It’s the end of the decade, I should write something! Why not.
In 2009, I graduated High School. In 2012 I graduated college and started work as a consultant. (In 2013 I started writing here.) In 2017 I left my job and left the country to explore and work with some college friends in India and around that region. The work continues but I’m taking up residence in the US again in 2020.
I remember my mobile phone in 2009, and what I could and couldn’t do with it. I remember some of what I was watching and reading. I somewhat remember my politics, although not the emotional valence of it at the time. I don’t clearly remember what I thought the future would be like, and I wish I left behind more to remember myself. I do know that some trends that seemed obvious have proven to be right, but most stories I would’ve told about the future would be laughably off the mark. Too radical in transparent technology infrastructure, yes, and in total not nearly weird enough.
“What I find most unsettling,” [futurist and sci-fi author William] Gibson said, “is that the few times that I’ve tried to imagine what the mood is going to be, I can’t.[…] And as its intensity and steadiness are demonstrated, and further demonstrated—I try to imagine the mood, and my mind freezes up. It’s a really grim feeling.” He paused. “I’ve been trying to come to terms with it, personally. And I’ve started to think that maybe I won’t be able to.”
The zeitgeist has fully taken hold of the feeling that the present is weird. Maybe in the future this sentiment will be seen as shell shock, the result of Black Swans exploding expectations and leaving behind a skittish population. Perhaps these same people will continue to live in relative stability and abundance but refuse to feel safe again. Uneasy, indeterminate pessimism. Or maybe the initially shocked are now properly attuned and well-adapted.
(On a personal level, I feel good. Life is sufficiently meaningful for me.)
I try to imagine what 2029 could look like and I can’t imagine much of anything. Individual recycled technology ideas, maybe; loose trends self-consciously recycled from other people’s mouths. I think this was always true but the thought of it feels more ominous than it would’ve felt in 2009. In 2019 I’m tired of all of the voices in my head and on my screen.
Today there are roughly 70,000 people in Japan over the age of 100. 90% of them are women. The world is urbanizing rapidly. People are pouring onto the internet, but not the internet as I know its. The newcomers are mobile-first, unable to conceive of an internet without a camera and a microphone. They live in a world of voice, video, and increasingly local language. The internet is not just American, and it appears to be fracturing as a result of states attempting to limit adversarial influence and dissent. I wonder what that means for interoperability of smart devices and other protocols in the future.
The old buzzwords are still steadily making their way to reality, so why not take a stab at the 2020s. Top-tier videogames become unavoidably huge platforms, outscaling any other entertainment medium in engagement and finances. In 2029 I will know non-bleeding-edge middle-class people working inside of a videogame economy. Major platforms websites continue to announce initiatives to disrupt themselves and eventually abandon them. Youtube is accused of steering people towards centrism and deference to authority (edit: already happening). There is seamless and invisible translation of text and speech- the advances right now are clear and steep, and the global middle class is hungry for digital goods and entertainment of all kinds. Adversarial compression allows for massive amount of media to be much smaller. A lot of media is generated programmatically, half-written or half-animated with limited human involvement. There are AI life coaches, providing advice, editing emails, ordering meals, offering clothes. Something something bitcoin. Clean meats make a lot of sense to become ubiquitous via intolerant minority rule and supply chain logic. There is conscious and even more highly politicized consumption, with companies touting the purity of their supply chains and aligning their brand with various causes. The influence of cities are even more intensely felt vs rural & suburban world. Maybe there’s carbon pricing in some major economies. Nuclear power is ascendant, hopefully. Maybe Millennials start resigning themselves into buying real estate en masse. Maybe multigenerational families become reasserted as a financial necessity. Maybe embryo selection becomes regularly practiced among those who can afford it. Maybe my favorite Valley voices are right and Biology begins eating the world. Probably the internet finally leaks out into the world through affordable and actually useful smart devices, AR, VR, etc, which I would’ve guessed in 2009 and would be underwhelmed by a decade later. Eventually the Boomers slowly become too few to keep hold on assets and votes across key geographies in the US. Maybe the US government becomes more activist in infrastructure or investment, due to reignited great power competition and the crumbling of the Small Government idea as a major party policy (or maybe there is a return to that idea, idk). Ten years is a long time.
For me, this is a decade with even fewer personal institutional guardrails. I have a few exciting prospects but have strayed far from a traditional career path. I don’t currently see a return to school in my future but I’m not averse to the idea. I imagine this is the decade I’d likely buy real estate and formalize a family. Whatever the state of the markets or politics or technology, in the likely event that I survive the decade I’m staring 40 in the face.
40! I don’t have a conclusion for this post. The idea of being 40 years old is kind of a thought stopper.
Time marches on, I guess.
To the 2020s,