That's the first sentence in an article in the Tucson paper today about a new school at which every student will use a laptop computer instead of traditional textbooks. Almost twenty years ago, I wrote the following story about a society that went away from books. I've brushed up a couple of things to account for new inventions, but other than that, this is the story as I wrote it in 1988. It sure seems closer to reality today...
Any Fool Can Make a Tree
The three events of that third Friday in May had no visible connection, but taken together, they marked the culmination of a massive change in the world. It was on that Friday that the Browning Home Science Corporation in Palo Alto, California, announced the sale of its ten-billionth Personal Creation Home Kit. That same day, Joyce Carter came to corporate headquarters to claim her promised seat on the board of directors, and the Hirsch Memorial Library closed its doors.
Only a few decades before, the world had been a very different place. Continued deforestation had brought massive drought and famine to the world. Population growth outpaced the ability of diplomacy to keep peace, especially as the resources to fuel modern society became scarcer. Political leaders, philosophers, historians and mystics sought the answers.
But it was from science that salvation came. Reaching back to the groundbreaking work on personal fabrication done at MIT in the early part of the 21st century, Dr. Thomas Young, the greatest inventive genius since Edison, unlocked the DNA code to produce a creation/growth formula.
Trees, plants, even animals could be created and brought to full maturity in days. Suddenly, the world’s problems changed dramatically. The hunger that had claimed so many lives became only a memory. The introduction of billions of trees ended drought, flooding, and replaced pollution with clean air. In many ways, it seemed a utopia.
Governments fought to restrict the technology but popular demand quickly forced them to relent. The Browning Home Science Corporation was formed to take advantage of the commercial aspects of Dr. Young’s discovery by his childhood friend, Ben Browning. Though for obvious reasons the home kit was greatly restricted in power compared to the government version, it quickly became the most successful commercial product ever launched.
Because of their exclusive licensing arrangement with Dr. Young, BHSC cornered the market and soon became the largest, most profitable corporation in history. Everyone wanted the ability to create.
The creative sciences quickly became the field of choice in education. Young people in high school and even grade school cared for little else. New classes were established at universities to turn out teachers trained to instruct students in the use of the Personal Creation Home Kit.
The decline in other areas of study was unforeseen. Students quickly turned from the humanities and learning about the past. Compared with the fervent thrill of creating plants and animals, learning the history of past wars and studying arcane philosophical debates held no interest.
That change led directly to the closing of the Hirsch Memorial Library in Charlottesville, Virginia. As fewer people spent time reading, the libraries found demand for their services in sharp decline. When someone did want to read, the convenience of e-books kept them from needing to leave home. One by one, the public libraries closed their doors. No longer would children read and study, now, with their BHSC kits in hand, they would create.
Joyce Carter saw the announcement of the library’s closing on the news wall of the elevator as she rode to the 157th floor at BHSC headquarters, but her mind was elsewhere. Her day of triumph had arrived. Though some in the company had carped about the ease of marketing their products, she was justly proud of her campaign, and the ten billion unit sales goal she had reached.
Joyce had been recruited by BHSC straight out of school. This was the world in which she had been shaped, and there she would change that world still further. She had shown a remarkable flair for creativity, and several of her scholastic projects had been patented. Her rapid rise at the company was driven in large part by her intense wonder at the possibilities of creation.
On being given the top marketing position, she had built a worldwide marketing campaign around the company’s slogan “Any Fool Can Make a Tree.” She succeeded in the one thing many thought impossible—increasing interest further in the already wildly popular Personal Creation Home Kits. Her campaign tapped into the desire in every human heart to be the creator of something unique.
She had been promised a seat on the board when sales reached ten billion units, and she had come to claim her prize. As she walked down the hall toward the boardroom, triumph mingled with wonder in her heart. She had reached the pinnacle of the world’s most profitable company. Even the top job there now might be within her reach when Dr. Browning retired in a few years.
As she waited to enter and take her seat among the Browning directors, she saw one of her marketing brochures on the table and picked it up. More than ever before, the company’s slogan caught her eye. She mulled it briefly, wondering why she had never thought about its origin before.
Dr. Browning himself came out to greet her. He had adopted her as his protégé when she first was hired. She had grown to respect the older man, and deeply appreciated his interest in her. “Welcome, Joyce,” he said. “You’ve earned your place here today.” She returned his greeting, the brochure still in her hand. “Thank you, Sir,” she replied. “Can I ask you a question before we go in?”
“Of course,” the older man said. “What is it?”
“I was just looking at this brochure, and it occurred to me. I’ve known our slogan forever—I even used it to get here, but I don’t know where it came from. It’s brilliant, but who came up with it?”
“I did,” Dr. Browning replied with a chuckle. “It’s a play on words from an old poem written a couple hundred years ago. The author said, ‘any fool can write lines like these, but only God can make a tree.’ I just sort of turned that around.”
And Joyce Carter, a proud and successful product of the world’s best schools, an innovative and creative marketer and thinker, a brilliant woman in every way, looked at him in complete puzzlement and said, “Dr. Browning, what’s a poem?”
@Copyright 1988 by Robert Byers