the right side of history
May 30, 2019 8:21 AM   Subscribe

We asked 15 experts, “What do we do now that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?” Here’s what they told us.

In 2115, when our descendants look back at our society, what will they condemn as our greatest moral failing?

What in today’s world will appal our grandchildren?

reddit: What current, socially acceptable practice will future generations see as backwards or immoral?
1. Using something as strong and durable as plastic to make packaging destined to be thrown away.
2. Letting businesses pay politicians who are then responsible for setting laws that apply to the businesses.
3. Colleges sucking every fucking dollar out of you that they can. Fucking scam artists
4. The use of 'garbage dumps' during a time where plasma gasification technology can be used.
5. The insane workaholic culture we have that promotes unhealthy amounts of overtime and getting to work early every day.
posted by the man of twists and turns (139 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always thought that the way people in the global north, including me, wear and use so many products made far away in reprehensible conditions is something on which future generations will look back in horror. We can't even say we don't know -- sitcoms joke about this! I remember watching Ugly Betty and a character being like "curse the tiny brown hands that made this!" because we ALL KNOW that many of our items are made by literal children and yet...we keep buying that stuff. And it's hard! Because we need to buy clothes, and we need to buy clothes for our kids, and it's hard to find items that are made ethically and even harder to acquire and pay for a fully ethical wardrobe, especially if you need stuff for work/school/hanging out/jammies/rain/cold weather/your cousin's wedding/any given sartorial situation. And so we just all sort of ignore something that is completely unacceptable because there's very little any of us can do about it and it's really really hard to create the massive social change necessary to fix this moral outrage and we are all tired and stressed and there are so many problems that it's hard to focus on this one. There's no ethical consumption under capitalism but I definitely believe future generations will look back on our acceptance of the exploitation, including the exploitation of children, that is built into a lot of modern industry and judge us really harshly and on a societal level they will definitely be right to do so.
posted by an octopus IRL at 8:36 AM on May 30 [33 favorites]


Also heads up that one of the answers in the first link is "Abortion: It will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now. The moral case against abortion." so...just a word of caution, yuck.
posted by an octopus IRL at 8:37 AM on May 30 [81 favorites]


The vox collection is a fantastic assortment of utopian wishful thinking, pessismistic nihilism and brain damaged christo-libertarian fantasizing. Good stuff! It's basically: in 50 years here's how what I want to happen will be true
posted by dis_integration at 8:38 AM on May 30 [60 favorites]


the social media dynamic of allowing people to be ruthlessly critical of others without requiring anything close to actual "face time" (ie: actually looking said "other" in the eye, acknowledging their humanity).

this is particularly egregious when the two people actually know each other -- could easily arrange to meet safely to rationally air their differences
posted by philip-random at 8:38 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


We will use the pronoun ‘heesh’ to refer to all persons equally, regardless of their chosen gender.

Er, I bet not.
posted by chavenet at 8:39 AM on May 30 [23 favorites]


Dear future people: if you are reading this, I am dead. Don't worry about vindicating my current beliefs. I'm sure you have your own problems.
posted by prize bull octorok at 8:39 AM on May 30 [46 favorites]


Also heads up that one of the answers in the first link is "Abortion: It will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now. The moral case against abortion." so...just a word of caution, yuck.


Ah yes, they consulted an "expert" English Professor from Liberty University on the merits of abortion. Didn't know Vox shipped enlightened centrism. Gross.
posted by avalonian at 8:40 AM on May 30 [54 favorites]


These questions are just a pretentious way to ask and answer, "What's something you don't like?"
posted by Hatashran at 8:47 AM on May 30 [55 favorites]


I like the abortion one. Not because I agree with it at all. But because it points toward just how wonky and weird and outright WRONG social-cultural evolution can be. It connects with the Why do we think there’s a “wrong side of history”? one, which takes on the assumption that (as MLK put it, but later retracted) “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,”

Good things don't just happen, they require struggle, sacrifice, vast depths of resilience that very many of us just don't have ... and even then, we already know that good intentions can pave a solid road to hell.
posted by philip-random at 8:51 AM on May 30 [19 favorites]


Assuming we last another fifty years, of course.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:52 AM on May 30 [15 favorites]


I think a good test for some of these is to go back, basically forever--50 years, 100 years, 1000 years. If they've been doing it throughout recorded history, then odds are they will continue doing it.

So, for better or worse, such things as working for bosses, flaunting wealth, treating the dying poorly, being obsessed with rationality are probably going to be with us in some form or another for the foreseeable future.

As Hatashran mentions, this is just a list of what people want. I think they are overly optimistic in thinking we'll be any smarter in the future than we are now.
posted by eye of newt at 8:54 AM on May 30 [21 favorites]


We might productively look a little harder at things that are "no longer acceptable", why that's the case and whether things go from being "not acceptable" to acceptable again. History is long, and it's arguable whether there are positive/improvement tendencies or not.

Like, is there a....tendency...toward equality? Toward democracy? In general, do we (who is "we" in this case? Americans?) tend to think that the franchise should be expanded, that people should have more control over their living conditions? How does this relate to people's thinking about economic equality?

I think you can make an argument that there's been a strong tendency (not an unopposed one) in US society toward expanding the franchise and extending formal rights, but that this tendency seems to be fading. Maybe in fifty years "we'll" think that the problems of US society were caused by non-property owners voting, or by too much liberty for women, or by going against the will of God and trying to create racial equality. Maybe Americans will think that the problems of the US were caused by lack of a billionaire strongman to rule us.

It's not just that this article is about "what I wish will come to pass"; it's about "I think the world is getting better and smarter", and I doubt that.

If we're super lucky, we'll get some kind of social transition like that of the 30s to the post-war period, where extreme wealth is viewed with some skepticism, but history does not suggest to me that we're going to be a radically more equal, "better" society. My bet in re green consumption is that the rhetoric will be around affordability rather than ethics - it's simply going to be too expensive for the hoi polloi to have most of the things we have now, but the very rich will still have access.
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on May 30 [11 favorites]


Industrial production of meat.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:54 AM on May 30 [16 favorites]


I could see abortion being looked back upon fifty years from now as a barbaric practice if (and this is a huge if), we figure out 100% effective and 100% reversible birth control that works for all people with minimal side-effects in that time period. Of course, a great deal of pro-life people are against people having sex without the goal of making babies anyway, but if we can all bang away, consensually, without worrying about accidentally making another human being, I think abortion will go by the wayside.

(That said, even if this happens, I am still 110% pro-choice.)
posted by SansPoint at 8:56 AM on May 30 [24 favorites]


I don't know how to prognosticate culture anymore. I thought we were ready to start Trans Acceptance 101 and maybe Intro to Socialism, but it turns out we have to do remedial courses in Nazis Are Bad and Women Are Not Livestock.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:57 AM on May 30 [156 favorites]


I am a bit skeptical of the validity of an answer like "No one will eat meat" when the author is the founder of "Beyond Carnism". A few MINOR flags there.

First - this is clearly a biased viewpoint from someone who has an axe to grind. We may well all be eating plant-based everything in 50 years but it won't be because of a scare piece authored by someone who wants us to equate a steak with images of kittens being ground up alive.

Second - she's promoting herself as a Harvard-educated PhD. Sure, her Masters is from Harvard, but her PhD is from an online college in California. I have nothing against an online acredited school per se, but it's shady to call yourself a Harvard-educated PhD when you know damn well the intent is to make me think that you earned your PhD at Harvard. My PhD diploma is on my office wall, and I don't try to fake where it's from. (It's from a big midwestern public U, not Harvard. I'm not ashamed of that.)

Third - "Carnism"? This is the sort of shit that creationists pull, the "ism" bit, treating it as an ideology (e.g. "Evolutionism") because they can't effectively argue against it on scientific grounds. And in this case, seriously, WTF. If you can't argue against meat eating on scientific grounds, you have no business advocating against it. I like a good steak, but I know damn well that raising beef is far more wasteful than raising soy. There are some hard truths there and it is EASY to argue from a sustainability stance that more of us should be eating less meat. But no, she goes straight for the "eating meat is oppression! Puppies boiled alive while fully conscious!" kind of hysterics. It undermines her authority, it weakens her argument significantly, and truly discredits the entire goal of the essay.

And that's the first and only one I read. I'm not interested in reading more, because I'm afraid I'll have to fact-check every damn one of them now, which is a shame as the whole idea of the FPP was intriguing to me. I love, love LOVE looking at the world and projecting forward, thinking stuff like "when my kid is a grown-up the idea of advocating against same-sex marriage will be as archaic to him as the concept of interracial marriage is to me - just something that's entirely normal but also a thing the parent's generation had to fight for". Sorry Vox, you blew it, and now I have lost interest.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:59 AM on May 30 [33 favorites]


Favoriting comments.
posted by gwint at 8:59 AM on May 30 [26 favorites]


The Aeon piece touches on it, but yeah, throwing away 6 litres of drinking water each time we take a dump is surely going to get some side-eye from our grandkids.

Personally, I’m also not looking forward to the “Grandpa, where did all the helium for MRI devices and Mag-Lev trains go?” conversation. “Oh, we just put it into colourful balloons and released them into the atmosphere. Sometimes we inhaled some of the helium first to make our voices go funny!”

Oh hey and mad props to the guy in the economist link who is like “the concept of baldness will be treated like slavery in 50 years time.” It’s not a bald spot, it’s a solar panel to power my insane hobby horse!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:00 AM on May 30 [25 favorites]


In fifty years, global warming will be sufficiently advanced that a new vertebrate species will become extinct just about every day. Children's books with animal characters, nature documentaries, wildlife photography, and any book about wilderness or wild animals will be thought deeply depressing. People won't be able to believe that we simultaneously idolized these animals and carried right on wiping them out.
posted by ckridge at 9:03 AM on May 30 [24 favorites]


A lot of these seem to think that social change happens way, way faster than has been my experience. 50 years isn't that long a time. 1969 was 50 years ago, it's not some unfathomably different time. When pressed for something that changed over the last 50 years, the first thing the article mentions is smoking, and I guess I think that the decline (not even eradication) of a single consumer product is a massively smaller deal than 2/3 of the things on the list.

I can see tackle football going the way of boxing, which is essentially equivalent to the example of smoking, or self-driving cars getting abandoned, but, like, expecting fundamental shifts in the way we relate to our jobs or social relationships isn't something I'd bet on over that kind of timespan.
posted by Copronymus at 9:04 AM on May 30 [11 favorites]


The rationality one seems pretty glib. "Oh, everything is so messy!" I don't understand being so seemingly eager to give up on rationality as a norm. Why would anyone give up industrial production of meat, or promote trans acceptance, or any other desireable goal of humanity, without reasons to do so?
posted by thelonius at 9:06 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Dear future people: if you are reading this, I am dead. Don't worry about vindicating my current beliefs. I'm sure you have your own problems.

FUTURE PEOPLE: I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention, our planet is literally on fire and drowning at the same time. Excuse me, I'm running late and I have to report back to President AmazonBot otherwise I'll be fined 35 Bezos credits and I can't afford that. Have a Prime Day!!
posted by Fizz at 9:06 AM on May 30 [19 favorites]



Personally, I’m also not looking forward to the “Grandpa, where did all the helium for MRI devices and Mag-Lev trains go?” conversation. “Oh, we just put it into colourful balloons and released them into the atmosphere. Sometimes we inhaled some of the helium first to make our voices go funny!”


If we can't luxury-gay-space-communism our way to drawing helium out of the air whenever our renewable power sources are glutted, I or my descendants will relieve ourselves over Newt Gingrich's grave for what he did.
posted by ocschwar at 9:07 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I predict that 50 years from now the practice of kicking my ass every single day and calling me a "stupid little shit boy with shit for brains" and then knocking my lunch in to the mud will seem completely barbaric.
posted by saladin at 9:07 AM on May 30 [15 favorites]


These questions are just a pretentious way to ask and answer, "What's something you don't like?

You just have to look at predictions from 50 years ago to see how silly this always is. They're always some variant of:

-It will be a utopia where all current social ills have been solved.

-It will be a nightmare hellscape where everything is terrible, if we're not all just dead.

-It will be exactly like now, but on the Moon.

When the reality is always that it's a mix of all 3 to varying degrees.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:08 AM on May 30 [24 favorites]


That abortion piece was a giant YIKES.

I get where it's coming from, but it doesn't address the lack of support we give to pregnant people or new parents, or children. It doesn't address the lack of comprehensive sex ed or access to birth control.

That's what's barbaric in our culture. Abortion can only be considered barbaric if it's truly a matter of selfishness instead of self-preservation.
posted by explosion at 9:08 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Publishing clickbait!
posted by glonous keming at 9:08 AM on May 30 [13 favorites]


What few predictions I can make are pretty low stakes.

I think we are maybe a generation away from people who think that Americans ignoring 70-ish% of the film and tv created in the entire world because it was subtitled will seem somewhere between awfully peculiar and pretty stupid.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:09 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I think we are maybe a generation away from people who think that Americans ignoring 70-ish% of the film and tv created in the entire world because it was subtitled will seem somewhere between awfully peculiar and pretty stupid.

You don't think AI tech will make subtitles obsolete?
posted by pwnguin at 9:10 AM on May 30


Also possible, yeah. But even without it, I just don't see Americans continuing to treat Every Single Film and TV Show Not Produced in English as a single genre.

Netflix and Amazon are chipping away at that pretty good.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:12 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I like to imagine that making single point predictions that are not tied into wider social, economic, and historical concerns will be seen as, if not barbaric, sort of silly.

Of course, the dumpster fire of social media will have destroyed the internet, so we’ll be hearing about it from the town crier.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:14 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


When the reality is always that it's a mix of all 3 to varying degrees.

INCREASE MOON QUOTIENT
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:14 AM on May 30 [19 favorites]


Personally, I’m also not looking forward to the “Grandpa, where did all the helium for MRI devices and Mag-Lev trains go?” conversation.

"Helium was cheap and plentiful for a while, so we designed a load of our devices to use open-cycle cooling because it was cheaper."


If we can't luxury-gay-space-communism our way to drawing helium out of the air whenever our renewable power sources are glutted, I or my descendants will relieve ourselves over Newt Gingrich's grave for what he did.

Helium tends to leave the atmosphere because of the whole lighter than air thing, so it looks like grave pissing is indeed going to be in order.
posted by Dysk at 9:15 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


What do we do now that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?

Criticise Donald Trump.

This prediction brought to you by somebody whose political consciousness was formed before the canonization of Ronald Reagan
posted by flabdablet at 9:15 AM on May 30 [21 favorites]


I do think eating meat is going to be a major one, though. That makes me uncomfortable, as a meat eater.

It’s unethical (given modern production techniques and any respect for animals as sentient beings), plus it’s really bad for the environment (i.e. really bad for all of us and our survival as a species), plus it’s also pretty bad for the people who actually do the eating.

When you compare that to a couple of phenomenon that went from “broadly acceptable” to “absolutely anathema” in the UK over my lifetime - smoking and drink-driving - things don’t look good for the meat industry.

Both of those behaviours are unhealthy for the person doing it and other people in their local environment, in that they increase the risk of death or some kind of injury for both parties. Whereas eating meat is comparably unhealthy for the person doing the eating, plus it (less directly) increases the risk of negative health outcomes for everyone in the world, and as a bonus every bite has inevitably involved the death of at least one animal.

Cultural shifts happen suddenly, and I think meat-eating is going to be subject to a big change in opinion at some point in the not-too-distant future.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:23 AM on May 30 [24 favorites]


Another state just abolished the death penalty today.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:24 AM on May 30 [10 favorites]


They used to teach virtually everyone to read. What was that about?
posted by biffa at 9:25 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


I would say "People choosing not to vaccinate their children" would be incomprehensible in 50 years, but that was incomprehensible 25 years ago and now... well... here we are.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:27 AM on May 30 [19 favorites]


I would like to see restrictions on people's ability to relocate and work become unthinkable, but I'm not counting on it.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:32 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


There are so many ways we continue to mistreat human beings that are maybe not “socially acceptable” but are tolerated because they are out of sight (e.g., the use of child labor for picking tobacco is legal in the United States despite serious health risks) that I find it hard to choose any one thing relating to our fellow humans.

Aside from that, I’d say zoos (at least as currently operated).
posted by sallybrown at 9:36 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Using an archaic mishmash of weights and measures derived from such useful standards as the distance from King Henry I's nose to the thumb of his outstretched arm? Oh wait, that's already happened everywhere except Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.
posted by oulipian at 9:36 AM on May 30 [9 favorites]


People in 50 years aren’t going to believe we used to have cheap, available commercial air flight.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 AM on May 30 [17 favorites]


That depends on cockroaches' capacity for abstract thought.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:38 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


They used to teach virtually everyone to read. What was that about?

This is a good point.

I think it’s interesting that - even as we reject the Whig view of progress and shy away from the idea that everything will get better, a chicken in every pot and a Tesla in every driveway - we still naively imagine our descendants will be smarter and wiser than us, able to look back and see the foolishness of burning all the oil and cutting down the jungles.

What if their answer is something more like “Woah, I can’t believe they used to let newspapers criticise the Government back then, no wonder their political system was so inefficient and could never achieve anything. Can you think of anything stupider than having more than one Party?”
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:38 AM on May 30 [9 favorites]


In 50 years?
Who were these "hyoo-menz" you speak of?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:38 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Like, is there a....tendency...toward equality? Toward democracy?

I don't predict the future, but I do like learning about the past -- and the history of the 19th and 20th centuries show how one can go from democracy into authoritarianism and fascism. It's not a linear development.

I could see abortion being looked back upon fifty years from now as a barbaric practice if (and this is a huge if), we figure out 100% effective and 100% reversible birth control that works for all people with minimal side-effects in that time period.

I keep wondering what will happen when we have safe, effective artificial wombs. What if you could remove the fetus, and also let it live? That will change the whole question, because it won't be a matter then of a woman's bodily autonomy. But another reason I've been thinking about it is that I recently had a miscarriage at a point in the pregnancy when many abortions happen (10 weeks development) - and I keep thinking that maybe if I'd had an artificial womb, where it could be watched, the fetus might have survived. Also, I would have been much, much less sick.

So yeah, maybe in 50 years, we'll just think that forcing a woman to bear a child in her uterus (unless she wants to) is barbaric, because we'll have an alternative.
posted by jb at 9:40 AM on May 30 [16 favorites]


Hopefully not having your own personal jetpack will be unthinkable 50 years from now...
posted by jim in austin at 9:40 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Whoof, I certainly have Some Thoughts about saying self-driving cars are an idea we'll find unthinkable in 50 years because...we need to give human beings absolute authority over each other to retain the social order?
posted by capricorn at 9:41 AM on May 30


I suspect if you asked 15 people with family members currently in US prisons, you'd get a much more consistent set of answers. But, most of them don't have a recent book out on the subject.
posted by eotvos at 9:42 AM on May 30 [13 favorites]


That being said tackle football is already on its way out, a reasonable enough push for not telling teens play it could topple the whole thing
posted by The Whelk at 9:43 AM on May 30


Drive.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:43 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Circuses, at least in the classic Ringling Brothers sense, will be unimaginable.

That one is a gimme, as we are well on the way there.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:44 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


You could also guess at this by considering which science questions are well-funded but not yet answered, and where they might lead. For example, cancer research could lead to a reduction or prohibition of certain behaviors or substances. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see another anti-alcohol movement, not that it worked the first time.)
posted by sallybrown at 9:47 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Why do we keep clicking on clickbaiting listicles?

It will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now.
posted by belarius at 10:04 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


I think people starving to death in a world of plenty might get a mention.
posted by night_train at 10:13 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


I don't predict the future, but I do like learning about the past -- and the history of the 19th and 20th centuries show how one can go from democracy into authoritarianism and fascism. It's not a linear development.

But I think you can say that there has been a strong rhetoric in favor of broadening the franchise and a strong rhetoric about expanding individual rights, and it's possible to argue that this rhetoric, while not unopposed, has mostly been pretty dominant. (Note that a rhetoric isn't the same as "this is how things work"). You could say that there's a steady push to expand the franchise that is justified by appeals to Englightenment reasoning - all people should be formally equal under the law. This push isn't always successful (the failure of Reconstruction, most notably) and it's not always successful on the ground (ie, voter suppression) but there's been a powerful mainstream argument that more people should be able to vote and they should be able to vote more - you see this with the increase in groups legally able to vote, right down through the lowering of the voting age. You also see an idea that the government should get out of people's bedrooms - legalization of homosexuality, stopping prosecutions for porn and sex toys, etc.

My point isn't "oh look at the utopia that this brought, everyone thinks correctly now" (because that's obviously untrue) but that this is very different from a powerful mainstream understanding that most people shouldn't vote, or that democracy is dangerous because of the mob, or that the best government is unelected technocrats. People definitely think these things, or they think lightly disguised versions of them, but those arguments have not, in the 20th century, had the popular force that the expansion of the franchise has had.

I think it matters whether the average person believes that average people should be able to vote, or whether the average person thinks that only very few people should be able to vote. I think it matters whether the average person believes that whole categories of people are unfit to vote, regardless of whether that person tacitly accepts that a lot of people don't get to vote. We live in a messed up society now, but people in general think that they individually should have at least some say in big social decisions, and that one person's vote should be as good as another's. This is by no means a set of universal, transhistorical assumpetions.

It's just like - even in a shitty, bigoted society, we're better off when everyone assumes that Nazis are bad. Having to argue against the Holocaust is worse than living in a society where everyone agrees that the Holocaust was a terrible evil. Having to argue that women should be able to vote and own property is worse than living in a society where it's assumed that women can vote and own property.

What I fear is that we're moving into a phase when people basically accept that rule by billionaires isn't some kind of unjust thing that should be counteracted by popular votes but just the natural course of events. There's far more explicitly anti-democratic rhetoric now than there was when I was growing up, and I think it is because the social/economic conditions that underpinned earlier "expand the franchise" rhetoric have changed such that we're moving in a really regressive direction.
posted by Frowner at 10:19 AM on May 30 [10 favorites]


I would watch a FUCKTON more non-Anglophone/Francophone TV and movies if it was dubbed instead of (poorly) subtitled. We haven't all got 20/20 vision and the ability to focus on two simultaneous visual inputs.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:22 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Celebrating Halloween in shorts last year seemed to highlight the strong likelihood that the traditions and iconography of a number of central US and European holidays are going to become increasingly archaic, absurd, and, for older people, melancholy-inducing. As sharp seasonal variations start to vanish in the places that have them, it seems likely that they'll increasingly cease to exercise their ancient cultural influences.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:25 AM on May 30 [10 favorites]


'CTRL-Z'
posted by notyou at 10:25 AM on May 30


I know maybe I'm goofy for thinking this, but having watched SpaceX and other private companies take over space transport in the US, it makes me think that the On The Moon-style predictions could maybe be true. We could argue over the viability of routine space travel all day and night, but it looks like it's within the realm of possibility, given that kooky billionaires are building their own rockets today (ICBM delivery mechanisms too, if you really wanna get into it).

I think that could radically change a few things.
- It makes things like global internet satellites free of ground infrastructure, and thereby national government control, very feasible.
- It means specific religious & cultural lifestyles will start taking a serious look at Our Beliefs But In Space, which could have a very interesting effect on some traditions (including, I would think, views on abortion - if the Mormons colonize an asteroid, they'll hit peak carrying capacity real quick).
- If private individuals can build and fire ICBM's, that's going to radically redefine the role of the state and global arms control organizations. Jeff Bezos can blow your city up now, all he needs is a warhead.
- If Panning for Gold on Mars, or other space resource exploitation, becomes the hot new industry where people strike it rich overnight, we're going to have to incentivize talented working-age people to stay earthbound, especially if women's education continues to drive down global birth rates (China I'm looking at you). Social welfare, stability, leisure, and outright special treatment could become political values for the "stay home/come back home" factions (again, China I'm looking at you). Republicans & far-right Nazi remix politics are maybe a self-correcting problem if people can just leave the planet.
- I don't think commercial aviation that burns hydrocarbon is going away while rockets burn kerosene and things like it. I think we might get some rocket-based continental hops to replace some long-haul flights, and I think they'll electrify as many of the flight routes as they can, but until they can electrify rockets, we ain't gonna stop burning dinosaurs, and rocket takeoffs could become a source of pollution that rivals or replaces the aviation industry now. I am aware that some of the more advanced rockets burn liquid oxygen or other non-petroleum fuels, but pretend you're, say, Myanmar. You're burning kerosene, at least the first few times.

Billionaires with their own rockets is kind of a game changer, and I really don't think the US or any other country will put the brakes on as long as China, Russia, and other scary-seeming countries are running full steam ahead with state-sponsored space programs. One way or another, it's coming, the climate be damned, and 50 years feels like about the right timeline to see the effects of it.
posted by saysthis at 10:37 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I find some of these claims pretty questionable. In many cases there's no obvious causative factor that would drive the change. They seem like wish-fulfillment fantasies.

E.g. "people will stop the habit of conspicuous consumption." I'll open up a Long Bet on this one for any sufficiently broad definition of "conspicuous consumption". There is no way that people are going to stop doing this in 50 years, or probably 500 years, given that we've been doing it for thousands and there's no obvious reason that would cause it to change now. Oh, sure, we're starting to become resource-constrained. But do you really think that we're more resource-constrained than the Romans? Than indigenous societies in the Pacific Northwest? Than people in the Early Medieval Period? C'mon, there's no way. And in all of those cases we can see 'conspicuous consumption' in various forms.

The abortion thing is also obviously a wish-fulfullment fantasy, only from someone who probably gets off to The Handmaid's Tale. Ugh.

The observation "that our volunteer army will be widely considered a mistake" is at least... possible. I mean, I can see that; there are historical parallels that suggest having a highly-professionalized and politically powerful military, which considers itself distinct and holds itself apart from the greater populace, can be dangerous. I don't know if that level of introspection is likely in the next 50 years, but I can at least accept the premise.

One that I do tend to agree with is eating meat. Yes, humans have been eating meat for a long time. I don't expect it to go away completely. But could it become outré within a certain segment of American society, maybe even the majority? I think so. Tastes in food are subject to rather sudden changes (witness margarine's rise and fall, or even Prohibition), both bottom-up and top-down. And I think many people are intrinsically uncomfortable with eating meat—if they weren't, it wouldn't be produced in secret, in slaughterhouses where cameras are forbidden, lest consumers see what goes on in there. When someone develops a meat substitute that offers the same taste, culinary utility, and roughly the same nutrition as meat... there's not a lot of reason for people to keep eating (non-artisanal) meat. It'll probably become a political/social football as the meat-packing companies start to feel threatened and push back with their own PR, though. (Whether society will have evolved far enough for their ad campaign to not be a veiled suggestion that artificial meat makes you gay or effeminate is my question.)

Anyway, the difference is that there's a causative factor—artificial plant-based meat—on the horizon that could lead to a change in a long-established behavior. But behaviors tend not to change absent some reason, and some of the items on the list don't seem to have much of an exogenous factor to force or at least catalyze change.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:40 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the two big ones are eating meat and driving cars.

When someone comes up with a vegan meat substitute that pleases and nourishes meat-eaters and costs significantly less than meat, meat is murdered. I'm betting it starts to happen in a lot less than 50 years, and kids will be amazed and disgusted by the stuff people eat now.

Likewise, as soon as self-driving cars are safer (but faster and easier and more fun) than human-driven cars, manually driven cars will be doomed. That's also coming a lot sooner than 50 years from now, and kids will be amazed that we used to let the average idiot manually pilot cars past crowds of pedestrians.
posted by pracowity at 10:44 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the two big ones are eating meat and driving cars.

I think it is likely that meat prices will rise over the next 50 years and meat eating will become rare, holidays, special occasions, once a year treats for people with high incomes. But we'll still be eating meat, probably for the rest of humanities' existence.
posted by dis_integration at 10:50 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


I'm surprised that the edge.org didn't have this as one of their annual big questions.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:50 AM on May 30


I firmly believe that we are the last generation to have to commute to work. In 50 years, that will be seen as dated as riding a horse to work.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 10:50 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Driving cars is the most dangerous thing than any of us regularly does. It's right up there with smoking. We're going to eventually look at the privately owned and operated automobile as an unthinkable relic of the past.

I think this is true whether or not self-driving cars become a thing.
posted by painquale at 11:01 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I think you need to distinguish between mass-market meat, the stuff produced on feedlots and industrial slaughterhouses populated by not-quite-slave labor, and which basically everyone—notably except the companies directly involved in its production—regards as a bad idea (but is tolerated because this is America and paying $2 extra for a hamburger is basically Stalinism), versus artisanal/traditional meats which are part of a longstanding culinary tradition.

Industrially produced meats are ahistorical. They're not really part of a food tradition; they're products of economies of scale and the peculiarities of civilization in the age of cheap fossil fuel. There's a lot of assumptions underlying the industry; change any of those assumptions and the industry changes or goes away.

I definitely agree that people will still eat dead-animal meat. I mean, there are people today who eat foie gras and wear fur, although neither are really mainstream anymore. That's still a win, and a big change from meat as the dominant, almost default protein source.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:04 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


When someone develops a meat substitute that offers the same taste, culinary utility, and roughly the same nutrition as meat... there's not a lot of reason for people to keep eating (non-artisanal) meat.
...
there's a causative factor—artificial plant-based meat—on the horizon that could lead to a change in a long-established behavior.


I'll be first in line to quit eating things with feet and heads yo. I've been meaning to go veggie again, but damn that's a lot of homework. It's hard to beat frozen chicken breasts for convenient, nutritious, affordable, and available protein delivery, but I hope I can retire eating something else.
posted by saysthis at 11:04 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Send the rich folks to the Moon! I like it.

Yeah, I predict commuting to a job will keep going out as fewer and fewer of us have jobs to commute to.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:05 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure which ones it will be, but pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness are so poorly understood that some of them are going to eventually look as barbaric as lobotomies.
posted by painquale at 11:06 AM on May 30 [11 favorites]


I firmly believe that we are the last generation to have to commute to work. In 50 years, that will be seen as dated as riding a horse to work.

I sometimes have to drive in to the c. 1980 vintage office park where I work, and on those days it seems like even more of a sad, increasingly threadbare theme park of terrible 20th century ideas than it does on the majority of days, when I take the train.

I try not to think too much about it, since it's depressing enough to be at work already.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:06 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


I mean get me in the right mood and I’d think in 50 years not dying from common infections will be unthinkable
posted by The Whelk at 11:13 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


The Underpants Monster Send the rich folks to the Moon! I like it.

I have a better idea. Well, it's actually Douglas Adams's idea: We put all the rich on the "B" Ark.
posted by SansPoint at 11:16 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


- living on dry land
- snow
- breathing oxygen prolly
posted by poffin boffin at 11:16 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I mean, there are people today who eat foie gras and wear fur, although neither are really mainstream anymore. That's still a win

Foie gras is a decently ethical meat to eat in the US if you're going to eat meat. Because it's a luxury item that bruises easily, and because all producers in the US are so scrutinized, you can be assured that the birds are free range and are killed relatively painlessly. Gavage doesn't hurt the birds and the engorged liver isn't as distressing to the animals as, say, the whole-body engorgement you see on birds raised for breast meat.
posted by painquale at 11:19 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


We're going to eventually look at the privately owned and operated automobile as an unthinkable relic of the past.

I don't know. People still ride horses -- they're just no longer a principal mode of transport. I think that's where cars are going. The everyday use, the building of communities around their use, gridlock etc -- that's hopefully going the way of the dodo. But I wouldn't bet against the 153rd running of the Indy 500.
posted by philip-random at 11:20 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Bosses will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now. Workplaces will look totally different in the future.

Hell yeah.

The meat-eating question is really, as mentioned above, a result of specific ahistorical circumstances that aren't sustainable at all, but I do think animals will probably always have a place in our food production system because they can be pastured in areas that aren't suited to grain/plant agriculture. In fact, as climate change remakes our existing arable land, and weather patterns become less regular & predictable, we may end up with less available space on which to grow annual vegetable crops. I don't think this will result in a continuation of our factory farming system, but I think we probably won't be able to grow enough rice & beans on shrinking farmland. Also, some quantity of grazing animals are necessary to prevent pure annual crop agriculture from stripping all nutrients out of the soil, especially if/when we stop using fossil-fuel-based fertilizers.

I don't know, we'll probably all end up eating those GMO grubs from Blade Runner 2049.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:20 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


I definitely agree that people will still eat dead-animal meat. I mean, there are people today who eat foie gras and wear fur, although neither are really mainstream anymore. That's still a win, and a big change from meat as the dominant, almost default protein source.

If a large majority of society has turned against the consumption of meat then it starts to become increasingly likely that it would eventually become outlawed for cruelty or deemed so outside the norm that occasional consumption would seem abhorrent. I have my doubts that will happen within 50 years and in some countries may not happen at all, but eventually it certainly could in some places over time if trends move that way.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:24 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


 “Grandpa, where did all the helium for MRI devices and Mag-Lev trains go?” 

"Grandpa, why didn't everybody in the beforetime travel by helium blimp?"

"Well, we didn't have industrial fusion or Jovian ramscoops at the time, so helium was relatively expensive. Now get back to your assigned task before Google Oversight docks your so-cred score."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:28 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I firmly believe that we are the last generation to have to commute to work.

We're also only about the 9th generation to commute; the word didn't exist until the 1840s.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:34 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Wow, yeah, after reading that carnism essay, well. I don't know what to say. The author is literally trying to redpill us into going vegan? I would think that metaphor had a little too much negative baggage at this point.

"The power of the $4.6 trillion global carnistic industry is unprecedented, which is why animal agriculture has largely been absent from discussions about mitigating climate change, even though it is a leading culprit."

Really? Literally every liberal media outlet pats itself on the back for publishing articles explaining that individual consumer lifestyle choices like vegan/vegetarian diets are the One Weird Trick to solve climate change. Meanwhile, industries pump out more carbon than ever, and I never see articles calling for these CEOS and 1%s to make the individual choice to stop polluting, accept lower profits, or give up their private planes. I've been both a vegetarian and a "carnist." I agree the scale of animal agriculture needs to be reduced, but I'm extremely skeptical of the argument that the tiny reductions in individual carbon footprint we can attain through atomized consumer choice can add up to much as long as billionaires are flying to Bermuda for abalone sandwiches. If the effect of your climate change solution depends on "if everybody just," that's a non-starter. Because everybody isn't going to "just," and we don't have time to try bailing out this boat one teaspoon at a time.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:38 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


we'll probably all end up eating those GMO grubs
I've never understood the argument for this. Insects don't photosynthesize, so you have the same thermodynamic argument against farming them as against other meat, and at least cows are converting the plant matter into steak.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 11:50 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I bet that, in 50 years, we will still be using the floppy disk and the handset icon for “save” and “call,” and hardly anyone will know why. They also won’t care when you tell them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:52 AM on May 30 [27 favorites]


>> Also heads up that one of the answers in the first link is "Abortion: It will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now. The moral case against abortion." so...just a word of caution, yuck.

> Ah yes, they consulted an "expert" English Professor from Liberty University on the merits of abortion. Didn't know Vox shipped enlightened centrism. Gross.


I'm embarrassed to confess that I saw the author's name for that piece and wondered if it was a performative trolling piece. Yes, it's dumb and shallow of me, but... a piece about avoiding abortion, by "Karen Swallow Prior", really?
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:56 AM on May 30 [16 favorites]


Wow, this brings up a lot of resentment about my childhood in the early 70s. I hated, hated a lot of things that are verboten today, like taking the public bus alone at age 7 and being forced to play with bullies.
posted by Melismata at 11:57 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I think people starving to death in a world of plenty might get a mention.

Only because it will have been replaced by the much more fashionable "people starving to death in a world of famine"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:09 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Just 100 or so yrs ago the world was so much more "on fire" than it is now (in a tangible way) and just 25 years after that we dropped the bomb. have we ended war? no, we've just refined it so much that it doesn't even make the nightly news any more (and for that matter we don't even have the nightly news any more).

None of these things will go away, they'll just become background noise to the pressing immediate problems of any given day.

Maybe we'll wonder why we wasted so much water keeping golf courses green, or wished we'd saved New Orleans. perhaps medicine will have advanced beyond putting metal plates, rods and posts in people's bones (in favor of better materials), and maybe there wont be root canals any more, but most of those things on the list....not likely
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:14 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Wow, nobody mentioned drinking tap water? At least among the more well-off groups and people.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:14 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


I read it as "What do we do now that was unthinkable 50 years ago" which would be an interesting topic, and one that could benefit from actual experts in their fields
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:25 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


From the abortion one: we will look back at elective abortion and wonder ... why we so wholeheartedly embraced it.

"wholeheartedly embraced it"? This seems to me like the fundamental misunderstanding that many anti-abortion activists have -- that the pro-choice side just loves abortions, woo hoo, we can't get enough of them, free abortions on demand 24/7, let's go party then get an abortion, yeah!
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:25 PM on May 30 [9 favorites]


I predict that 50 years from now the practice of kicking my ass every single day and calling me a "stupid little shit boy with shit for brains" and then knocking my lunch in to the mud will seem completely barbaric.
That was my way of life in my chidhood 50 years ago, so I am not expecting it to go out of style as long as there are human beings.

On the abortion front, I was an extraordinarily difficult pregnancy for my mother in the 1950s, and if abortion had been allowed and acceptable back then, I would not and SHOULD not be here today. Then again, there was a high likelihood that my parents would have been able to have other children who would have made far better contributions to humanity. So I have long been enthusiastically pro-abortion and am especially proud that I have not personally contributed to any future generation of humans.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:55 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


This is all moot. In 50 years time my grandchild will be The Humungus. The Lord Humungus. The Warrior of The Wasteland. The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah.

Make your preparations...
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 1:19 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Make your preparations...

I'm stocking up on guzzaline.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:25 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


People still ride horses -- they're just no longer a principal mode of transport. I think that's where cars are going.

Yeah, not really a mode of transport at all. Just a sport for those who can afford it. And not on public highways.

Though if (when, I think, and soon) they work the bugs out of self-driving cars, you're going to see people using their cars as mobile offices and extra bedrooms, liminal spaces between work and home. Then all predictions about no more cars and no more commuting are out the window: you'll see more cars and longer commutes.
posted by pracowity at 1:25 PM on May 30


I expect to see you in your car by 8am sharp, Johnson!
posted by lucidium at 1:32 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Living in Miami.
posted by Automocar at 1:41 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Wow, nobody mentioned drinking tap water? At least among the more well-off groups and people.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:14 AM on May 31 [1 favorite +] [!]


For legit have you seen tap-attached filters these days? The heez is real. Tap water is not in question, PUBLIC water filtration and attention to it, also feckin pipes themselves in a world of biogas and Youtube-able no-flow public compost toilet designs you can build for $50? Now those are questions.
posted by saysthis at 1:50 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I mean the truth is that tens of thousands of real live babies were abandoned at foundling hospitals to die of neglect for hundreds of years in Europe and I don't think most people think about that much at all.
posted by bq at 1:55 PM on May 30 [12 favorites]


On the abortion front, I was an extraordinarily difficult pregnancy for my mother in the 1950s, and if abortion had been allowed and acceptable back then, I would not and SHOULD not be here today.

Same here, except a few decades later when abortion was a legitimate option but my mother decided not to take it even though it impacted her health (and mine) for the rest of our lives. It took a long time for me to make peace with that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:56 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


"Auntie, people didn't really dump CO2 into the atmosphere without paying for it, not really? Not everybody's atmosphere? Not you?

But what did kids live on, if they didn't get an atmosphere payment?"
posted by clew at 2:06 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Also speaking of water (I'll shut up soon but gimme this one last soapbox), I live in a fully electrified hutong house in downtown Beijing, look up "hutong" if you don't know. Heating, cooking, showers, my tap water filter, and my non-filtered tap temperature faucet (I have two), all of it electric. My tap filter takes changing every few months. My shower is half solar-powered. My radiators in the winter are giant boxes of rocks bolted to the wall that work like sauna stones, there's a Tesla-charger thick-ass wire special for those. This house is 300 years old. My kitchen is a flimsy shed of chicken wire and glass strapped to the outside of my house as an afterthought. I have a propane tank it costs $50 to fill I have to get swapped out if I want to use actual fire to cook, instead of the 2-3 hotplates I own that I randomly plug in if I'm actually cooking multiple things. I own a microwave and a $150 toaster oven (gets up to 230C, normal cooks don't need much more, that's 430F+) that migrate with me.

Sooner or later you're all gonna be in this universe. You will be electrified. It's not terrible, but it takes some adjusting. My appliances are pretty much all 10 years old, I'm renting, but they have LED displays and are timer-controlled, thank god not wifi-enabled. Shut doors and insulation are real and definitely a thing my landlords get a tax break for. Yay for subsidized power costs in my hood.

This is gonna take less than 50 years, but it's probably happening to each and every one of you. Y'all is gonna get electrified. Cling ye not to old non-electrical appliances, because that mess IS barbaric.

I think it's guaranteed that in your retirement, or your children if you're past the age of looking forward to it, will be using the appliances I'm using in 50 years. Internet of Things is stupid, we all know it, stuff will be enabled for that but we'll probably be turning most of the functions off/setting timers over the internet that we'd set over LED controls anyway. Electrification is the business you should be looking at. There is going to be new wiring involved, but probably not a lot of new housing stock. It's not bad, but getting used to it NOW will definitely help, because the tech was here 10 years ago.

When the power goes out... I don't think abut that. (: Kitties will be here in 50 years and they don't require electricity.
posted by saysthis at 2:27 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


your retirement

Your what? I’m sorry I don’t think we have this word in the future? You mean unemployed right?
posted by The Whelk at 2:55 PM on May 30 [9 favorites]


it's when you unemploy yourself to await death free of encumbrances
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:07 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Heating, cooking, showers, my tap water filter, and my non-filtered tap temperature faucet (I have two), all of it electric.

The house I grew up in (the '80s) was all electric. Water heater/AC, stove, everything. That's pretty common for middle class homes in the US.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:08 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I love the idea of not commuting, but as someone whose job involves dicking around on a computer, this really only works if you’re in the privileged group whose job consists of dicking around on a computer. Nurses, barbers, food service, lawn care, utility workers, teachers ... they get to commute till we start designing perfect little walkable self contained communities, which the US most definitely Does Not Do.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:57 PM on May 30 [10 favorites]


That's pretty common for middle class homes in the US.

Depends on the part of the country you live in. Here is Southern California gas is way cheaper so we use it for everything. Hell, my uncle even has a propane refrigerator for some reason.
posted by sideshow at 4:28 PM on May 30


I'm just hoping sex-segregated bathrooms will be seen as the quaint waste of plumbing that they are. That one might happen, because having a single bathroom is actually cheaper.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:49 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]


you're going to see people using their cars as mobile offices and extra bedrooms

Electric cars just driving around all night, people inside asleep
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:06 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Weird. I just got this thing in my MeMail that appears as though it was sent from me to me. I figure it's probably a prank of some kind, but I'll share it just in case. Here it is:

Dear the past,

How are you? I'm well. I recently read a meme thread on the New York Times that one of those retrospective "this is what people in the past thought the future would look like" pieces, and it inspired me to write. I need some kind of test message for my quantum information time travel project, so this is as good as any I suppose. I don't know why I'm bothering; I really doubt this is going to work. Eight years into my Ph.D. and I still have nothing, and some of the folks I started grad school with are already getting ready to defend soon. My History of Internet committee member insists there's at least one website with the necessary continuity of databases for backpropagating entanglement to remain coherent going back at least 50 years, but I'm starting to doubt it. I wish she could just tell me but I've had to remain blinded to avoid destroying the coherent state.

But enough about me. In the unlikely event that this actually works, I guess, hi, quantum information time travel is possible. Since no one now already knows this, that means that even if you are reading this, you don't believe me. Maybe you think it's some kind of dumb sci-fi story telling conceit. That's okay, though, if you did believe me that would probably ruin the coherent communication channel by itself so you wouldn't have received the message. We still have sci-fi in the future, by the way, but now we call it "marvel" and it isn't very good.

Anyway, reading that meme thread was pretty entertaining. Some of the stuff was actually pretty prescient, but man some people just had no idea. If I go into detail that will probably ruin the coherence of the information channel, though I estimate about a 65% chance that the transfer stream will only be locally degraded if I give to much detail. Maybe I should test that just in case the transfer goes through. I just checked, and it looks like the 2020 World Cup was won by łgǪcr4*ŭexđ. Assuming that worked without degradation and didn't cause the whole stream to decohere, some of you could get pretty rich off of that. You're welcome.

This is probably a dumb idea for the success of the experiment, but whatever, it's not going to work anyway. Here's a few other things you should know about the future.

It's hotter, obviously. Like, not crazy hot all the time or anything, but the average global temperature has kept going up. But I'm not saying anything here you don't already know. If my math is right, anyway, you should be reading this about fifty years ago. (What is the right tense here? You were reading this? You will have been reading this? You were have will read it? Whatever.) So the word is pretty much out on what the next fifty years will look like for you anyway, and me telling you this shouldn't run much risk of decoherence from causal loops. Global warming has been pretty bad and it's getting worse, but civilization hasn't ended or anything. At least not everywhere. We still have people who pretend like nothing is changing and it's all a hoax, if you can believe that. The good news is we've actually managed to come up with solutions for some of the worst-case scenarios. The bad news is the inertia built up in the atmosphereconomic system was already pretty big by the time we did. Lots of us here in the future are pretty pissed about you folks in the past dragging your feet on this, but I'm not. By 50 years ago there wasn't much left you could have done to stop global warming entirely, and personally I admire the hard work you're starting to do to seriously address the problem. My family would probably not have made it through the big hurricanes if they'd been any worse, and you're the time that did the most to keep us off that course. But still, you all really need to stop with the fossil carbon like yesterday.

Aside from that, it's more similar to your time than you might think. Some of the struggles with social justice that you're working on now have really paid off, while others, well, we're still struggling. The wealth that our society produces is still disproportionately controlled by a small number of people, though you might be surprised at how different that group looks now than it did during your time. They look different, but they behave much the same. We still work jobs, though our relationships with our employers is a little different than you'd recognize. Cat memes are still popular.

There are a few big differences though. If you're American, I have to admit it's hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to be so confident in the central importance of your country over all others. Also, if you don't already know it, start learning Spanish, for god's sake. It's weird how many of you are monolingual. Oh, and this goes for all of you, not just the Americans. Your voting rules are barbaric, you need to fix them.

Well, that's enough procrastination from my real work. If you're actually reading this, I guess maybe I'll be graduating after all within another couple of years. If not, well, the procrastination probably doesn't matter anyway, I'll be here forever.

Regards,
ßk92öq2ívascr
posted by biogeo at 5:10 PM on May 30 [20 favorites]


Uh, the typos were all in the original message in my inbox. I'm not responsible for them...
posted by biogeo at 5:20 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Just flashed on the idea of self driving cars as mobile coffin hotel units 😨
posted by supermedusa at 5:33 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


cat memes are still popular
posted by supermedusa at 5:38 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


I don't think it was inevitable that slavery in the US would have disappeared when it did - churches on both sides were firmly of the belief that their interpretation of the Bible was correct. History written by the victors and all that. Some others say it was industrialization, the new economy with fossil fuels and machines multiplying labor output by 1000 times, replacing the old economy, which relied on obtaining free human slave labor for profit.

Meat eating and fossil fuels will almost certainly go the same way. There will be moral arguments for both sides, each camp firmly of the belief they are correct. Solar / wind / energy storage will become cheaper than fossil fuels at some point, and then that generation will go, wow it's unthinkable that people 50 years ago burned coal, just like how the industrial economy is 100x more productive than a slave economy and now we wonder how people 100s of years ago owned slaves. People choose self interest.

I don't think artificial meat will just be more ethical than real meat. It will be much cheaper to produce. And more importantly, it will be tastier. You are limited in how you tweak flavor and mouthfeel and texture and taste and fat, perhaps with some intensive genetic engineering of beef steaks (we have Wagyu, etc). But imagine the food industry - pouring billions of dollars into researching exactly what makes their potato chips so compelling, as the literal engine of their profit - and that industry now with control at the molecular component level of artificial meats - they would even find a way to cancel out the cancer risk of eating red meat.

I expect that in 50 years people will look sadly upon us, we who had to eat "real" meat with all its imperfections, sort of like how today we transplant poorly matched organs from other humans with all the issues of organ rejection, anti immune drugs, and they only last a number of years before yo need to transplant another one, compared to some hypothetical future where we just grow a perfectly new organ using your own stem cells.
posted by xdvesper at 6:13 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


That’s a good one - I hope one day people consider it ludicrous that anyone died waiting for an organ transplant.
posted by sallybrown at 6:15 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Heating, cooking, showers, my tap water filter, and my non-filtered tap temperature faucet (I have two), all of it electric.

The house I grew up in (the '80s) was all electric. Water heater/AC, stove, everything. That's pretty common for middle class homes in the US.


I live in a total electric 'Home of the Future' with gad-awful ceiling heat. In this climate, either solar or wind power could produce all the electric we'd ever need, even at the current inefficient conversion rates. I think these folks are well on track in predicting that we still won't be producing clean power with no messy hidden costs of production.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:53 PM on May 30


having watched SpaceX and other private companies take over space transport in the US, it makes me think that the On The Moon-style predictions could maybe be true.

Even that Nazi moon-base?
posted by flabdablet at 10:12 PM on May 30


It's true about globalization, and that more people are multi-cultural. But it's a human to need to feel good and feel like they belong to a tribe, whether it's based on nationality, skin color, etc. I hope descrimination will stop one day, but it's highly unlikely.
posted by ddra90n at 10:58 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


inhumanities' existence

FTFY
posted by filtergik at 5:12 AM on May 31


I’ve been going through my old Dr. Demento tapes, and just listened to “The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun.” That was one of his most popular songs, always on the top ten lists. Ah well. Kids today would be like “this is just a straightforward description of a school shooting, wha?”
posted by Melismata at 6:11 AM on May 31 [5 favorites]


But it's a human to need to feel good and feel like they belong to a tribe, whether it's based on nationality, skin color, etc.

isn't this where sports franchises, favorite bands etc come in?

I don't know if it's true but I do recall hearing that one of the reasons that football (aka soccer) became so huge in South America, is that way back when the Christian missionary types encouraged competition between small towns as means to get over their need to go raiding each other on an all too regular basis.
posted by philip-random at 7:36 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


The "all-electric house" was a Big Deal in the US starting in the 1960s. You know, back when we thought electricity was going to be Too Cheap To Meter™ because every town would have a plutonium breeder reactor cranking out electricity and maybe also bomb fuel.

Anyway, it turns out that, while electric houses are cheap to build, they are not cheap to own. Electricity is a stupendously expensive way to purchase energy, particularly bulk thermal energy.

About the only thing going for it is you can more easily substitute different fuels, but in countries where there's one dominant fossil fuel being used for power production this isn't really that much of a win. In the US that was coal and is now increasingly natural gas. Maybe in 50 years we'll all be on renewables, I mean one would hope, but I suspect we'll still be burning a lot of gas for power production. Also, you can input-switch a municipal gas system; historically we've gone from "producer gas" (coal gas, aka carbon monoxide mostly) to "natural gas" (methane mostly) and with some small tweaks to appliances nobody cared except for noting the new lower price. You could switch to biogas/syngas the same way.

If you have the option of having the gas piped to you and burning it in a high-efficiency appliance, like a 95+% efficiency furnace or water heater, the net efficiency is almost certainly higher than having the power company burn it, make electricity, transmit the electricity to you, and then run it through resistive coils. (A refrigerant-cycle system, like a heat pump or some of the newer heat-pump water heaters, are probably legitimately advantageous, though. They're using the electricity to move heat around, not just "burning" the electricity, so assuming you have a good heat sink/source they're great.)

The efficiency argument might not be a net win if you include the impact of installing all the pipes to new-construction dwellings, but TBH in a rational world we wouldn't be doing that much greenfields housing construction anyway, we'd be increasing density in places that already have gas lines and have had them for a century. So, assuming the gas lines are there, and we're burning natural gas as the dominant energy source anyway, you might as well use it, right up until you get really efficient appliances—again, heat pumps basically—that actually do stuff with electricity that you can't do with gas.

But running electricity through resistive coils probably ought to be illegal (along with operating any furnace or water heater that's under 95% efficient) if other options exist.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:09 AM on May 31 [3 favorites]


This is a derail, but: I have solar panels and geothermal heating, and in that configuration all-electric is very sustainable.
In my city apartment I have just today changed to only-sustainable electricity, though I still have gas for cooking. Things are changing.
posted by mumimor at 8:23 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


With regards to moving from cooking with gas to electricity, I know we have induction cooktops, which are awesome, but have electric ovens improved any since the days of a Big Metal Thing that Glows Red? The problem with those is that adjusting the temperature is a lot slower than it is with gas.
posted by SansPoint at 9:16 AM on May 31


The "all-electric house" was a Big Deal in the US starting in the 1960s.

The total electric home...new and wonderful living for you and your family...today
posted by philip-random at 9:40 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


I keep wondering what will happen when we have safe, effective artificial wombs. What if you could remove the fetus, and also let it live?

I think I have a right to not be a mother. Now, if it could be given to be implanted into someone who wants a child, and I can sign away all rights, that might be a bit better, but not all women will be fine with that either.

And on top of that - is the transfer procedure safe? Dangerous for me? Painful? I don't see abortion going away any time soon. It is basic female healthcare.
posted by agregoli at 10:13 AM on May 31 [6 favorites]


Sorry, basic healthcare for people who can become pregnant. I am still working on my trans inclusive language.
posted by agregoli at 11:22 AM on May 31 [7 favorites]


The "all-electric house" was a Big Deal in the US starting in the 1960s. You know, back when we thought electricity was going to be Too Cheap To Meter™ because every town would have a plutonium breeder reactor cranking out electricity and maybe also bomb fuel.

Now I'm really jonesing for a ride on Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. There's a great big, beautiful tomorrow...
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:07 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


In fifty years I hope:

Transportation will have changed radically
Construction will have changed radically
Agriculture will have changed radically
And since all of those things have already changed radically since fifty years ago when I was five, I'm kind of optimistic. But obviously, there's a huge difference between change starting today and change starting in five years, in terms of quality of life and human survival.

I also hope universal healthcare will be truly universal. That would change everything.

The article used smoking as its point of departure, and it's worth noting that people still smoke. When I think of smoking, I remember my granddad being a first mover, when it was still cool to smoke. A friend of his was a surgeon, and showed him an x-ray of smoker's lungs. He quit from one day to the next. He tried to persuade everyone he knew to quit as well, but not everyone believed him -- the knowledge wasn't out, and for more than a generation smoking had been seen as cool and even healthy and feminist.
Who are the equivalents of my granddad today? My instinct says: the people who reject factory farmed food. I'm not saying vegetarians or vegans, because my gut feeling is that those oceans of corn and soy are as damaging and unsustainable as the feedlots and chicken farms. (And futurism is about gut feelings as much as science). I hope in the future it will be absurd to see how much beef we ate, but also to see that we tried to deal with it by creating fake meat.
posted by mumimor at 12:28 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


I read a bunch of the first link essays that I believe are trolls. (Bring back the Draft, so as to not privatize the military. Instead of Rationality, trust your gut biome, your second brain. The Gig economy rules, soon as we tax it properly. And, of course, Abortion.) Each essay tries to wrap a little nugget of truth within a reductio coating, using the troll to get you to bite. I'm not a fan of this kind of persuasion.
posted by CCBC at 6:09 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Anyway, it turns out that, while electric houses are cheap to build, they are not cheap to own. Electricity is a stupendously expensive way to purchase energy, particularly bulk thermal energy.

I've had a go at doing some numbers. Depending on your climate zone, if where you live doesn't drop below freezing, a reverse cycle heat pump is more efficient than burning gas for heat, so having an all electric house makes sense. If you do live somewhere cold, well the planet just has to pay for all that heating... it won't be cold for much longer anyway.

You'd use an induction cooker which transmits all the thermal energy into the pot, compared to a gas stove where most of the hot air escapes.

Ideally you'd use a PV solar installation for reverse cycle heating and cooling in the day, and have a battery for use at night. Considering a house in some areas cost $700,000 to $1,000,000, installing a large enough PV array and battery would only be around $20,000 which is a mere 3% of the value of the home and will let you live off-grid.

I could see home designs changing to take advantage of daytime solar PV to charge up heat sinks. Eg where you have excess energy in the day in summer, you could use it to cool down a large tank of water to near freezing point, which would then continue cooling your home overnight. And in winter, the opposite, you would heat up a large tank of water so it would continue heating your home at night. This would reduce our reliance on expensive batteries. We could even inter-link the reverse cycle compressors that exist in the AC units and refrigerators.
posted by xdvesper at 6:10 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


The thing about solar PV is that the entire cost of it is the up-front capital cost of the generation plant; the electricity it makes once it's up there on your rooftop really is too cheap to meter.

And from a global heating perspective, the only thermal cost of a rooftop solar PV array as compared to the charcoal grey cement tile roofing the array is probably installed on top of is the heat released during its manufacture. And if we do actually manage to escape from the Stupidest Timeline and find our way into one where the bulk of the energy used in manufacturing is itself derived from tapping local energy flows as opposed to local energy stores, that manufacturing heat cost will become negligible.

We could even inter-link the reverse cycle compressors that exist in the AC units and refrigerators.

Or use a central heat pump to maintain a bulk local store of temperature difference that could be converted back to electricity or directly tapped for local heating and cooling requirements as required.
posted by flabdablet at 6:50 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


The UK, not exactly known for it's endless summer days, *just* went 2 weeks without using coal to generate power, and has a goal of 2025 to phase out all coal-based power plants. That's not happened since the 1880s! The tide is slowly turning (and generating hydroelectric power) to the face of renewables - hopefully fast enough! The switch away from oil will change geopolitics, possibly more than climate change itself. Geopolitics is currently shaped by who has oil, who doesn't, and who needs it (everybody) - take away that dependency and who knows what things look like. (My guesses on what it looks like are likely to be just as wrong as everybody else's.)

Given climate change will lead to a shrinking amount of arable land, along with rising lifespans, an increasing human population on Earth, as well as the nanny-state wanting to, literally, nanny children, in 50 years, the notion that anyone (with the appropriate organs) could just go out and get pregnant, without having passed any of the classes and without a license, may seem quaint. Mandatory reversible-sterilization upon puberty sounds ludicrous to us now, but when - for boys and girls, it's a simple shot and anti-anti-vaxx movement laws requiring vaccinations are passed after the 2032 measles epidemic, it's only a slight twist to end up requiring all high-schoolers be unable to produce babies. The idea that parts of the government tried to force pregnancies to term will definitely seem quaint. (As long as we're making shit up, I mean. Come on, Vox, the "moral case against abortion"? Almost 700 words about abortion and no mention of birth control?)

One of Vox's pieces is about the war on drugs, but just like an omission of birth control in an article arguing against abortion, the bit about the war on drugs mentions nothing about mental health services. I share that authors opinion that future historians won't be so kind to the architects of the drug war, but the success of decriminalization needs improved access to improved mental health services to lower demand. ("Rock bottom", for addicts, is going to seem as ghastly as trepanning - maybe the best they had available, but still horribly barbaric, and how did they not know better?)

The article about "the wrong side of history" only seems to say that because the people 100 years from now will judge the people 50 years from now, as being on the wrong side of history, the mere notion of there being a "wrong side of history" is suspect. (That we did not do more to fight the excesses of capitalism, will be the wrong side of history.)

Unfortunately, I'm fairly sure that racism and sexism will be alive and well in 50 years, and may even have faced a (further) resurgence. The civil rights movement was roughly 50 years ago, but Ferguson is recent, and our recent failure to elect (for various reasons) the first woman President says to me that true societal change is very slow indeed.
posted by fragmede at 8:40 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


They'll look back at us with baleful stares of disdain, "How could you let Woolworth's die out? How?!? Look at all the cool stuff you could've bought for 10 cents. Or a buck or two!"
posted by Chitownfats at 8:51 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


I had a big thread on this, getting kind of stuck on the idea of “unthinkable” cause 50 years last was 1969, so I think what they would’ve thought as unthinkable would’ve been white ent , like just how total and devastating the right wing pivot and revanche was. So if I was self serving I’d say the answer to “what would be unthinkable in 50 years?” Is “powerful people are held accountable for their crimes, Faith in democracy is restored, and we build a strong, vibrant new kind of system.”
posted by The Whelk at 10:55 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


Eating meat is not going to vanish, but the concept of non-luxury meat, especially red meat, may go away. Lobster used to be garbage food, suitable only for the very poor or prisoners - the future may include children saying, "what, you just... wandered into a corner fast-food place, and for the price of a cold drink, you could get a hamburger made with real beef? For an hour at (some states') minimum wage, you could get three of them? And you didn't eat them every day?!?"

The amount of materials, plastic and other, wasted on packaging may also boggle their minds. Single-use styrofoam food packaging may be especially baffling to them.

What they're likely to find appalling: The idea that anyone cared what genders were involved in a marriage, in the same way that much of today's youth are baffled that restaurants were racially segregated and that women could not legally open bank accounts.

If we're lucky, they'll also be appalled at the idea of 60-hour workweeks and not having paid sick leave + 4 weeks of vacation a year, but I'm much more doubtful that we'll get the labor rights changes we'd need for that.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:45 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


The amount of materials, plastic and other, wasted on packaging may also boggle their minds.

Tupperware and related hard plastic storage containers that do not conform to standardized sizing. It oughta be a crime.
posted by philip-random at 8:53 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


Dog breeds. I don't mean the currently abhorrent practices of puppy mills. I mean the entire idea of breeding dogs into increasingly improbable forms, to the point that many of them not only can't survive on their own, but can't reproduce without significant human intervention.
posted by Etrigan at 11:17 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


> I would say "People choosing not to vaccinate their children" would be incomprehensible in 50 years, but that was incomprehensible 25 years ago and now... well... here we are.

The anti-vaccine movement isn't going anywhere as long as rich idiots like the Selzes keep funding it: Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement
posted by homunculus at 7:13 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


This sci-fi short film imagines what women might have to go through in the future to be allowed to have an abortion. Medically unnecessary but legally mandatory ultrasounds would seem quaint by comparison: "Ovum" by Cidney Hue.
posted by homunculus at 10:07 PM on June 23


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