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My turn: For 17 years, my site’s been set on tomorrow

John Herman, who grew up in North Babylon,

John Herman, who grew up in North Babylon, started a future-leaning website in 2000. Credit: John Herman

Being inherently introverted, I typically remain silent regarding my deep thoughts and world views. That is why most people are shocked when they learn that I have been maintaining a rather unusual website since 2000 that presents a vision of the future, which has been described as scary and pessimistic — or worse., named after a short story that spawned it, has provided the opportunity for me to express myself beyond my natural inhibitions.

It all began in May 1999 when I accepted Newsday’s “Tales of Tomorrow” challenge. Winners would “have your story or illustration published in Newsday.”

I grew up in North Babylon, lived in Dix Hills and Babylon, and am a member of Mensa. Three years ago, I moved to South Carolina when I retired.

The ad stated, “You are invited to enter Newsday’s science fiction short story and illustration contest, where the future is limited only by your imagination. Set your story some time in the future on Long Island . . .”) What I submitted for consideration was the result of a month’s labor titled “The Engagement of Phrenicea.” Unfortunately I did not place in the contest, but that’s when I decided to leverage that effort and learn web HTML programming to translate the story into a website.

Uploaded in April 2000, was all of three pages. It generated fantastic excitement — for me. Imagine that these pages could be viewed by anyone worldwide! It was really a thrill at the time. By mid-August 2000, the official Phrenicea logo was launched, along with a more readable format — and many more pages.

At what was then the height of the dot-com boom, had the audacity to predict the demise of the internet and World Wide Web — and to suggest that both would be replaced with a central controlling entity called Phrenicea. Phrenicea is a portmanteau word I derived from phrenic (relating to the mind) and panacea (remedy).

It’s been 17 years and is still an active website. The web version of the scenario is now quite beyond the original short story. Not yet a household word, Phrenicea continues to extend its reach across cyberspace. I like to think (some would say thankfully) that there’s no other website quite like it.

When I’m asked, “What makes you qualified to predict the future?” my reply, which has become a phrenicea catchphrase, is: “Everyone is qualified — and no one is qualified — to predict the future.”

Although not rewarding in a monetary sense, there have been thrills along the way: seeing a review of the site in USA Today; discovering that its table-handling programming to format and present the website’s content was studied in a college course; getting peaks of 200,000 hits per day; and perhaps most rewarding, my website has been quoted in the medical school research textbook Biopharmaceutical Drug Design and Development.

The prediction of is already in evidence: If the 20th century could be labeled the “Century of the Computer,” then the 21st century will become “The Century of DNA.”

Time will tell.

John Herman,

Summerville, South Carolina

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for MY TURN are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life, or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address and phone numbers. Photos if available

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