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It is 2015, the year Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future II, and media outlets everywhere are asking the same question, “Dude, where’s my hoverboard?”
It’s tough getting the future right, which is proved again by some futurist predictions in the January issue of National Geographic. Most visions of the future either lean toward dystopia or utopia. Dystopia has powered a lot of movies, but it won’t sell magazines, so the National Geographic writers see a bright future. (But honestly, who sees a bright future for magazines? Or geography, for that matter?)
Anyway, within 5 to 10 years, according to technology forecaster (how do you get that job?) Paul Saffo: “People won’t own cars at all. When you need to go somewhere, you’ll have a subscription auto service, and it will show up at your door.”
That’s right, in the future we’re going to have taxis.
Saffo goes on: “We’re moving away from a purchase economy. We will subscribe to access rather than pay money for possessions such as smartphones. (Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can . . .) “A new religion could emerge in the next decade or two, perhaps based around the environment. Digital technology is the solvent leaching the glue out of our global structure – including shaking our belief systems to the core.”
I realize I’ve been pretty snarky to this point, but seriously? Digital technology is shaking our belief systems to the core? In the future we won’t believe in God because we have smartphones, which we won’t own but subscribe to? I am not buying Saffo’s vision of the future because I don’t agree with his assessment of the current moment.
More predictions come from tech entrepreneur Byron Reese, who says: “Soon we will solve all problems that are fundamentally technical. These problems include disease, poverty, hunger, energy and scarcity. If you can live a few years more, there is a real chance you will never die, since mortality may be just a technical problem we solve. All these advances will usher in a new golden age, freed from the scourges that have plagued humanity throughout history.”
I don’t agree that mortality is a problem (technical or otherwise) to be solved. Morality, not mortality, is the fundamental human problem, and technology will never solve it. I guess I’m pretty old-fashioned because I still believe in sin. Utopia never works because people are involved. It’s like these futurists have never watched an episode of “Big Brother” or “Survivor.” The one thing seers always seem to forget is human nature. People are going to be people. The new golden age, freed from the scourges that have plagued humanity throughout history, is never going to happen.
In that sense, Back to the Future got it more right than National Geographic, because Marty McFly had to deal with all the quirks of people regardless of what decade he was in. What Back to the Future missed is far more subtle than hoverboards or flying cars. New houses are about 1000 square feet larger than the ones built in 1985, and the new houses of 1985 were mansions compared to those of 1955. Average income is much higher today, even when adjusted for inflation. People are fatter. We fly everywhere. We drive everywhere. We have access to all the accumulated knowledge of human history in the palm of our hands (a computer with a much power as a smartphone would have filled a room in 1985 and cost a small fortune). Instead of being in a time when we are moving away from a purchase economy, we own more stuff than ever.
But are we any happier? More content? Satisfied?
I don’t think so, because we insist on being people.