After the holiday flurry of Internet buying, it's tempting to think this future is already here. There was a 400 percent jump in such sales this year over last. In light of that, prognosticators are already glimpsing the end of shopping as we've known it.
With Amazon.com and its numerous competitors providing the mall experience right in our homes, why fight traffic to reach the "real" thing?
Yet this vision of cyber-consumerism shortchanges the variety and durability of human tastes and inclinations. For the foreseeable future, countless people will want to visit a store, deal face-to-face with a salesperson, and take complaints to the manager.
The e-future, despite today's burst of digital activity and a heraldic media, will not happen overnight. It will come with leaps, stumbles, and probably a large helping of ironic juxtapositions - such as the use of the Web to sell books or the use of bicycle messengers to deliver online purchases in New York.
Electronics may someday give us automobiles that virtually self-steer. Such e-visions are endless. But as with all purely technological progress, we must sort out what's gained and what's lost with each new advance.
We are now all more connected electronically but perhaps more distant in our humanity. Daily life is made easier by the Web but something is lost in the rapid pace and facile communications.
We're not arguing for a return to horse-and-buggy days. Rather, we need to find richer meaning and not just riches in such great 20th century inventions as the Internet.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society