My predictions for 2010 to 2100
This is a PEST (Political, Economic, Social & Cultural, Technological) speculative essay.
Since I've been reading a lot of science fiction lately, I decided it was time to make some predictions of my own. Solely for my own entertainment mind you, this is not meant to be taken seriously.
The European Union, as a federated superstate, will fail to recognise the opportunity represented by absorbing Turkey into the union. Turkey will turn its attention eastward to become part of what will become known as STRICT, (Super Tradezone of Russia, India, China and Turkey). The FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) will have no choice but to further integrate in order to compete with this enormous economic and political force. All countries of the world will be forced out of necessity and opportunism to join (or have ties so strong they amount to joining) one of these three economic zones. Multinational corporations and their political lobbyists will push for even greater integration even if the removal of barriers to trade in commerce, capital and human resources are disadvantageous to quality of life or the environment. For example, Australia will be one of many countries to experience ecological collapse and mass migration.
Technological leapfrogging will put nations who were previously disadvantaged and underdeveloped into a new bargaining position. Previously marginalised countries will have an opportunity to become post-industrialised without having to go through industrialisation themselves however there will be enormous costs in terms of social and economic stability. The number of failed states narco-states and lawless areas will continue to increase. The political strain will lead to armed conflict in such areas once the proliferation of small tactical nuclear weapons becomes impossible to control to say nothing of bio-weapons.
The spectre of armed conflict for natural resources will pressure developed world governments to make control of natural resources the most important aspect of foreign policy.
By the year 2100, converging government and business interests in controlling assets and the increasing pressure of having to invest trillions in several currencies (with the perpetual aim of even greater profit) will accelerate abandonment investment in physical assets in favour of abstract financial instruments whose sole purpose is to make money out of money. The wealth gap will leave most of the planet disenfranchised. Political means of controlling one's environment will no longer be practical for the average citizen. Political apathy among the electorate will continue to rise. Countries will maintain their territorial sovereignty in little but name. The successful politician will have to understand the local consequences of policies enacted by counterparts on the other side of the world. A tragedy of the commons seems inevitable.
There will be a series of financial crises which will increase in frequency and intensity. Each time there is a financial crisis, wealth in terms of capital will concentrate in the hands of fewer and fewer groups. The incentive will be towards ever greater resourcefulness on the part of the individual citizen and also increasing pressure to be aligned to an existing power group. The pace of change will be so great that efficiencies in real-time for maximum gain will be impossible. Innovation will be almost instantaneously duplicated and when improved upon, duplicated again.
Winning economic strategies will be brief, copied rapidly and fail faster than ever before. There will be increasing pressure on best-fit short-term solutions.
In terms of food consumption, wild commercial fish stocks will be completely depleted by 2050 at the latest. Strains of wheat rust which can attack genetically resistant wheat will decimate grain crops globally. The individual citizen will not have the means to afford anything other than a yeast-vat diet of homogenised nutri-paste and whatever they can grow or raise privately. Chickens will be popular urban pets. It is already clear in 2010 that the lifestyle that the world aspires to is globally untenable. The disincentive to produce offspring in a modern western democracy will lead to a population crash in the FTAA, STRICT, and the EU. Selective immigration to developed zones will pale in comparison to rampant illegal immigration to those zones.
This environmental pressure will select for the populations of these zones to be increasingly opportunistic and entrepreneurial at the level of the individual. Border security will be the largest cost of these zones. Regional development will concentrate on equalising development within existing zones while beyond the zones, feudalism is the best that can be expected. In 2010, 2 billion people subsist on less than the equivalent of two dollars (2010 value) per day. By 2100 more than half the population of the world will subsist on less than the equivalent of two dollars per day. The developed world will have a paranoid garrison mentality which will not stop the most resourceful illegal immigrants from penetrating the FTAA, STRICT and the EU.
By the 2100, most of the labour force of human beings (to notably exclude ever more sophisticated automated manufacturing robots) will work in the knowledge or services industry as contractors-for-hire. Publically available, online performance reviews of both individuals and workgroups will further entrench the conservativism this cohort of pre-post-capitalism employees knew through their parents.
The reputations of companies will be less important than the reputations of the contractors they have hired at any given time. In 2010, "You are your own brand," is a common catchphrase and employers routinely google prospective employees and view their profiles on popular social networking sites. How? They are often invited to do so by the employees themselves who recognise that having both public and private lives congruent with the espoused attitudes, values and beliefs of their prospective employers is a net asset. Those who cannot conform by their own free will may find themselves unemployable; however talented they may claim to be.
By the year 2100, individual brand management will be something that successful individual citizens have nurtured throughout their lives. When every action can directly impact one's employability, conservativism in behaviour, attitudes, and attire will be the most successful personal mode. A dismal homogeneity will be the public result.
In 2010, "your grades don't count after college," is a common catchphrase. In 2100, "You are your profile," may be just as common. If the link is not immediately apparent between these catchphrases, it should become clear in the following section on social and cultural predictions.
The scope of this speculation does not allow the author to go much beyond events occuring outside the developed economic zones.
Within the FTA, STRICT and the EU, the proliferation of effectively free broadband Internet access will force a meritocratic policy on both governments and businesses. In order to provide the most effective control over economic development, the educational requirements for what were traditionally referred to as careers will take 40 years in order for an individual to become qualified. The educational system within the FTA, STRICT and the EU will continue to be refined towards the goal of keeping the individual citizen in school and under-producing for as long as possible. Those who become the elite of this generation will be those who can see through the fiction of a specialist education guaranteeing meaningful challenging creative work. In 2010 the open source software revolution and it's younger sibling, the open source hardware revolution are both still in their infancy. By the year 2100 the individual citizen may be employed by hundreds of companies at once, bidding for projects and working primarily from home.
The prediction of 40 years spent in a formal educational system is conservative. Many individual citizens within the developed zones will very likely spend their entire lives in some sort of formal educational system earning little better than a living wage.
An illustrative sidebar: the open source hardware revolution implies that (with a minimum of capital and a modest amount of time and intellect) anything material the individual citizen desires to have, the individual citizen can build for themselves (except for limited resources such as living space, while the open source revolution will provide plans for dwellings, it cannot yet supply the land). In 2010 one may see urban graffiti with marquee LED lighting and handmade Segway-style dryland surfboards for sale at "Maker Faires." By the year 2100, despite spending most of one's life in a formal educational system and living on nutri-paste, home-raised chicken eggs and home-garden subsistence produce, the individual citizen within the developed zones may easily acquire or build every technological convenience available. Consumerism as a lifestyle will mutate into Producerism, where more and more of the final added-value of transforming raw materials and finished goods are concentrated at the end-user point of the supply-chain by individual citizens in private living spaces or in small local neighbourhood fabs (fabrication facilities, in essence mini-factories, they could be as small as a residential refrigerator). In-group membership among teenagers in 2010 is increasingly defined by what they have produced (blogs, music, art, websites, video). By 2100 the proliferation of content will result in competition for mindshare so fierce that in order to reduce the input to a meaningful bandwidth, in-group membership will be signified by exclusion of nearly all production that hasn't been either created by the group or filtered by a member of the group with the penalty for too liberal or prolific import of content being rejection and expulsion by the in-group. Teenagers in the year 2100 will be more conservative in their behaviour, more cautious in their expressed attitudes, but also more resourceful. Conservative and cautious because everything they do in 2100 will be on permanent record and resourceful because free and instant access to past answers plus limited capital and material resources is a strong incentive for more interesting questions, but it's still more questions --- ultimately mental disease will be endemic.
The most common mental threats in the year 2100 will be burnout and anomie. The pace of change will be so great that each succeeding generation will be disengaging from the mainstream (retreating or other minimising their interactions with society at large) at younger and younger ages (Hikkekomori-ism). Specialisation for a lifetime in an educational system will be perceived by the average citizen as refuge and sanctuary from a world which is paradoxically more integrated and yet more fragmented.
The citizen who attempts to remain engaged inappropriately rather than making the courageous leap of abandoning any patterns which are no longer advantageous will suffer burnout. The citizen who recognises that they cannot remain engaged appropriately and disengages, yet fails to create a new sustainable pattern will suffer anomie, unable to relate and increasingly isolated and fearful of change.
By 2100, the citizen who can abandon all illusions of self-identity and embrace whoever they are at any given instant would be the citizen that has the best chance of staying sane.
A social and cultural footnote, illustrating some of these changes with teenagers in particular is because language fails when approaching the lifestyle of older demographics in 2100. There may be biological and computational advances available to the elite which take them into a post-human reality which is largely outside the scope of this short speculative essay. By the time the average teenager of 2100 is an adult, within the developed zones at least, no generalisation of any clarity is plausible and the value of prediction fails. The span of possibility is too broad.
One thing I can say with certainty is that by the year 2100 nothing will ever be certain again.
Advances in computation and biology may not save the world from global famine but if they do and humanity survives, there will be consequences.
The psychological distortions that humanity has placed upon itself in order to function (however awkwardly) within the political, economic, and socio-cultural systems of the developed zones will lead to an existential question: what does humanity do the day after it invents machines capable of designing superior machines? Some say this will be the last invention of humanity, the children who come from this union will have no more relation to humanity as it is understood today than humanity today has to a squirrel.
Less pessimistically, in 2010, most individuals have heard of Moore's Law and most individuals, at least vaguely, grasp that the exponential achievements in computation are the result of a symbiosis, however crude, between people and machines. While a gross simplification, it's worth mentioning that once a person creates a tool, that tool can be used for many purposes, including the creation of superior tools which in turn create superior people. Marshall McLuhan once said " we shape our tools, thereafter they shape us" however the extension of that thought is necessarily that having been so shaped, our latest tools will be products of our latest shapes. In the year 2010, the largest groups of individuals define themselves in terms of inclusivity in national or cultural terms. In the year 2100, there may be a Jupiter-sized dust cloud of networked nano-bio-machines drifting through deep space on solar tides with cosmic intelligence and distributed awareness that nevertheless refers to itself as a single human being, in contact with a variety of other "human beings." A self-definition which signifies how tenuous the connection has become between the term "humanity" and the facts of reality.
I invite your comments.