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Future Nostalgia: Looking Back on the 1990s

Dec. 15, 1999 -- As the millennium draws to a close, Mark A. Shields, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in technology and culture, wonders what the younger generation will remember with nostalgia 50 years from now. Here are his top-10 picks:

At home

1) Frequent Face-To-Face Conversations: As for colleagues at work, fuggedaboutit. Even within households, face-to-face conversations among family members will be much less common than they are now. And that’s families whose schedules overlap at home.

2) Intelligent, Non-Vulgar Comedy: Whoops, we're already nostalgic about that. (Maybe it will be reborn and today's 20-somethings will be nostalgic in 2050 for the dumb and vulgar humor they knew in the 1990s.)

On the road

3) Gasoline-Powered Sports Utility Vehicles: As the world goes capitalist and more of the world's poor get richer and buy cars, the prohibitive price of oil, coupled with the availability of alternative fuels and powerful batteries, will finally make today's SUVs extinct mechanical dinosaurs. And good riddance!

4) License Plates: Vehicle identification numbers and other ID info about cars and drivers will be recorded and stored electronically and made accessible to police and others via ultra-high-speed networks linking numerical, graphic, photographic, genetic and geographical data via the network of the future.

At work

5) Software-Brand Choice: Microsoft will probably have it all, directly or indirectly. If Microsoft doesn't own it all, it will still be one of 2-3 giants worldwide.

At the store

6) Shopping Malls: Bricks-and-mortar won’t be able to compete economically in the long run with the e-commerce.

On campus

7) College Campuses: It's apparent now that technological, economic, geographic and pedagogical factors will make residential campuses rare and expensive. Online education and virtual universities will have long become commonplace. The growth of digital libraries is probably the key driving force right now toward this academic future.

8) Tenured Professors: Well, maybe nobody will be nostalgic, but tenured professors will be at or near extinction. Instead, nontenured "professors" will be content providers for virtual universities, and they will probably work on contracts that pay them on a per capita, students-served basis.

In politics

9) White Male U.S. Presidents: White males will be nostalgic, but not the rest of us. ’Nuff said.

10) The Cold War: The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, biological, chemical, electronic -- will have us all so terrified that we'll be redefining the Cold War as the Golden Age of geopolitical stability.

For more information, contact Mark A. Shields at (804) 924-3234, or at He will be available in Virginia until Dec. 17. From Dec. 18 to Jan. 3, he can be reached in France at (011) 33 4 78 72 00 58 or at

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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