SOMETIME in the next century, the familiar early-morning "plop" of the newspaper on the front lawn or driveway will be a memory.
You'll get up, turn off the alarm, and then turn on the newspaper. A soft voice will read the latest events from around the world, preprogrammed to find the type of news you have selected, in a voice of your choice.
Looking for a good French restaurant? Pick up your electronic slate and browse through the restaurant ads. The paper will read you the menu, list the day's specials, and even call up and make a reservation for you.
Want more information on a news story? With a touch, the entire text appears. You can save it in your own personal computer file or fax it to 10,000 of your friends. Miss the latest TV news? Touch a photo on your paper, and video begins to roll.
Want to buy a car from the classified advertisements? The news association, formerly your newspaper, will make an appointment for you.
These are just some of the predictions from laboratories around the nation, where visionaries are working to develop the newspaper of the future. If they're right, big changes in the way people get information are coming.
"This will be such a cultural shift, that it may be that the current generation of professional journalists and publishers who have ink in their veins will have to die off before the next generation realizes that the newspaper industry is no longer a newspaper industry," says W. Russell Neuman, a communications professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
With technology squeezing more electronic information into telephone and TV lines, eventually the "paper" in newspaper will be a thing of the past, Professor Neuman and others say.
Newspapers haven't been blindsided, however. Most big newspaper companies, concerned by declining readership (daily newspapers were read by 62.6 percent of American adults last year, down from 78 percent in 1970, according to industry estimates) are working on electronic alternatives.
The Chicago Tribune provides a computer service. Newsday, a Times-Mirror newspaper in New York, plans to make community news, sports, weather, and restaurant listings available to New York Telephone customers.