" or the Weather Channel during a weather disaster.

My personal "favorite" prediction is courtesy of Samuel Cuff, manager of New York's WABD in 1946. He worried that "The American housewife would turn television on early in the morning just as she does the radio." He further noted, "The housewife will not very long remain a housewife who attempts to watch television programs all afternoon and evening instead of cooking or darning socks." What would Mr. Cuff have thought of a nation where women cook up new laws in Congress and sew up Wall Street deals?

George Orwell's novel, "1984," predicted that some government-run machine could control and monitor our lives. Most folks assumed it would be the TV, but today we know better. Our fascination and constant interaction with the Internet means that not only are we connected to those with whom we choose to be, but that others have the ability to monitor our communications.

Predictions are just the best guess we have at the moment. Our government's accuracy was off about the benefits of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and many people predicted that the Arab Spring would bring real democracy to the Middle East. The Mayan Calendar predictions didn't pan out, and few would have ever predicted that by 2012 two states would legalize personal marijuana usage and nine states would approve same-sex marriage.

Predictions about the future will continue; some will be accurate and others far off the mark. As we begin 2013, the only thing certain is that there will be change.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.



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