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               AUTHOR: Plagens, Peter 

                TITLE: Life in the virtual year.(1996) by Peter Plagens 
           APPEARS IN: Newsweek 0028-9604 Dec 30 1996, v128, n27, p133(1) 
               PAGING: ill. (photograph) 
           ANNOTATION: The year 1996 seemed to be a virtual year, complete
                           with  computer-generated special effects. The
                           leading motion picture  featured huge flying
                           saucers, the presidential race seemed to  feature
                           programmed candidates, and the Olympics featured
                           very  tall millionaires soundly defeating other
                           basketball teams. 

             SUBJECTS: Virtual reality--1996 
                       Current events--1996 
               OCLC #: 18975380(IAC) 

Plagens, Peter. Life in the virtual year.(1996). In Newsweek Dec 30
     1996, v128, n27, p133(1). 

Apart from special effects, did 1996 really exist? Was Anonymous' an  
incorporeal cyberscribe? (Nah.)                                       
ONE MOMENT WE WERE popping bubbly on New Year's Eve 1995. Next thing  
we knew we were cracking a can of Old Milwaukee in front of the 1997  
Outback Bowl. Nineteen ninety-six was a leap year, but did that mean  
you skipped it entirely? Was it like a 19th-century novel that takes  
place in the village of M and would be referred to as "199__"? Then   
it came to us in a mouseclick: 1996 was a virtual year- one giant,    
computer-generated special effect.                                    
Take the presidential-election campaign. "Bob Dole" was just a        
Generation A version of Max Headroom, programmed to mutter "15        
percent." The Incumbent Icon kept saying, "We've got to build a       
bridge to the 21st century." On screen: a rickety overpass right out  
of Donkey Kong. And did the Olympics actually take place? Oh, yes: a  
bunch of towering multimillionaires stomped on the Angolan basketball 
team. Again. Gymnastics was nice, but led to "the rock-and-roll       
gymnastics championships." Here comes Macarena figure skating. In     
sports, rotisserie was reality.                                       
On the other hand, sports gave us the only real event of the year:    
the World Series. The Yankees won it, in the Bronx, on grass, like    
they did when England had real royals. Flip the welfare state upside  
down, and you had the royal family. Which is what we did over here.   
Big Board numbers got bigger, while work forces got smaller. CEOs     
proved their mettle by carving companies up, selling them off and     
putting employees out to pasture. But the brokers' thrills couldn't   
match that of plummeting out of a downsized job into a shrinking      
safety net.                                                           
Alas, there was no movie in it. The big film of 1996 featured flying  
saucers the size of Wilkes-Barre. Like much of 1996, however, they    
were nothing more than bytes flying in formation. The movies made     
money, which is more than the record business could say. Hootie and   
the Whatevers could hardly give away their new album. The media had   
trouble getting a grip, too. What was MSNBC supposed to be: a Gap ad  
with laptops, or yet another set designed to look like Ozzie 'n'      
Harriet's house of the '90s-a Tribeca loft? (Click here to SELECT     
ALL.) NEWSWEEK enjoyed its own morphing misadventure: a book not      
about Clinton (OK, about Clinton), by "Anonymous" (OK, a real         
person), unknown to all but his agent (OK, we spotted him in the      
The cause of the TWA crash remained virtual, with advocates of all    
the possibilities cast into disrepute. Terrorist bomb? Knee-jerk      
bigot. Friendly-fire missile? Conspiracy nut. An accidental spark in  
the fuel tank? Luddite aerophobe. Then there was O.J.: either guilty  
but not in prison, or innocent and still on trial. The only thing you 
could be sure of in any major case was that some defense lawyer would 
say, "My client just wants to put this tragedy behind him and get on  
with the rest of his life." Good thing no one found Hitler alive at   
Morality-wise, flux was the word. Dick Morris lectured to             
political-science students. Larry Flynt was a movie hero. Snitching   
cigarette execs imitated Sidney Carton with the far, far better thing 
they did. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker came back. The whole landscape    
acquired a halo of unreality. Carmen Sandiego couldn't draw a map of  
Rwanda, Bosnia or Chechnya that was accurate for more than two        
ceasefires. Karl Marx was still the uncoolest guy of the '90s, but    
one thing he said--"All that is solid melts into air"rang true. Among 
the evaporating: Veterans Day parades, men who shave every day,       
golden wedding anniversaries, saying "the F word" to indicate the F   
word, and character flaws unaccompanied by a medical excuse. "Pinch   
me to see if I'm awake" became "pierce me to see if I'm alive."       
Nineteen ninety-six was a cybervoid where elections threatened to     
become 1-900 polls, and sex, self-abuse with a task bar. We've got    
only three years--before 2000-to reclaim reality. Remember, you're    
not a cyberintellect unbounded by space and time but a corporeal      
being who probably weighs too much. Try to reconnect with that. Tune  
your TV via the buttons on the set. Write somebody a letter in        
ballpoint pen. Lose the Filofax. Get a spiralbound notebook and admit 
that your life will fit into it. And when you refer to last year,     
write it "199__."                                                     
COPYRIGHT 1996 Newsweek Inc.