The World in 2155 (5)
Updated: Feb 2, 2020
(dificuldade 5 – pode encontrar uma lista de vocabulário no final)
It’s an enduring curiosity to me that my mother’s father was born in 1885 (and no, he’s not still alive!). Yet I myself am not so old. In fact, if I live to be the same age as he was, we’ll have covered nearly two centuries between us. But I can’t help feeling it strange to think my grandfather was born 135 years ago.
1885 is just 15 years after Charles Dickens passed away, and only four years after Billy the Kid was killed by Pat Garrett, and Wyatt Earp fought the gunfight at the Ok Corral. It was the year the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York in pieces, ready to be assembled, and the year that Karl Benz produced the first ‘production’ gasoline-powered motorcar. It was also the year that the first flushing toilet was put on display for demonstration. Progress.
Brazil was still under the reign of Don Pedro II, while Britain was led by William Gladstone, who went on to be Britain’s oldest Prime Minister at 84. In the USA, Grover Cleveland was elected America’s 22nd president while in Russia, the reign of the doomed 'last' emperor, Nicholas II had just begun. The politics of the time were dominated by British wars in Afghanistan and South Africa, while the USA was still rebuilding following the civil war, although it proved a period of robust growth and investment in infrastructure, albeit with Brazilian levels of corruption! Slavery had been recently abolished but women wouldn’t gain the right to vote for another 35 years.
From what I can tell, my grandfather was a fairly stoic, teetotal, hard-working man who worked the land, first as a farm laborer and then later, 100 years ago, he bought a farm of his own and raised ten children. My mother was number nine. They, like many living through the Great Depression, were quite poor but the farm gave them everything they needed, including copious quantities of cider made from apples in the orchard. There was no telephone, no running water, the harvesting was done by hand, and more often than not, your transport was a pair of worn leather shoes. But by the time my grandfather handed over the farm to my uncles, at the end of World War Two, they were comfortable although they continued to keep life simple and waste nothing.
It all seems a very different world to the one I know today. But what if we look forward another 135 years to the year 2155? What kind of world are we going to find then?
This is a question that is getting ever harder to answer, although many are trying. One way of predicting the future is simply to look at existing trends and extrapolate. For example, if current fertility levels were to continue, the UN estimates that by 2150 the world population will have grown to 244 billion! But simply extrapolating doesn’t work, as there are too many unknowns. In fact, the same UN report suggests population levels will stabilize at around 9 billion in around 2300, but given this is such a long way away, it can’t be anything more than an educated guess. Would we even be able to feed that many people? In theory, yes, comfortably in fact, particularly as we move to more efficient foods (less beef, more plant-based food) created with higher technology. But then this is dependent on the climate too. An IPCC study estimates average global temperature will be around 5 degree Celsius warmer than today, which will mean the Artic will be permanently ice-free, with widespread flooding, severe drought, and many people needing to migrate to more favorable climes. Here in São Paulo, we are likely to be facing intense heat most of the year round, with temperatures rising to 45 degrees Celsius or more.
But what about socially and technologically? Assuming there hasn’t been a cataclysmic event (which is a big assumption), then in theory, technology will be many times more advanced than today, with flying cars, unlimited renewable energy, the power to prevent and cure all known diseases, extended lifespans, and weapons that make today’s arms look like children’s toys. Hmm. About that cataclysmic event…
But let’s suppose that we do find a way to resolve our differences between nations and all find a way to live harmoniously (which seems hard to swallow in today’s environment) – what would it be like to live in a society where technology is able to make the virtual world indistinguishable from the real one? After all, people are already having difficulty telling fact from fiction, and there are tales of young Japanese men not leaving their rooms for months at a time as they stay immersed in video games. So what on earth will it be like in 2155?
Maybe we’ll be part-cyborg, with microchips in our brains, interacting with a series of robots and holograms intuitively tuned into our every thought? If you’ve seen the movie Surrogates, or The Matrix, then you get the idea, although the computers will need to be hooked up to some form of exercise machine or we will all turn into couch potatoes! And maybe we will prefer the virtual world because we will have destroyed all the things that make the real world pleasant to live in? Better to experience them in memory, perhaps.
But is this what we want? I’m guessing not. At least not entirely. Going into a virtual world will be fun – providing there is still a good alternative. It’s this second part that is going to be the challenge. There is the eternal question in The Matrix, when Cypher chews on a delicious steak that he knows isn’t real. He wants to return to that world because, if you are truly content, you don’t care what is real and what isn’t, and for him, he’d rather have blissful ignorance than the harsh realities. And I’m sure we are going to face more of these types of dilemmas in the years to come. It’s easy to hide.
But even if we hide, we still need someone to look out over us, and make sure that our virtual bliss isn’t disrupted by factors outside of our control. So who will these people be who are going to govern this new world? Already the large corporations are beyond any one government’s control. Perhaps Capitalism has had its day? Maybe we will need a new social and political model, one that balances the needs of the populace to earn income and provide for their families with the reality that there are fewer people required to work? The jobs that exist will be not much different to those today. We will still need government, education and healthcare; we will still need feeding; there will still be manufacturing and distribution jobs; and we’ll still need entertaining and leisure opportunities. There’ll just be fewer jobs to go round – which means maybe we’ll need a new social construct – job sharing and the like. Maybe we will be paid to play, or to drink beer and watch football (which will still be a game played by people who we think are over-paid for what they do!)! In fact, many people are already paid to play video games, so perhaps The Future is here already.
Or maybe we will be exploring new worlds, or in the words of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk – ‘to boldly go where no-one has gone before’. Personally, I can’t see us colonizing Mars anytime soon. For a start, why would we want to? It doesn’t have the conditions to support life, and we are unlikely to magically find a way to give the enormous planet oxygen, water and everything else we need to live. No, if we are to colonize space, we will need to find a technology that is altogether at another level to what we have now. Maybe the Aliens will tell us when they think we are ready.
When all is said and done, I see two powerful forces diverging in ways that will be hard to reconcile. On the one hand, we have Technology, driving ahead, exploring new possibilities and creating options and experiences we could little have dreamed of even twenty years ago. On the other, I see a society in conflict, totally bewildered by what is happening around it, completely unable to govern itself in a way that will advance and safeguard the interests of all (be it Brazil, the USA, the UK, or anywhere else). Of all the things that worry me about our future, the most concerning is the inability of the Human Race to organize itself in a way that what will ensure its long-term survival – although these things are cyclical, of course, and maybe we are just at a low point in the cycle. 😉
enduring - durável
myself – eu mesmo
assembled – montado
to flush - descargar
reign - reinado
doomed - condenado
albeit – embora / se bem que
tee-total – abstêmio
orchard – pomar
harvest – colheita
worn – desgastado
unknowns – coisas desconhecidas
flooding – alagamento / inundação
drought – seca
assume – presumir
diseases – doenças
lifespan – duração de vida
swallow – engolir
what on earth – do que diábos…
tuned into – sintonizado
hooked up to – conectado
couch potatoes – alguem que não faz exercício
to chew – mastigar
blissful – feliz
harsh – severo
to go round – para divider
bewildered – confuso
safeguard - proteger
ensure - assegurar