The future is now. That's being driven forcefully home in 1995, as technology commands more and more attention on the nation's magazine covers and in its news headlines.

Intrigue! We've seen an Internet bandit apprehended after capturing 20,000 live credit-card numbers. Though such attacks usually aren't against home computers, always take steps to guard your personal data.Power! A federal judge struck down an antitrust settlement against techno-giant Microsoft Corp. because the agreement was too soft.

Gambling! Investor portfolios and mutual fund holdings increasingly live or die by flashy technology stocks, known for volatility. Be careful not to go overboard in your own portfolio.

Conflict! The recent trade agreement with China, designed to end piracy of U.S. computer software and other items, at the last minute averted a trade war. Men walking on the moon constituted "fun" technology, but many Americans are overwhelmed by this recent techno-onslaught closer to home. Times truly are changing.

My experiences this year underscore some irreversible trends.

While touring for my latest book, "The 20 Hottest Investments for the 21st Century" (Contemporary Books, Chicago), I've appeared on CNN, PBS and a variety of other broadcast and cable television outlets, as well as syndicated and local radio. These remain the backbone of book promotion.

What's different is the additional opportunity to be a guest on computer online service forums about your book. There's nothing quite like the hourlong rush of questions and wild typing of responses in this unique one-on-one exchange. (And, I don't recall being asked a question on TV from anyone calling himself "Moon- doggy," as was the case online.)

Most online audience members present a string of carefully thought-out queries about the topic, which, in the case of my book, is how to invest successfully for the future. But cyberspace also has many "out there" folks who gleefully float in and spout the absurd. You never know what to expect. Unpredictability draws an audience.

Another unique treatment came from financial news organization Bloomberg L.P., which within 45 minutes not only did television and radio interviews, a wire story and a recording of my voice to be played on a toll-free phone number, but produced for computer terminals a multimedia report with slide photographs of me, along with my voice and graphics to fit my words.

All to promote the most traditional of communication forms: a book.

We'll see information take a variety of forms, many we can't yet imagine. Many Americans fear technology will take over our lives.

In a drama certain to spawn books and a movie, convicted computer felon Kevin Mitnick misused telephone and cellular networks to vandalize government, corporate and university computer systems and the Internet. His trackdown by the FBI and security expert Tsutomu Shimomura would make Columbo proud.

If you use a home or work computer, choose a secret password that can't be found in a dictionary so no one can guess it. Don't give out your password to anyone, change it regularly and don't have the password written down somewhere near your computer.

Avoid sharing your credit-card number electronically, scrutinize each credit statement and, in general, don't make a lot of personal information available electronically.

Regarding software giant Microsoft, the Justice Department was embarrassed by federal District Judge Stanley Sporkin's ruling that its proposed settlement failed to deal with many competitive issues. Ironically, Microsoft and the "crusading" Justice Department joined forces to ask an appeals court to overrule Sporkin.