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What to Expect in 2004

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Today's a quasi-vacation day, so I'm writing this article in a Greenwich Village cafe, where people are on high alert about a possible terrorist attack and where a casual e-invitation—"Do you want to join us in Orlando this weekend?"—has sent me into an introspective downward spiral. Do I go for it, or do I stay away from a place I've always considered a target for terrorists?

Heavy stuff right before Christmas. But a good way to begin a column about predictions for 2004, because it reveals two counterintuitive trends: First, expect more of these e-invites and reunions generally—the impulse to "go local" with every possible permutation of lifestyles and lifestages past. At the same time, the "us vs. them" trend is rising, and relates back to my sense of looming doom in America. It's a greater sensitivity to what's not local—a stronger sense of Us and Them. The coming year is likely to see deeper divisions across fault lines: Muslim/non-Muslim, conservative/liberal, urban/rural, pro-life/pro-choice, pro-gay/anti-gay, etc.

I've been saying 40 is the new 30 for some time, but last year Demi and others showed us there's no better way to strut your heat than with a boy toy of your own. There is now another decade to be young, have fun and do sexy—all the better with a guy who's just old enough to be legal.

Lately I've been picking up a new vibe, what I call the "grass is greener" phenomenon. That is, single people envying their married friends, and married friends envying us our singleness—especially the empowerment of life organized around moi. A trend to watch: As Match.com and Matchmaker.com go more mass, more "class" matchmaking services are rising. Check out GoodGenes.com. And there is a new breed of "headhunter": a matchmaker who is retained to land Jane or John Extraordinary a perfect partner, the way corporations search for senior managers.

Did I mention, too, that the singletons are big on the death of marriage, an institution that made sense when people lived agrarian lives, partnered at 17 and died by 30?

On Botox and everything beauty, the mass merchandising of cosmetic modifications is here to stay. Collagen is just another tweak; the real bonanza for women and men is liposuction—three "problem areas" for a deeply discounted price. Already, cosmetic surgery has been getting easier, cheaper, faster and more diversified. And it has all but lost its stigma as something to be embarrassed about. More people than ever are going under the knife—or the laser. And its popularity is only going to grow as a result of reality TV programming such as Extreme Makeover.

Speaking of looking good and chasing the fountain of youth (we singletons still plan to be young brides at 48—a girl's got to leave herself with a five-year window, no?), expect more convergence of East and West, beauty-wise. Acupuncture facials, lymphatic massages, chi gong, ayurveda and meditation are all finding a place in the future of beauty and wellness. We will go beyond yoga (although yoga will keep rising, for metrosexuals especially!). Wellness centers and Eastern-themed spas will spread outward from major cities. In fact, the way I feel today, I'm trying to figure out why I didn't book into Canyon Ranch or Chiva-Som or some other exotic spa for the weekend. Disney versus a spa? That's a real choice.

Make no mistake: 2004 is going to be the year when the world confronts America's worst export: globesity. We'll see many new products and practices come to the fore. Dean Rotbart, editor of LowCarbiz, expects low-carb product sales to exceed $15 billion in 2003 and possibly reach $30 billion in 2004. We'll also see a rise in "alternative" forms of exercise for children, including yoga and salsa dancing.

So I'm parked here at Starbucks, e-mailing and surfing on my Dell, using Intel Centrino mobile technology, and I'm living that unwired life people predicted. Did I mention this kind of mobile connectivity is going to become normal? In fact, I reckon that by this time next year, Londoners will be "Crackberry addicts" the way us New Yorkers constantly grab for our always-on Blackberries, Blueberries, PDAs of all sorts.

The wireless revolution will expand in 2004 thanks to the growth of public spaces with wireless Internet connections. (Starbucks is one of "them there hot spots," as a tourist from Alabama has just informed me, latte and iMac in tow.) Tech research company Gartner estimates that the number of hot spots in North America will leap from 29,000 today to more than 50,000 by the end of 2004. We'll also see technology integrated into our wardrobes, with pockets designed to transport our portable gadgets. So-called "e-wear" already on the market includes the Levi's Dockers Mobile Pant. OK, so maybe Dockers ain't Diesels or Sevens, let alone Rogans, but stay tuned—24/7/365 and unwired, of course!