Foreseeing a trend

Friday, January 12, 2007

It's a little late for 2007 predictions. The year is almost 1/24 over. But who's counting?

Earlier this week I made a prediction. That's something I don't usually do, because I'm a rotten prognosticator.

Every election year someone asks me who I think will win a particular election. I always say I can predict the outcome with 100 percent accuracy, but I won't be able to give my answer until the day after the election. Except in years that end in 00, of course.

OK. Predictions are supposed to be about the future, aren't they?

That's exactly what the prediction I made this week does. It foresees a trend.

First, some background. If you were to go back 20,000 years or so, I'll bet you would find a lot of neighborly folks living in caves. There would be fires in the caves. And if you, Time Traveler from the 21st century A.D., told the occupants of the caves that the day would come when (a) people wouldn't live in caves anymore and (b) they wouldn't be building fires in their homes, they would have massacred you as an evil demon on the spot. There were lots of fears and superstitions in those days, so you had to choose your words -- and predictions -- carefully.

Now take a giant leap forward. As recently as the last century there were still dwellings where fireplaces were used to cook food, warm the home and heat the bath water. Then came stoves, one for heating and another for cooking.

When I was growing up, anyone with a fireplace used it to burn wood, mostly for decoration. How many people still build fires in their pretty fireplaces? And how many have electric or gas facsimiles of fires? And how many have a TV set with videos of blazing logs in their fireplaces?

Mostly, fireplaces are for show. They're great for potted plants and fanciful screens. But not fires.

If I were to do a poll of the first 100 20-somethings I meet today, I'll bet nearly all of them would say they (a) never saw a wood-burning stove, (b) have never made a fire in a fireplace and (c) seldom, if ever, cook on a kitchen range.

Last week I was in a Cape Girardeau supermarket that had on display hundreds of boxes stacked on the floor. Inside the bright yellow boxes were a dozen strips of precooked Oscar Meyer bacon. No need to make a mess frying bacon. No need for skillet or cookstove. Just pop however many strips of bacon you want into a microwave for a few seconds, and you're ready to eat. Put that instant bacon with the precooked scrambled eggs and precooked biscuits and gravy available elsewhere along the supermarket aisles, and you can be eating a farmer's breakfast in under a minute.

I'm all for progress. I think microwave popcorn is one of the food miracles of the 20th century. But I can also see the handwriting on the wall. Which gets me to my prediction.

Over the weekend we went with some friends who were making a final decision on buying a new house. Look how much houses have changed in recent decades: from two bedrooms, one bath and a one-car garage to four bedrooms, three baths and a three-car garage.

Kitchens have changed, too. Islands are all the rage. Dishwashers and icemakers are common. Computerized office nooks are popular. Ever try to cook a farmer's breakfast on a computer?

It dawned on me, while looking at the new houses, that the day will come when new homes no longer will have cook stoves in the kitchen.

I mean it. Young people today rarely use kitchen ranges. If they need to heat food, they use a microwave. Mostly they eat out.

Or buy boxes of precooked bacon.

Come see me in 20 or 25 years. I'll bet I'm right. And you can say, "Well, Joe, you sure saw that one coming, didn't you?"

I have some other predictions too: cars with no steering wheels, churches with nightclub seating, movie theaters with brain-wave devices instead of screens.

But kitchen stoves will be found in museums, right next to milking stools.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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