The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. – William Gibson
By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Decade changes, whether in years or the ages of individuals, are as disorienting as changing our clocks twice a year.
You may have noticed that when we change our clocks in the spring and fall, it is as if we have a case of collective jet lag. Sleep, work and eating routines are scrambled, but at least we are all in it together.
A change of decades is kind of the same.
Our experience (or memory) of different decades might be very different, but we share the (mostly unspoken or even unnoticed) background assumptions and act (or re-act) accordingly.
Challenges and opportunities emerge – impacting each one of us unequally.
When it comes to technology – even the most basic – some, if not most, of us live in silos of use and everyday adaptation.
We assume that everyone has access to the resources and technology we use on a regular basis.
I heard recently that more than two million Americans lack access to basic plumbing – including water or flushing toilets. (1*)
Functional plumbing might not be the future, but for virtually everyone I know, it is a basic element of daily life – one that we all take for granted – and would certainly prefer to continue taking for granted.
Most Americans (at least most that I know) almost routinely describe themselves as being “broke”.
On the other hand, virtually no one that I know would define themselves as being “poor”.
Being “broke” is inherently temporary – being “poor” is, at best, semi-permanent, at worst, it crosses generations and impacts every aspect of life from life expectancy to career possibilities to legal or housing vulnerabilities.
Those who grow up in poverty have those assumptions almost “baked-in” their views of life and opportunity. Some struggle with impediments few of us could imagine, some seize opportunities the rest of us would never see (or attempt) and some slide, with almost gravitational determination, into disease, crime, degradation and further poverty.
It is not just poverty that is “not very evenly distributed” (2*) – it is education, career opportunities, ability to travel and even disease (or protection from it). In short, everything about life, from grocery stores to dental care is “not very evenly distributed”.
The decade of the 2020s will bring changes to all of us, though for some of us the changes will be so gradual that we will barely notice (perhaps, for some as routine as getting the latest cell phone or this year’s flu vaccine) while for others, that first cell phone – or vaccine – might be a life changing event.
Like poverty, life threatening diseases and disasters are “not very evenly distributed”.
Age, gender, social class and race (among many other factors) cause ripples, detours and sink-holes in how “the future” – positive or negative – is distributed.
Infectious, if not lethal, diseases are propagated and spread in conditions of poverty and squalor – and war.
When I was a child, polio, TB, small pox and measles were common (and often fatal) among children.
For a variety of reasons, from lax vaccinations to increased disease resistance to antibiotics, we are seeing a resurgence of these once rare diseases.
But that’s not all. There are 136 epidemics being tracked globally. 18 in the United States. (3*)
Will the future offer us – and our children – more protection from serious disease? Or more vulnerability to it?
A related question is; what will be the future of children in general?
The future has a way of arriving unannounced. – George Will
Virtually every nation – especially Northern Europe and North America (and parts of Asia – especially Japan and Korea) is experiencing a noticeable, even extreme drop in birth rates. (4*) The impact of this on taxes, migration, real state prices and the job market are anyone’s guess.
One unexpected impact is that, even in an era of hyper-inflated real estate prices in some places, some municipalities (in Italy and Japan in particular) are literally giving away abandoned homes – in Italy, even castles. (5*)
So in our foreseeable future, will housing cost more, much more, less or possibly much less?
Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. –Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in Physics
The job market is at least as variable. According to the AARP, 10,000 workers across America are reaching retirement each day.
Not only are 10,000 workers disappearing, but thousands of jobs are evaporating as well.
The first jobs for many of us, in retail and customer service, are disappearing faster – and at a greater scale than most.
If anything is gone forever from the career landscape it is job security – and employee loyalty.
Is work itself obsolete? Five years from now, will everyone essentially be self-employed?
Will pay be more equitable in the future? Less?
Are we heading for a social context with increased opportunity or will we become, as many have forecast, a nation of cyber-serfs and corporate overlords?
Is the gig economy – where even those who are “successful” have two or even three “side hustles” the “new normal”?
Even if you put aside major issues like cyber-hacking, corporate espionage, unforeseeable impacts of climate change, sabotage of stock markets and elections around the world, the future of basics like food, shelter and health for the average person is frightening and unstable enough.
Stay tuned. The future is unfolding faster than most of us can fathom. Opportunities and challenges emerge like quicksand in front of us and are often indistinguishable.
What looks like a challenge or even a catastrophe, just might, if comprehended correctly, be the opportunity of a lifetime.
No matter what happens, we will almost certainly look back on our era as a time of simplicity if not naïveté.
(2*) To see how poverty is “distributed” across America, take a look here – https://www.povertyusa.org/facts. As you can see, children and non-whites are vastly more impacted by poverty.
(4*) https://psmag.com/news/the-us-birth-rate-is-still-falling or https://www.thelocal.it/20180627/italy-declining-birthrate-population or https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-07-16/south-korea-birthrate-collapse-will-drag-down-economic-growth