[FoRK] I'm going to catch hell for this one

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Oct 11 06:17:36 PDT 2010

(remember, I didn't write it. Ok?)


A radical pessimist's guide to the next 10 years

Douglas Coupland

>From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Oct. 08, 2010 6:49PM EDT

Last updated Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 10:24PM EDT

The iconic writer reveals the shape of things to come, with 45 tips for
survival and a matching glossary of the new words you'll need to talk about
your messed-up future.

1) It's going to get worse

No silver linings and no lemonade. The elevator only goes down. The bright
note is that the elevator will, at some point, stop.

2) The future isn't going to feel futuristic

It's simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now,
because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels
odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn't feel weirdly
unexpected, then something would be wrong.

3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel
even faster than it does now

The next sets of triumphing technologies are going to happen, no matter who
invents them or where or how. Not that technology alone dictates the future,
but in the end it always leaves its mark. The only unknown factor is the pace
at which new technologies will appear. This technological determinism, with
its sense of constantly awaiting a new era-changing technology every day, is
one of the hallmarks of the next decade.

4) Move to Vancouver, San Diego, Shannon or Liverpool

There'll be just as much freaky extreme weather in these west-coast cities,
but at least the west coasts won't be broiling hot and cryogenically cold.

5) You'll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole
outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent

6) The middle class is over. It's not coming back

Remember travel agents? Remember how they just kind of vanished one day?

That's where all the other jobs that once made us middle-class are going – to
that same, magical, class-killing, job-sucking wormhole into which
travel-agency jobs vanished, never to return. However, this won't stop people
from self-identifying as middle-class, and as the years pass we'll be
entering a replay of the antebellum South, when people defined themselves by
the social status of their ancestors three generations back. Enjoy the new

7) Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores

In Mexico, if one wishes to buy a toothbrush, one goes to a drugstore where
one of every item for sale is on display inside a glass display case that
circles the store. One selects the toothbrush and one of an obvious surplus
of staff runs to the back to fetch the toothbrush. It's not very efficient,
but it does offer otherwise unemployed people something to do during the day.

8) Try to live near a subway entrance

In a world of crazy-expensive oil, it's the only real estate that will hold
its value, if not increase.

9) The suburbs are doomed, especially those E.T. , California-style suburbs

This is a no-brainer, but the former homes will make amazing hangouts for
gangs, weirdoes and people performing illegal activities. The pretend gates
at the entranceways to gated communities will become real, and the charred
stubs of previous white-collar homes will serve only to make the
still-standing structures creepier and more exotic.

10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can
never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness

11) Old people won't be quite so clueless

No more “the Google,” because they'll be just that little bit younger.

12) Expect less

Not zero, just less.

13) Enjoy lettuce while you still can

And anything else that arrives in your life from a truck, for that matter.
For vegetables, get used to whatever it is they served in railway hotels in
the 1890s. Jams. Preserves. Pickled everything.

14) Something smarter than us is going to emerge

Thank you, algorithms and cloud computing.

15) Make sure you've got someone to change your diaper

Sponsor a Class of 2112 med student. Adopt up a storm around the age of 50.

16) “You” will be turning into a cloud of data that circles the planet like a
thin gauze

While it's already hard enough to tell how others perceive us physically,
your global, phantom, information-self will prove equally vexing to you: your
shopping trends, blog residues, CCTV appearances – it all works in tandem to
create a virtual being that you may neither like nor recognize.

17) You may well burn out on the effort of being an individual

You've become a notch in the Internet's belt. Don't try to delude yourself
that you're a romantic lone individual. To the new order, you're just a node.
There is no escape

18) Untombed landfills will glut the market with 20th-century artifacts

19) The Arctic will become like Antarctica – an everyone/no one space

Who owns Antarctica? Everyone and no one. It's pie-sliced into unenforceable
wedges. And before getting huffy, ask yourself, if you're a Canadian: Could
you draw an even remotely convincing map of all those islands in Nunavut and
the Northwest Territories? Quick, draw Ellesmere Island.

20) North America can easily fragment quickly as did the Eastern Bloc in 1989

Quebec will decide to quietly and quite pleasantly leave Canada. California
contemplates splitting into two states, fiscal and non-fiscal. Cuba becomes a
Club Med with weapons. The Hate States will form a coalition.

21) We will still be annoyed by people who pun, but we will be able to show
them mercy because punning will be revealed to be some sort of connectopathic
glitch: The punner, like someone with Tourette's, has no medical ability not
to pun

22) Your sense of time will continue to shred. Years will feel like hours

23) Everyone will be feeling the same way as you

There's some comfort to be found there.

24) It is going to become much easier to explain why you are the way you are

Much of what we now consider “personality” will be explained away as
structural and chemical functions of the brain.

25) Dreams will get better

26) Being alone will become easier

27) Hooking up will become ever more mechanical and binary

28) It will become harder to view your life as “a story”

The way we define our sense of self will continue to morph via new ways of
socializing. The notion of your life needing to be a story will seem slightly
corny and dated. Your life becomes however many friends you have online.

29) You will have more say in how long or short you wish your life to feel

Time perception is very much about how you sequence your activities, how many
activities you layer overtop of others, and the types of gaps, if any, you
leave in between activities.

30) Some existing medical conditions will be seen as sequencing malfunctions

The ability to create and remember sequences is an almost entirely human
ability (some crows have been shown to sequence). Dogs, while highly
intelligent, still cannot form sequences; it's the reason why well-trained
dogs at shows are still led from station to station by handlers instead of
completing the course themselves.

Dysfunctional mental states stem from malfunctions in the brain's sequencing
capacity. One commonly known short-term sequencing dysfunction is dyslexia.
People unable to sequence over a slightly longer term might be “not good with
directions.” The ultimate sequencing dysfunction is the inability to look at
one's life as a meaningful sequence or story.

31) The built world will continue looking more and more like Microsoft

“We were flying over Phoenix, and it looked like the crumpled-up packaging
from a 2006 MS Digital Image Suite.”

32) Musical appreciation will shed all age barriers

33) People who shun new technologies will be viewed as passive-aggressive
control freaks trying to rope people into their world, much like vegetarian
teenage girls in the early 1980s

1980: “We can't go to that restaurant. Karen's vegetarian and it doesn't have
anything for her.”

2010: “What restaurant are we going to? I don't know. Karen was supposed to
tell me, but she doesn't have a cell, soltural activity, will create a world
where the two poles of society are shopping and jail.

43) Getting to work will provide vibrant and fun new challenges

Gravel roads, potholes, outhouses, overcrowded buses, short-term hired
bodyguards, highwaymen, kidnapping, overnight camping in fields,
snaggle-toothed crazy ladies casting spells on you, frightened villagers,
organ thieves, exhibitionists and lots of healthy fresh air.

44) Your dream life will increasingly look like Google Street View

45) We will accept the obvious truth that we brought this upon ourselves

Douglas Coupland is a writer and artist based in Vancouver, where he will
deliver the first of five CBC Massey Lectures – a ‘novel in five hours' about
the future – on Tuesday.

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