Back to the Future…

As the airplane flies over the ocean outside his high-rise apartment, the man who calls himself FM-2030 decides on a joke, a small, wistful sort of joke.

“Here is the Mars shuttle come to land,” he says. “Are you expecting anybody? I have a friend coming in.”

He smiles when he says it, but he doesn’t laugh, and there is longing in his voice, a longing not for the past, where most people go looking for nostalgia, but for the future, which is where FM-2030 has always found his.

And that’s not all he’s found there. The future is where a young man named F.M. Esfandiary, who in the mid-1960s worked for the United Nations as a mediator on Middle East issues, found his real calling.

“I am a 21st century person who was accidentally launched in the 20th,” he writes in his books about the future. When he’s not making a living writing about the future, he’s getting paid to make speeches about it. In his latest lecture series, set for takeoff early next century at the Wolfsonian at Florida International University, 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, he will tell people to get ready for families based on the Club Med model, and genius machines that do our work for us, and space travel and immortality, too.

“I feel like I am finally arriving in the promised land, in some magical universe, in a wonder world,” he says. “I’ve waited so long. I’ve always started a New Year by saying we are now at T-minus 20 years and counting and the next year it was T-minus 19 years and counting.”

He was born the son of a diplomat and spent the first 17 years of his life living in 11 different countries, so while he has the dark skin and broad features of a man from the Middle East, he says he’s not really from any country at all. Rather, he is a global citizen, whose age, education and work history matter about as much as his nationality, which is to say they don’t matter at all.

“In the 21st century, no one will say I’m Egyptian, or Romanian, or American, but I’m global, or I’m moon-based, or part Martian,” he says.

It was about T-minus 35 years, 1965 or so, that he began to write about his notions of age, nationality and the inevitable and impending phase-out of families, schools and religion. That got him a job teaching a course called “Toward New Concepts of the Human” at New York University. Back then, the university had a reputation for being a bit radical, and his course was among the most radical on campus.

At first only 12 students signed up, and they weren’t sure what to think of this teacher who was telling them about space colonization and solar energy and body replication.

But Esfandiary’s ideas were so optimistic and so within reach, too. Make it to the next century, he preached, and you may just make it forever.

He was part of a new field called “Future Studies,” and he was what would become known as a “Futurist,” someone who forecasts change for corporations, governments and just regular people who want to know how to plan for the next decade.

In 1973, he put his ideas in a book called Up-Wingers. Critics praised it for the boldness of its vision, and soon he was writing commentaries for The New York Times and publishing two more books.

He moved to Los Angeles to lecture at UCLA, and it was there that he changed his name to FM — for Future Modular, or Future Man, or Future Marvel — 2030, which is about the time he says we humans will evolve into transhumans with enough synthetic body parts and downloaded memories to last pretty much forever.

FM-2030 wears a silver medical bracelet just in case he dies before then. It instructs doctors to dial an 800 number in Arizona where a cryogenic lab will arrange to take his carbon-based remains and freeze them until the day when he can be revived.

“Some people have a sense of the future, just as some people have a sense of the past,” he says, sitting in a white chair on the white tile of his almost all-white apartment overlooking Biscayne Bay.

Tile, walls, curtains, couch, all of white, which, he says, is such an uncluttered color and clutter slows you down, like too much baggage.

Three years ago, he made “a soft landing” here in South Florida, where things are always changing, though still not fast enough for FM- 2030, whose fast-paced ideas and predictions have always angered some people.

Some want to know why he is so against religion and the family. Others have railed against him in the editorial pages of some of the nation’s largest newspapers for ignoring social problems that might detract from his rosy vision of the future.

And FM-2030 has misfired on some of his predictions. In the late 1970s, he forecast the advent of new microcomputers that would do away with the need for housework within just a few years.

But, he says, his ideas have turned out to be right more often than wrong.

“If the predictions I make are persistently off-target, I just don’t get invited back,” he says, taking time to do something he almost never does, looking to the past to retrieve some of his early forecasts.

It was 30 years ago, for instance, that he foretold of the demise of the traditional family. And here it is, he says, a national survey out just this month that finds that two-parents-plus-kids-under-one- roof is indeed becoming a bit of an anachronism. The majority of Americans now live in single-parent homes or homes with no children.

And look at this, he says, picking up the newspaper, here’s an article about a spaceship about to attempt to land on Mars. And just outside, another rumbling of another machine flying over the bay.

FM-2030 tilts his head to listen. It’s an airplane, again. But then, it’s still the 20th century, isn’t it?

Written by Robert George and published by the Sun Sentinel on December 13, 1999