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Imagining the Future (A Verbal Time Capsule)

I’m reading a book right now, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.  It’s apocalypse fiction, chilling in how real it feels.  The description from the back of the book:

On an ordinary Saturday, Julia awakes to discover that something has happened to the rotation of the earth.  The days and nights are growing longer and longer; gravity is affected; the birds, the tides, human behaviour, and cosmic rhythms are thrown into disarray.

The world in the book feels exactly like our own.  When the news breaks, people remain indoors all day watching the news on a continual loop (which, of course, consists of chewing over the same tiny bit of regurgitated information followed by pontification by experts).  The story started to feel so real that as we watched the Super Bowl on Sunday night, I wondered what the stretching of time was doing to the game clock.  And then remembered that the Slowing has occurred; that it’s only fiction.

There are a few times in the book when she mentions how all the predictions we made in the past about our current life are now off because we never accounted for this catastrophe and its far-reaching effects.  As I made dinner, I tried to imagine what life would be like 20 years from now.  I picked 20 years because I can clearly see the differences between today and what life was like at the start of college.  While we had a low-tech form of email — hardly a medium you wanted to use for quick conversation since most people only checked it from time to time — there was no social media.  Cell phones weren’t commonplace; if you wanted to find someone, you walked to all the likely places they might be.  We were worried about HIV.  A high-tech portable music player could carry 90 minutes of music.  We flew with little security.  Books were only read on paper.  We got out news from newspapers or television.  Back in that time period, standing there with my paper books and Walkman, I couldn’t imagine a world where I would walk around with this tiny computer in my pocket capable of not only making phone calls but holding dozens of books and movies and music and surfing the Web and receiving emails.  I’m sure other people could fathom this in 1993; but I couldn’t.

Therefore, I found it difficult to stretch my imagination and predict what life would be like on earth 20 years from now without falling into science fiction cliches.  I pictured the landscape dotted with biosphere-like buildings containing crops.  I thought about the creation of organs from cells that could be used for transplant (could this ever be possible?).  Hovercraft-like mobiles used not for actual travel but for playing around on over grass; the next stage of the toy car.  And then my imagination fizzled out.

It is so much easier at times to picture my personal future; what I wish will be my personal future.  The people I hope will still be in my life 20 years from now.  But the world itself, our surroundings, how we’re living and where we’re living — all of that is fuzzy, like a snapshot taken at a high speed where you can clearly see there is a subject even if the details are blurred by movement.

What do you think life will be like 20 years from now?  Name one thing that will be commonplace in 20 years, and I will repost this again in 20 years so we can see how closely we guessed.


Beyond that, let’s create a verbal time capsule.  Describe what is important right now in our current age; what you’d want people 20 years from now to remember about this time.  It could be personal in nature or reflect greater society.  It could be something tangible (an iPhone) or intangible (we still haven’t had a female president).

A verbal time capsule, created solely out of words, to explain to people 20 years down the road how different their life is from what we’re living today.  Simultaneously imagining what we’ll be living with 20 years from now.

Time Capsule Oklahoma

Photo Credit: Doug_Wertman.


1 Chickenpig { 02.05.13 at 9:01 am }

The technology and science that is up and coming is absolutely amazing! But so much of it isn’t happening here in the US because of all of our ‘you can’t use embryonic cells or clone anything’ stance. I think about the infertility front, just for example. Scientists have taken the genetic material out of an animal egg and inserted human DNA, AND remove the genetic material from sperm and insert different DNA. In 20 years time, any couple will be able to have offspring that is genetically related to both partners, and not having eggs or sperm will not be an issue. Of course, Americans will probably have to go abroad because of our narrow mindedness. Also, scientists have implanted chips into a human brain that allows a person to control a robot arm across the room. Within 20 years people will have the ability to have any number of electronics connected directly to the human brain. This isn’t science fiction, it is stuff happening NOW, just not available to the public.

I think we are at danger of having, a widespread plague of a superbug that is antibiotic resistant, major climate change and disasters before we see a turn around, and war in the Middle East (I know, we already have that). I also think that the US is going to have a huge shift in it’s economy to one that is more regulated and balanced, or we may have a revolution. We were on the brink of it in the early 1900’s because the separation between the rich and poor was so great. Labor unions, income taxation, and social welfare programs helped to stop that, but I think we are in danger of having too wide a spread again.

2 a { 02.05.13 at 10:07 am }

The important thing in our age, right now? I’d have to say it’s the internet. Idea flow, both bad and good, goes so much faster than it ever could in the past. Seems like we should be able to do more with that.

I can’t imagine the world being vastly different in 20 years, but I’m sure it will be. What I’m hoping for is a society that is less discriminatory and less paranoid.

(It makes me anxious to try and predict what will happen in the future, because I have to factor in all of those unpleasant things that Chickenpig mentioned, and I don’t like to think about that stuff if I don’t have to.)

3 Gail { 02.05.13 at 10:36 am }

I would like to hope that 20 years from now, we have found a better option for energy that isn’t harmful to the earth or us. Living in an area where fracking is taking place as the “next clean energy” producer scares me because the process of removing the natural gas is anything but clean. However, my pessimism worries that the earth and natural resources will be even more screwed up in 20 years.

Another hope that I have for 20 years from now is that there will be nationwide access to education and the internet and that money and class won’t play a roll in whether a person succeeds or fails. Again, my pessimism sees the “haves” and “have nots” being even further divided.

4 Shelby { 02.05.13 at 3:04 pm }

Technology permeates everything we do today and now, even our social lives are dominated by it, for better or for worse. I am a slave to my laptop and iPhone. I absolutely adore them and feel that while this lightening speed access to information is amazing, we would do best to heed the possible pitfalls of it, too. Everything comes with a price.

My hope for the future: technology does not advance quicker than what we can handle, social media does not completely prevent actual human connection, and America becomes less polarized (economically, educationally and ideologically).

5 FrozenOJ { 02.06.13 at 4:19 am }

Please, please, please let there be food replicators.

More realistically, I think webcams will be revolutionized into 3D technology/virtual reality. So basically you will be able to “hang out” with your friends whenever want regardless of the distance. You will even be able to play board games and stuff.

6 Tiara { 02.06.13 at 7:43 am }

I remember less than 10 years ago 1st hearing about this new technology in development of touch screens & seeing a Nova type show about it & thinking, “Wow! That is so cool! I wonder if I’ll ever have a chance to try one of those.” & now I have one in my pocket! So looking forward 20 years in terms of technology blows my mind!! I hope there’s major development in transportation. I envision high speed monorail type systems with arteries everywhere & no more communting grid lock as everyone would use these monorail systems & we’d only have small electric cars for putting around town…

Looking ahead personally is scary & a little overwhelming to me…I think I’ll stick to the sci fi fantasies & leave reality to unfold day by day.

7 Denver Laura { 02.06.13 at 10:44 am }

I can’t imagine that in 20 years our gas guzzling mammoths will be considered “classic cars.” Hopefully somebody will get smart and not exempt them from emission testing.

We used to have Saturday mail delivery service. In 20 years it will just be part of a regular week, but right now, it’s a huge culture shift.

8 TasIVFer { 02.07.13 at 8:57 pm }

It is so much easier to imagine the things I hope won’t change – or the things that haven’t changed in the past 20 years. Therefore I can see my house as looking much as it has since it was built in 1940, with it’s ceiling roses and varnished doors. The kitchen and bathroom will probably be different by then. Hopefully the River Derwent will still be gining its current waterlines and not have risen. I hope I have a dog, although sadly I know it won’t be my current beloved pooch.

Mostly likely the little boy who is asleep down the hall won’t be. I hope he will be off enjoying his own life and expanding his own horizons. I cannot see my love for him changing, although I imagine it will evolve and be shaped as he changes. I imagine I’ll still wish he was down the hall, safely and happily napping.

I will still miss Blobby, my son who no one else will remember but who helped shape my heart.

My beloved town of Hobart will probably only have the sort of changes a lover would notice. A few buildings gone and new ones in their place, but for the most part just aging gracefully.

And the technology? Who knows. Hopefully it grows with people and can be contained to something that is for people to use and not something that enslaves us. Hopefully it makes us more connected but doesn’t keep us from those immediately around us.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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