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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 40

A Survey of
the Future

What might the world look like in 50 years?
Interviews by Gabriele Dellisanti.

What might the world look like in 50 years?
Interviews by Gabriele Dellisanti.

As 2020 demonstrated, our ability to look even a year beyond the present moment is limited. Expand that timeline to half a century, and the shape of the world is anybody’s guess. For the Future Issue, we eschewed a single oracle and instead asked for the predictions of five people in very different industries: a sci-fi writer, a neuroscientist, two futurists and a cyborg anthropologist. Their answers, which oscillate between saccharine utopianism and cynical pessimism, are a telling reminder of just how little we can foresee. The survey also reveals an interesting dichotomy in how we think about the future: Is it better to predict the future we actually think will come to pass, or the one we wish to see?

— How will we communicate? 

AC: The medium by which we communicate may change, but what we communicate will stay the same: music, art, film, worship, love. 

EC: I don’t think our way of communicating will get better or worse. It’ll just go faster. And it’ll be more and more dependent on tech companies. 

KA: What might come to mind is the type of tech. But I think of linguistics—things like memes and poetry, short fragments of text, images, video or sound that are layered with meaning because of how they are shared, and which are shared so fast.

DE: The future will drift away from cellphones in favor of more direct ways
of communication. We will broadcast by making subtle movements of our muscles and understand inputs through patterns of vibration on the skin. This will allow us to always keep our eyes and ears open for other stimuli in the world.

AO: More slowly—with a realization that all of the speed we’ve become accustomed to has caused a lot of unsustainable practices in our lives. 

— What will we wear?

AC: We’ll be wearing things that are made for the long-term again, looking back at the 2020s as the throwaway area. We’ll want to learn again, maybe understanding how meaningful it is to make hand-dyed linen with local berries. 

EC: Just nostalgia. People will look back and see what they think is cool and bring it back. We’ll keep having that 20-year nostalgia loop. Now we’re looking back at the ’90s, and so on.  

KA: From a tech point of view, we’ll see layers of embedded sensing in the clothes we wear, things that might charge electronics or measure data around us.

DE: I think we will have active clothing that isn’t just for fashion and warmth but for communication and sensing.

AO: The same things we love, just for longer. The pandemic laid bare the facade of needing newness. Throwaway culture doesn’t really add that much joy to our lives.

— What will homes look like?

AC: They’re going to be much more tuned to the environment. Like, a desert home will look different from one in the Pacific Northwest. I think homes are going to be cozy, and there will be a deeper understanding of natural light because of a greater push to conserve energy. 

EC: That depends on the class of the person. I could see the rich having smart homes, the middle class living in discount smart homes and the poor just having to live in the same rundown apartments they’ve been in for the last 200 years.

KA: There’s this option that allows for the coming together of more kinds of families in one home: adapting to working, living and being with a bubble of people. 

DE: In my book Livewired, I’ve proposed that homes will eventually be able to utilize the principles of plasticity that we see in biology.1  So if you are using the kitchen more, it will grow in size. If you have guests, and many people need to use the bathroom, the number of toilets and sink spigots will grow to accommodate.

AO: Multidimensional spaces and multigenerational homes. People will reconnect with the joy of rootedness that balances home, work and play, and they’ll welcome a much more diverse perspective on what co-living means—a co-living that spans generations.

— What will we eat?

AC: Everyone will be eating bugs and thinking of cow meat as the most disgusting thing. We’re also going to eat our trash because it’ll be biodegradable. And, importantly, what we eat will be totally dependent on our local environment and match the climate.

EC: Same crap we always eat. I sound like a pessimist. But food is an economic thing. And unless the economy changes, healthy food won’t be available to all people. 

KA: Definitely fewer animals, more plants. And we’ll have to eat even more plants because the nutrients of plants will be lower because of climate change. Lab-grown meat will be common too.

DE: All animal-based products, from meat to milk, will be replaced by lab-grown alternatives.

AO: Much of what we eat now. But with less of a focus on hyper-convenience, and more interconnectedness. This will mean only eating certain things at certain times, and eating what your community cultivates. 

is an American cyborg anthropologist and futurologist specializing in the interaction between humans and technology. She’s the author of four books and is based in Portland, Oregon.

is a sci-fi writer specializing in urban and dark fantasy fiction. His latest work, Dance on Saturday, was published in 2020. Cotman lives in Oakland, California.

is a futurist and the director of MOD, a museum of discovery at the University of South Australia, which showcases exhibits that seek to inspire people about the future and how to navigate it. She’s based in Adelaide, Australia.

is an American neuroscientist and author. His bestselling book of short stories, SUM, was adapted into a chamber opera. Eagleman is also the director of the Center for Science and Law, an independent nonprofit which works to bridge the gap between neuroscience and law.

was born in New Jersey and works as a director at Grey-space, a Copenhagen design and foresight consultancy which works with different organizations to provide ideas about what a desirable future might look like.

— How will we travel?

AC: I see travel becoming more meaningful and longer-term. Right now, the entire world seems identical with the same chain stores and that isn’t very fulfilling. We will be traveling for memory, discovery and preservation, and staying in places for longer, maybe spending six months in a small Japanese village to learn centuries-old crafts. 

EC: I could see automated travel becoming big. It’s one of those things that looks weird until it becomes ubiquitous. See it this way: An airplane ride is 90% automated. So if we’ve normalized that, then we can normalize travel in robot cars. 

KA: There will be a desire for less energy-intensive transport. For air travel, I’m thinking about this scenario where in 2042 the last leisure air flight will have landed and from then on it’s just freight. 

DE: By launching passenger-filled
rockets straight up into the air and then having them fall as the Earth rotates. In this way, we will be able to reach distant destinations much more quickly.

AO: When we travel, we’ll stay in places for longer, and have fewer quick jaunts. This is also tied to the understanding that we will have to become accustomed to finding more comfort and excitement in our nearer surroundings.

— What familiar thing will  seem like a distant memory?

AC: Plastic. The idea of throwing stuff away after you use it will be so laughable. Like, you’re on a plane and you throw away five items every time you eat? Ridiculous. Also, people who don’t know how to cook. Are you kidding? The idea of living in a small container and having everything sent to you will seem backward and wrong. 

EC: Patience. I worked with high schoolers born into social media and they just live in that high-velocity world. And it’s not like they’re social media junkies, it’s just the world they live in. 

KA: The thing that comes to mind is the pencil. I still use a heap of pencils for work. And it’s just one of those things that seem so enduring but will disappear.

DE: Judgments—good or bad—based on skin pigment.

AO: Routine business travel. People will be much more discerning about when they actually need to travel long distances or get on a plane for work. We’ve seen too much of what’s possible remotely when it comes to the practicalities of work.2

— What challenges will we be facing?

AC: We will still have to fix and learn how to live alongside nature.

EC: Obviously, climate change and the mass extinction that comes along with it. It’s real, it’s happening and nobody in any government has yet made a considerable effort to do anything about it. Humans should be coming together to fight global warming, but I don’t see that happening. 

KA: Social inequities. And if we’re serious about shifting gender or racial inequity, people who now hold the current power will be giving up things, and that’s hard.

DE: With AI’s takeover of most jobs, the challenge will be how billions of humans will fill their time.

AO: Figuring out how to make sense of the world we see around us, especially as things like shared values and understandings feel like they are slipping away. We’ll need a lot of support and collective sense-making to understand what “good” looks like and how to act in a period of mass transitions. 

— Who will be powerful?

AC: The people who share the most. Anything. Whether it’s ancient rituals or a better process for farming. And nature… nature will be powerful.

EC: Putin. Look at the US—we have the greatest military in the world, but almost no power. The power is in the hands of people who control the money, who have the thought power.

KA: Change comes from the outsiders challenging those who hold power. Today power is held by wealthy, white, Western men. But I see young women shaking the cage. And it’ll be through collapse—sorry, but that’s how systems change. Look at Russia, Hong Kong. Things will break. People will break things that are unfair. 

DE: The programmers.

AO: I think storytellers will be powerful. As we feel inundated with all the noise and friction and uncertainty around us, those who can tell a story to make sense of the world, to bring us comfort and belonging will
be powerful.

( 1 )In Livewired, Eagleman calls machinery that can reconfigure itself “liveware.” He proposes that thislivewired machinery will function in much the same way the human brain is able to absorb and adapt to new environments.

( 2 ) Efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic saw air traffic plummet. For the week starting January 4, 2021, the number of scheduled flights worldwide was down by 43.5% compared to the week of January 6, 2020.

( 1 )In Livewired, Eagleman calls machinery that can reconfigure itself “liveware.” He proposes that thislivewired machinery will function in much the same way the human brain is able to absorb and adapt to new environments.

( 2 ) Efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic saw air traffic plummet. For the week starting January 4, 2021, the number of scheduled flights worldwide was down by 43.5% compared to the week of January 6, 2020.


This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty

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