Running in the Ottawa Citzen, Vancouver Province and other papers today is this article, which offers more food for thought about what the future will be like for babies born in 2014.
Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.
“– American author and cultural critic Neil Postman
Almost 400,000 Canadian babies will be born in 2014, a small portion of 140 million who will join the human race next year.
In Canada, those babies will be born to the first generation of parents totally consumed by devices with glowing screens — the chronic tweeters, the obsessive email users, the web surfers, the social media addicts.
And when it comes to predicting and imagining what life has in store for the babies of 2014, it is there we should begin, says Canadian futurist Jim Carroll.
“The kids today aren’t getting the attention that I gave my kids or the attention my parents gave me,” says the 54-year-old Carroll. “Their parents are completely wound up in their mobile devices and social networks. They have no attention span. Those first two or three years are formative, so somehow what they learn during that time is going to help shape their view of the world.”
How might that happen?
Carroll admits he’s only guessing, but says the child who is raised thinking, ‘Mom, dad, get off that device and talk to me,’ could conceivably grow up rejecting personally intrusive types of technology — despite the absolute certainty they’ll grow up in a world with more technology than their parents and grandparents living today can only dream of.
There are already many hints of what technology will bring Canada’s 2014 babies. Just a few weeks ago, Sony applied for a patent for the SmartWig, still a concept but an innovation in wearable computing devices that would capture and broadcast sophisticated images and contain minute sensors capable of monitoring bodily functions such as blood pressure and temperature.
Aside from galloping technological advances, today’s Canadian babies will have to grapple with a deteriorating natural environment and increasing social and economic inequity in one of the world’s richest and most desirable countries.
Carroll and fellow futurists in the United States and Europe have plenty of theories on what life will be like for 2014’s children, at least those born in Canada and other affluent nations. The Citizen gathered some of their thoughts and attempts to imagine the lives of next year’s babies.
In the early 1990s, when British futurist Ian Pearson predicted a method of communication now known as texting, his idea was dismissed as ridiculous. Why would people write on mobile devices when they could just punch in a number and talk?
With Sony now flagging its SmartWig, Pearson has pondered the notion of computerized contact lenses that would flash images to our eyes — maps, road closures on a usual commute, people whose names we forget at parties. But it’s difficult to know where this might lead.
Even technology futurists admit that ideas that seem ridiculous can become massively popular in the wink of an eye. Just consider the rapid ubiquity of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Are driverless cars just around the corner? Will plastic soon become redundant as direct payment options move to fingerprints or eyeballs?
By the time children born in 2014 are 50, futurologist Raymond Hammond figures they could be living in a world virtually unrecognizable to those living today, a world in which climate change has been by replaced by climate control (and thereby eliminating TV and radio weather predictors as a career choice).
Less fanciful is the United Nations prediction that by the middle of the century, at least two billion people will face severe water scarcity and/or the contamination of drinking water, a condition already faced by millions in developing countries. Heat trapping gases will cause radical climate change and extreme weather conditions that will equal or exceed the power of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005.
In his acclaimed 2003 book The Weather Makers, Tim Flannery wrote: “We must be under no illusions as to what is at stake. If humans pursue a business-as-usual course for the first half of this century, I believe the collapse of civilization due to climate change becomes inevitable.”
After education that will be increasingly impacted by e-learning, some futurists believe the concept of a career as we know it today will be replaced by constant change.
“Learning is what most adults will do for a living,” says Carroll. It’s already underway. As robots continue to eat away at much of our traditional labour, jobs that people once saw as career paths will continue to disappear and be replaced by jobs that are as unimaginable now as the high-tech industry was at the dawn of the last century.
Babies born in 2014 will be members of a workforce that will be increasingly untied to their employers’ office desk. With 3D holographic conferencing and 3D contact lenses presenting pertinent information before your eyes, the office will be wherever the worker is.
Many futurists confidently predict that health care will be tipped on its head during the 90 or 100 years our 2014ers can expect to live.
Along with health gadgets such as smart toilets to monitor waste for early stages of disease and health sensors embedded in our bodies, clothing or homes to monitor well-being, doctors will conduct back-to-the-future-style home consultations without leaving their office or the patient leaving home.
But the biggest overall change, predicts Carroll, will be the perfected ability of people to know with certainty what might ail them before it actually happens.
“I can look at a couple of strands of your DNA and know what you will have, or what you’re likely to have,” says Carroll. “We won’t be talking wait times in a system where we fix people after they get sick. The entire system will be based on prevention and deciding what a person has to do to avoid specific illnesses.”
This remains one of the more complicated, unpredictable areas of future human activity to forecast.
On one hand, it’s clear that the screens we use for entertainment will become more sophisticated. British futurologist Frank Shaw imagines a future where walls, floors and ceilings will be interactive screens for video games, movies and TV. On the other hand, the 2014er is being born at a time when vinyl records and the turntables needed to play them are making a comeback.
Just consider the confident predictions of the early 1950s that television would kill radio and you have the conundrum of being reasonably sure that technology will offer options but unsure as to whether people will actually embrace it.
Futurists admit that most predictions are subject to change, but some aspects of human behaviour are predictable enough for them to be relatively confident about some things. Wars, for example. Our 2014ers and their children will face wars, but drones will be ubiquitous both as weapons and quite possibly as (unarmed) toys for the more affluent.
In his 2006 book, Mind Set! Reset Your Thinking and See The Future, American futurist John Naisbitt took a plus ça change, plus c’est la même, relatively optimistic view of what’s to come.
“Whether cellphones can display television and calls are made via the Internet, your bathtub filled by taking off your clothes, or your refrigerator opened by a rumble in your stomach, these are just other ways of doing what we do — easier faster, further, more and longer — and not the substance of our lives. We go to school, get married, and have kids and send them to school. Home, family, and work are the great constants.”