10th September 1999 at 01:00
After being stood up by the King of Terror, Arnold Evans seeks a Net Armageddon

The future is not what it used to be. There was a time when we looked forward to a world in which we'd dress in baking-foil, have chirpy robots to do the hoovering, dine from a smorgasbord of protein pills and enjoy carefree weekends frolicking in the Sea of Tranquillity. What's more, we knew when these wonders would be coming because pundits prefaced their predictions with that evocative phrase: "In the year 2000". But with only months to go, I am beginning to harbour the sneaking suspicion they might have got it all wrong.

I don't suppose I should be too surprised. Soothsayers, seers and self-appointed Jeremiahs have a tendency to grab sticks by the wrong end. The doyen of futurologists, Nostradamus, was shown to be less than infallible on July 4 when the King of Terror missed his long-heralded appointment with mankind. Not for the first time, the predicted arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse proved to be as reliable as the timetable for Virgin trains.

Not that it seems to bother Nostradamus' disciples, as a visit to any of the 100 or so Internet sites devoted to his warblings will confirm. Here you will find irrefutable proof that the King of Terror did in fact show up, but did so cunningly disguised as a human being so nobody noticed. We are urged to be especially vigilant of any newcomers in our streets or place of work. So, beware that softly-spoken deputy head who arrived at the end of last term or the new lad in Year 9, smirking quietly in the back row.

If you've lost faith in Nostradamus you could turn to the Sun Bear or Ukbar the Alien or dozens of other prophets who can be found on the Net. But be warned, they all have a boringly pessimistic view of the future. Indeed, spend long enough online and you will discover that the worldwide web might possibly be the gloomiest place in the whole wide world.

Take for example the cohorts of pseudo scientists who have set up sites specifically to scare us witless. You might like to pencil in May 5, 2000, a day when the earth will be yanked from its orbit by the gravitational force created by the unusual alignment of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Or perhaps you'd prefer to freeze in a new Ice Age or succumb to a deadly strain of the flu virus or be blitzed by a rogue asteroid or drown when the polar ice caps melt. Or select from a range of other equally dire Armageddons that are being predicted with confidence somewhere on the Net. And if that weren't enough to worry about, there's always the dear old Millennium Bug (mind you some futurologists don't believe the Bug will be a problem - the world will have come to a sticky end long before that.) Indeed, as I started to write this on a balmy evening in late July, I was not sure we would all be around in September to read it. I mean not only have we survived the eclipse on August 11, but also the events of August 21, the date when (for reasons best known to the men in lab coats) all the global positioning satellites - reset their clocks to zero with potentially cataclysmic consequences.

Yesterday (your yesterday, that is) might not have been fun either. The ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of '99 has been a source of much worry to those who enjoy worrying. That string of nines might have been enough to convince some of the world's Neanderthal mainframes that time had come to an end and that they were free to permit nuclear reactors to implode, release arsenals of warheads or - horror of horrors - bombard every household with Reader's Digest raffle tickets.

However, as you are reading this, you know that none of this happened,and the futurologists got it wrong yet again. Indeed, you might even have realised the only thing us mortals can ever prophesy for sure is that we can never know anything for sure about the future.

Nonetheless, for what remains of 1999, I will be paying regular visits to Mamp;S in the hope their racks do, at last, display suits made of baking foil.

Useful launchpads for the Web's plethora of sites dedicated to the future are:




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