Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saturday activity # 1 -- Squinting at tomorrow today



    When I was a little boy, I got bored on Saturdays, since there was no school. I would beg my mother for "an activity," and she would dig up a puzzle or a project, something for me to do. In that spirit, as a reward for listening to me all week, I thought I'd come up with an activity for you, something fun and relaxing. This is the first:

     The future is not a real place; it exists only in our minds. Or did. We used to have a fantastic future ahead of us. Limitless. Or so we thought. We'd live forever in colonies on Mars. Once -- in the 1960s, 1970s -- we had a distinct image of what was to come, half "Jetsons" mechanical miracle, half "2001: A Space Odyssey" voyage of adventure. Enthralled with the Apollo program, we figured, if we could go to the Moon, imagine what might come next. We weren't exactly sure what that would be  -- nutrition pills and medical miracles, lots of flying, lots of robots, lots of artificial fabrics -- but we knew it would be incredible.  "They'll be Spandex jackets, one for every one," in the immortal words of Steely Dan.

     Now it seems that nothing comes next, or nothing good anyway. The only notion of the future we seem able to conjure up is a bleak one -- zombie apocalypse dystopias of ruin. Plague and disaster on a global scale. Environmental and social cataclysm. 
      Since predictions of the future always say far more about those making the predictions than they do about the actual future -- it's only an accident when predictions mesh with something that actually occurs -- it worries me that when we squint into the years ahead and can only conjure up our stale dreams from 50 years ago, or imagine destruction, or see nothing.  Have we lost our optimism? Or have our technological wonders so outraced our imagination that we can't conceive of anything that Apple doesn't already have in production? Maybe the future is now -- that seems unlikely, because people were declaring that everything was already invented in 1900 and, needless to say, they were wrong.
     Maybe we're just more realistic, and understand that you can't predict what's going to happen and there's no point in trying.
      Since you've spent the week listening to me, I figure, on Saturdays, I should listen to you. We should try a special project together: this is your chance to put on the pundit's cap and say what you think the future will be like in 50 or 100 years. It could be argued that this is more than idle speculation -- we can't build a world if we can't imagine it. It is a worthwhile exercise, if only to provide fodder for future pundits, assuming there are any (projecting my own anxieties into the world to come) to seize upon our woefully mistaken notions and laugh at them, as we do the shortsighted auguries of the past. 
    So in a sense, this is a chance for immortality, at least of the sort represented by being dredged up and smirked at a century from now. Think hard, give it your best shot and  share your thoughts here, and I will maybe use them in a column in the not-so-distant future about our changing ideas of what the world to come may be like.


21 comments:

  1. The future is actually pretty amazing. We have phones, that fit in the palm of our hands. That can pull up just about any fact ever. I think that is wonderful, and would have loved to have this 10 years ago. I'll take this over the flying cars I expected to have by now as a kid.

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  2. I cannot imagine ever being bored on a Saturday. Best day of the week, a break from the routine, a chance for freedom from all that has to be done. That being said, the future, well, 50 to 100 years from now, this is what I see. I imagine a world with innovations in healthcare and longevity beyond the advances we have now. I imagine most things will be managed digitally, not all but most. I think there is a resistance to losing the beauty and pleasure of holding a real book or printed material, however as we move forward there will be less of it. I see our phones in 50 year being our lifelines, heck they are almost that now. We will need to think and work towards stopping any more environmental ruin, lest we end up in Ayn Rand's world in "Atlas Shrugged". We must take charge and help create real health and real peace and stop the bullying tactics so prevalent in today's society. I think there are a intelligent people who are fed up with the way things are that will help push us toward a better life and I would hope it will be like the grassroots movements of the 60s and 70s that helped us get on a path that seemed to work toward some progress by the will of the people. I see this happening. I see people becoming less willing to roll over and accept the ignorance of the undereducated and the prejudiced. It will not happen over night. We will work towards making our lives more productive, less stressful. That seems so far away now and people are at the bursting point. I picture more productivity without so much stress. Flexibility as we get more electronically educated. We need to realize the promise that our devices and electronics would make our lives easier, not harder. In 50 years, I do not see the extreme changes that happened in the last 50, but changes will still come. Communication will be smoother more integrated than it is now. We are still struggling to find our place in the digital realm.
    I do not think we will be in Jetson cars or having perfect lives, but I do expect more working from home and better access to healthcare and more diseases managed and or cured. I hope that peace in the world is realized. I do not know if there will ever be a time when this will happen, but we should move in that direction, or we will just have nuclear winter and that will be that. Change has to come, there is too much unhappiness, now.

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    1. Will we be more free or less free (as in more managed)?

      Will the struggle inherent in market capitalism give way to a centrally planned administrative state?

      Many in the 1930's thought the Soviet Union was the progressive future that should be embraced.

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  3. Less religion and more reason will lead to better lives for many throughout the world in just about every way.

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    1. But keep in mind that less religion may not lead to more reason. Examples -- the Soviet Union and Red China.

      Furthermore -- what "ultimate values" can be derived from reason alone? I am pro-life -- except for rape and serious permanent injury to the mother -- based on "reason" alone. And I am sure people can make so-called "reasonable" arguments for the pro-choice side.

      I do not want to debate abortion. Rather I merely want to point out that "reason" as an "answer" may be a chimera.

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    2. Nancy,

      Are you one of those true blue fundamentalist atheists? If we are "wired to believe", then getting rid of the mainstream religions may usher in not a new golden age of reason but the return of the "old time religion" in which symbolic sacrifices get replaced by real ones.

      I think you've got the cart before the horse in your argument. Getting rid of religion does not necessarily lead to a better life as demonstrated in the former Soviet Union. However, better and more fulfilling lives do lead more and more people away from religion. After all, it's easy to forget about God and to discount religion if you don't need to rely upon God for your daily bread. Or to put it another way - the idea that life is its own meaning becomes very attractive if you are already experiencing a "heaven" on earth.

      Of course, as a believer, I reject that line of thought. But, I think that many others find it very compelling especially as traditional religions exhaust their credibility by taking sides in the culture wars and politics.

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    3. It looks like Nancy is one of those "hit and run" posters. Drop a line and then run away to somewhere else and never respond to others' comments. I've seen the same thing at EZ's forum.

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  4. With the world population climbing to 13 billion or so, and the disastrous effects of global warming based upon the carbon load already in the atmosphere, I see the survival of the human species on the line. This will be a worldwide calamity, and the various governments and other human institutions will not respond appropriately before the situation reaches the point of no return. As an earth scientist I can see the dominoes starting to fall. The vast majority of the human population will become more and more desperate for a share of the dwindling natural resources and chaos will increase around the world accordingly.

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  5. There will be advances in medicine, science, and of course technology of all kinds. The global climate will continue on its severe, volatile course until government leaders finally legislate changes to prevent a disaster. People will rely less on their brains and become dependent on robot-like machines and apperati which have been programmed to take care of what humans used to. I can envision micro chips implanted in humans for identity purposes. Smart phones will evolve and become our sole source of communication and information.

    A wild thought has me seeing some form of transport being developed to replace automobiles and airplanes ("beam me up, Scottie").

    People will become more tolerant of one another and social changes forced upon government by its citizens will allow us to finally become equals in every law. There will be less divisiveness between all nations as we blend together as one civilization, striving to keep our planet and the human race alive for future generations. Population will decline significantly as we spend less time with each other and become even more isolated.

    In other words, both good and bad, as is inevitable with progress. I hope we don't lose our humanity, that we learn to accept each other with open minds and hearts. Onward and upward... the future is ours to determine.

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  6. By the invention of Internet headphones and microphones, we'll be able to play in international music ensembles without the aid of any other computer devices. Similar to the Google Eye Camera but digitized for sound. Take it a step further and we'll be able to communicate via hologram; from music to board meetings.

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  7. I suspect that as more and more people choose to engage with the world through some sort of digital conduit rather than physically, some company will figure out a way to dehumanize the last and most enduring form of physical experience with the development of realistic sexual surrogates (think of Pris, the "standard pleasure model" android in "Blade Runner"). The one thing that is unlikely to change is capitalism's ability to identify a need, and then satisfy that need with a product. Although that presumes the continuation of capitalism as the dominate economic force a hundred years from now, something that I'm not entirely sure I'd want to bet on.

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  8. I love good science fiction, but rarely think on the future facing this world. However, I'll give it a shot...

    One hundred years from now, we'll no longer rely on fossil fuels for our energy needs, which is good because they'll be exhausted by then. Legal abortion will be rare, as all women will take birth control monitored by implants from the time they hit puberty; only planned pregnancies will take place. Concerning implants, everyone will be monitored from birth through an implant that will diagnose any health concerns. This information will be monitored through digital contact with medical professionals; any needed treatments or medicine will be provided by the single-payer system of government health care. Public schools (and colleges) will no longer exist as brick and mortar education centers. Education will be provided on line and every student will be issued technology needed to participate in virtual classrooms. All technology will be wireless and provide everyone with needed contacts, and more people will become isolated as less face to face contact is needed or available. The post office will have become obsolete decades before. There will still be major disparities between the wealthy and the poor, as the gap will have increased over the years.

    The Cubs will still be hoping to win a World Series.

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    1. WendyC:

      Good to see you on this site.

      But will the stupid/unmotivated ones become otherwise. If not -- will we have to provide bread and circuses for them?

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    2. Now, now JerryB. Behave.

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    3. It's nice to hear from you again, Jerry.

      Sandy, I also believe Wrigley Field will be ancient history a century from now. The Cubs will relocate to a newer stadium.

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  9. @WendyC -- LOL great ending sentence. Very true.

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  10. I forget who said it, possibly Paul Ehrlich as it was the late 1960's and his book was a hot topic. It was a radio interview, and the interviewee said "If the Chinese ever get automobiles we are done for, the atmosphere will never be able to deal with the pollution".
    Well they've got them, and the weather is showing signs of the tipping point. As Louis Black says, "Son of a Bitch!"
    I have to hurry past the college kids on the side walk representing Greenpeace, with their earnest pleas to sign the forms on their clipboards. I find it hard to talk to them, they'll have to live in the coming horror show, after I'm dead. They look at me and their eyes say "Please help us" but it is late, and as an individual, as much as I sympathize with them there is little I can do.

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  11. "Since you've spent the week listening to me, I figure, on Saturdays, I should listen to you." In the spirit of that remark, I offer the following off-topic observation.

    I have no insights or guesses with regard to the future, but I did just watch a movie where a fair amount of the action took place in the future, "Cloud Atlas." I mention it because it's the only place other than a Neil Steinberg column that I recall hearing (or reading) the term "beavering", meaning diligently plugging away at some task. Jim Broadbent, in two instances, I believe, relates that he's beavering away at a manuscript, or something like that. I think that took place in the present, but, since I was fairly confused by the film (it jumped from one storyline to another A LOT), it COULD have been in the future...

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  12. In no special order:
    In the next 50 years, for the well off, I see nanotech medicine turning cancer into a chronic disease, pig scaffold/human stem cell replacement organs and the beginnings of commercial implanted enhancement tech. For the not so well off, life not much better than it is now, but with energy and water rationing more common. We are just one step ahead in adapting to climate change for the most part, with flooding, vicious weather, and drought as the new normal. Canada is the new breadbasket. More enclaves worldwide protecting the wealthy few from the impoverished many. The USA has lost it's position as the world's innovator.

    I hope, but don't expect, a breakthrough in fusion or other energy technology that could ease our consumption issues.

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    1. The well off have known about this for years and fund the idiots who deny climate change, in an effort to keep the news from the masses, sort of like not allowing access to the boat deck for the RMS Titanic's steerage passengers.

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  13. Right call. Let it fester.

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