Looking Forward to 2050


Tardis Image via BBC America

The folks behind Meeting of the Minds asked me to participate in a group blogging event today about the world of 2050 in the form of a letter back to the present day written from someone at that time. I’m like sure, I can do that. But then I realized I’m rather dreadful at that kind of writing.

So while wondering what to do about this assignment I agreed to, I remembered that I had some Connections. Who they are let’s just leave a bit vague. But let’s just say I was able to arrange to a short visit to 2050 in order to help me with this blog post.

The challenge, obviously, is that as with all things time travel, I can’t actually say anything about what I saw because that would get me into Really Big Trouble. So I wondered what I could do with my newfound insights since I can’t actually say anything about the actual future.

Then I realized there’s one thing that I can tell you, and that’s that the future is different. I mean it’s really different. Different in the sense that you can’t even imagine what it actually looks like.

Think about it. 2050 is 35 years from now. 35 years ago it was 1980. Jimmy Carter was still president. There were still hostages in Iran. The #1 song for that year was Blondie’s “Call Me.”  The Commodore 64 hadn’t even come out yet.

You get it. Nobody in 1980 could have predicted what we’d be doing or what our world would be like today. Certainly thinking about attempting to solve the challenges of the today with technologies they had in mind likely would have missed the mark.

It’s the same for us. We don’t have a clue what 2050 is going to look like. We don’t. But we have to make decisions today, some with implications that stretch well into the future. Infrastructure, for example, lasts a long time. So we need to think about the intersection of planning and investment with an understanding that the world will likely change.

One real life example. I renovated a house in 1998 in Evanston, Illinois. I was very proud of myself for running ethernet cables all over the place when I did it. I thought I was going to be so far ahead of the rest of the world on network readiness it wasn’t funny.

Of course it was funny and the laugh as on me, as I got maybe a decade’s worth of use out of a grand total of one of the wires I ran before Wi-Fi rendered my investment moot. Similarly, the cyberpunk role playing game Shadowrun had to re-invent their game universe in order to make computer hacking a wireless vs. wired activity.

That’s not to say investments like my wires that only last a short period of time aren’t worth making, but if we think we are future-proofing our city or some such, we are probably spending way too much money on things that will last less time than we thought.

Instead of trying to plan for 2050, perhaps we should think about how to create systems that can be upgraded modularly and incrementally over time as change occurs. Or even to evolve in their physical structures over time. The ability to adapt to changing and unforeseen circumstances is what the world demands today. Because I can tell you if you’re making decisions today based on what you think the world will need in 2050, you will be dead wrong. Trust me on this one.


from The Urbanophile


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