10 Things Everyone Should Know Going Into The Next Decade
Well that decade only got stupider as it went along. Maybe the next one will be better? Here are 10 things to keep in mind from now until 2030. If we all go in prepared, I'm confident this next batch of years will go off without a hitch.
The Technology That Will Utterly Dominate In 2030 Is Barely A Thing Right Now
In early 2010, only the most obnoxious 20% of us had smartphones. Today, realizing that I've left the house without my phone induces the same panic as showing up at a party and suddenly realizing I've shown up at a party. What fringe nerd tech will totally control our lives 10 years from now? Cybernetic implants? Bitcoin? Don't bother trying to guess. Remember, it's not the tech itself that matters, but the horrible new uses we organically discover, as well as the way cultural norms respond and adapt. Looking at your phone in the middle of a real-life conversation used to be unthinkable.
And if we stretch this idea out to 20 years, good god. In early 2000, the term "social media" didn't exist. Neither did "podcast" or "blog." Hell, only 43% of Americans had internet connections. So a time traveler from 2040 would at times sound like you trying to explain to a non-internet user in 2000 what the "Subscribe to PewDiePie" meme is or why a guy quoted it before committing a mass shooting that left 51 people dead. We're talking layers upon layers of change. Stupid, stupid change.
Go Right Ahead And Ignore Everyone's Predictions
At this point a decade ago, headlines about Bill Cosby were all "Comedy legend delivers significant message" and "Comedian Bill Cosby leads parade." Donald Trump was preparing to shoot Season 10 of The Apprentice. "Disney buys Star Wars" would have sounded like the premise of a bad SNL sketch, and "Russians secretly interfere with U.S. election" would have sounded like the plot of a '70s Cold War potboiler starring Gene Hackman. The bestselling nonfiction book of 2010 was Why Prince Is An Immortal Being.
Yeah, some stuff was easy to predict, like how China would continue its rise, mass shootings would still be a thing, or how Syria would blow up. But the biggest cultural shifts always come bursting out of the ground like in Tremors. Lots of what now exists only as rumbles and rumors (there were whispers about Bill Cosby's behavior going back decades) will seem glaringly obvious to everyone in 2030. Lots of what we assume to be true today will be referenced as crass jokes by our older, crankier selves.
Trends Never Simply Continue On Their Present Course
It's early 2010. "Obamacare" was just signed into law. Democrats are in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and have a Supreme Court that will legalize gay marriage and let their new healthcare law stand. This is all after a wave of articles about the total collapse of the Republican Party, and how their only way back to relevance will be to purge the crazies and become reasonable adults. The thinking at the time was that they'd need their own Obama -- someone young, smart, optimistic, inspirational, focused on the future. After all, it's not like progress can go backward or something.
Oh wait, it totally can. Yeah, the lines on the graph never keep going the same direction. The culture is a series of reactions and backlash that is impossible to project with any accuracy. Who out there guessed that young people would just ... stop having sex? Or that the biggest shows on TV would see much lower ratings than then-unknown video game streamers?
Go back 10 more years, and things get confusing and darkly hilarious. The big worry in 1999 popular culture was that Clinton-era economic prosperity was robbing white male professionals of their innate need for meaning (Fight Club, American Beauty, The Matrix). "Sure, we all have good jobs, nice homes and plenty of money, but at what cost? Can't this much easy comfort be a bad thing?"
No one could have known 9/11 was around the corner, of course. In the same way, you can't possibly guess the huge thing that's coming to fuck things up in a few years. Hell, even if someone came back and told us, we'd probably just be confused. (I'm imagining 2010 me trying and failing to wrap my head around "Gamergate" or "incels.")
The Future May Not Affect You As Much As You Think
I spent the supposed economic boom of the late '90s working multiple minimum-wage jobs at once while living in an apartment with a cockroach problem. My biggest paydays, on the other hand, came a couple of years after the worldwide economy collapsed in late 2008. My career on the internet began right after the dot-com bubble burst and internet careers were declared impossible. It was only after reading endless headlines about how no one was buying books anymore that I got a book deal. That's how it works; your future and "the future" are two totally different things.
No trend applies to everyone, or even most of the people, and that means every headline you read about where the world is headed might be nothing more than trivia to you. You'll fall in love while reading articles about how we're living in an age of loneliness, or lose your job in an industry everyone insists is thriving. Maybe you'll find a way to overcome your anxiety and depression a month after an asteroid has destroyed the East Coast. Who knows? In fact ...
None Of Your Current Plans Will Work Out How You Think
How excited was 2010-era Nokia about owning 40% of the booming cellphone market? Or Blackberry, with their 20%? If gigantic corporations can get sucked out to sea by sudden shifting currents, so can you. But trust me, this can be a good thing. Sometimes the sharks are on the beach.
The key is that it's not just that the world will thwart your plans. Sometimes it's the world showing you that your plan was horribly misguided from the start. Maybe the day-to-day of your dream career has nothing to do with what you loved about it (ask doctors how much time they spend actually healing sick people). Maybe you'll completely flip on what exactly you want out of life. Maybe ...
You Even Won't Be The Same Person 10 Years From Now
You may think you know this on some level. You've been around old people; you know they weren't born grumbling about their lawn and eating at buffets and shambling around with a decorative cane that has a little sword hidden in it. But it's hard to look back at the child you were 10 years ago and really comprehend that you are the child to the 2030 edition of you. We kind of secretly think at all times that we've fully become the person we're going to be.
But you are going to change in ways you wouldn't like if you knew about them ahead of time. There isn't much you can do to stop it. Maturing always feels less like change and more like learning about yourself, unearthing the person who was always there. You don't know how you'll react in a crisis until the crisis comes. You don't know what you'll do with power over another person until you have it. You don't know what kind of parent you'll be until you have kids. My friends, some of these answers will be startling.
Some Of The Beliefs You Now Hold Dear Will Look Ridiculous
This doesn't have to be a bad thing, and there's nothing sadder than someone who refuses to grow. But some of the truths you refuse to even question today will not only turn out to not be true, but will look horrifying in retrospect. You will find out some truths about your friends, parents, family, heroes, and enemies that will make you realize you never really knew them at all.
You'll find that some of the causes you stood up for were corrupt, that you obsessed over minutia while ignoring what really mattered. You will do some of the things you used to harshly judge others for, and pray that the world is more lenient now than you were back then.
Oh, And You Will Sometimes Curse The Person You Are Now
I assume some of you do this already, wishing you could go back in time and kick your own ass. Not just for what you did ("Why in the hell did you smoke that first cigarette? Did you think it would make you look cool???"), but what you failed to do -- the plans you didn't make, the crises you didn't prepare for. But it's hard to grasp that Future You will feel the exact same way. ("Why didn't you quit smoking while your lungs were still healthy enough to recover? What did you think would happen???")
And having been through a few decades now, I can tell you that yeah, that never changes. The personality traits you like the most about yourself now will make Future You cringe. A whole lot of your present bravery will turn out to be youthful ignorance of consequences. You will someday groan at the thought of what 2020 you took for granted, all the chances you wasted.
I mean, you will if you're lucky. Improving a thing means the past version now sucks in comparison. The worst outcome is a Future You who mourns the awesome person you once were. If you play your cards right, if you try to fix one tiny thing every day, your reward will be that Future You will scramble to erase all evidence that Current You ever existed.
It Will Go Much, Much Faster Than The Previous 10 Years
I know this seems contradictory, considering this whole list is about how the entire geography of your life can and will change in just ten years. This is just the way your brain perceives time. This ten years will be a smaller portion of your life experience than the previous ten. That's why I can absolutely guarantee you that at some point, you'll have some version of this conversation:
"Hey, I noticed that sweater I borrowed a little while back is still in my closet, do you want it?"
"You borrowed it six years ago! What does it matter now, after a volcano has destroyed the entire American Southwest?"
A decade sounds like forever. A 10-year prison sentence would sound like a lifetime. Yet problems that seem temporary now will still be hanging around then. The habits you're writing off to immaturity will still be going strong. Projects you're determined to complete soon will still be sitting there, mocking you.
The World Won't Have Ended (And May Not Even Be Worse)
If you undid the past 10 years, you'd be reversing marriage equality in the USA (that ruling came in 2015), kicking 20 million Americans off their health insurance, throwing a few hundred million people worldwide back into extreme poverty, and trans rights would barely be in the conversation. Problems sneak up on us, but so do solutions. That's why the world is still here.
It'll be the same for your own life. The thing that will wind up saving your ass seven years from now might just turn up randomly on your doorstep. The thing that caused your ass to need saving may have arrived the same way. There may be friends you haven't met yet, talents you haven't discovered yet. You may lose burdens you didn't even know you were carrying. Some things you're dreading may wind up being no big deal, and some of your deepest fears may turn out to be based on silly myths and childish misunderstandings.
Who knows? But if you stick around long enough to find out, you've pretty much already won.
For more, check out Why 'Idiocracy' Would Actually Be A Utopia:
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