It is the year 2030…

A Whale-bus as a means to cross the Atlantic! Certainly some of the future predictions made by the French commercial artist Jean-Marc Côté and his team at the 1900s World’s Fair ‘Exposition Universelle’ were strange, indeed! The same can be said for the predictions made by many futurists throughout the ages. Frederick Edwin Smith, who became the Earl of Birkenhead in 1922, wrote a whole book on this topic. However, the key concept here is that only ‘some’ ideas were far-fetched.

First, some of the funnies

Jean-Marc Côté’s predictions had a lot to do with mechanization and alternative transport. He foresaw Batman! He thought firefighters will be flying around, powered by batwing-like structures. Sea travel featured high on his list – he believed we will traverse the Atlantic in boats floating above sea-level, powered by blimps, or we would domesticate whales and use them as transportation. Failing these, we would breed giant seahorses to move through the oceans. With the current danger of climate change that is causing sea levels to rise, these may not be such bad ideas.

Fredric Edwin Smith also held out great hopes for mechanization. He believed ‘men’ would have a great deal more leisure time and would only have to supervise machines for one or two hours a day. Flying cars fired his imagination and he coupled this and the afore-mentioned concept when he said:

“Thus… the man of 2030 will set off for the weekend, after his work, in a small, swift aeroplane, as reliable and cheap as the motor-car. … Skiing parties in Greenland will be made up in London clubs on Saturday mornings,” wrote Smith, “and translated into action before the same evening.”

He had high hopes for the medical profession. He felt that by 2030, it would be ‘fairly certain’ that TB would be eradicated and cures for major scourges such as cancer would have been found. Not only would health be improved, but longevity would also be attained through injections of ‘rejuvenations’; a lifespan of 150 years was his estimation.

The guesses that were borne out by reality

Jean-Marc Côté correctly (in broad terms!) predicted paperless education, augmented by technology. He envisaged a society that was not geographically bound by virtue of living in mobile homes. He also dreamed of a form of ‘video chatting’ using holographs.

Mr Smith worried about the effects of longevity. He was rightly concerned about the ‘grave problems’ an immense increase in population would create. In terms of employment he mused:

“…how will youths of 20 be able to compete in the professions or business against vigorous men still in their prime at 120, with a century of experience on which to draw?”

Strange times now, stranger times ahead?

If we were to fire-up the time travel capsule (using an alternative type of sustainable fuel, like donkey dung) what would we predict the future to look like? Let us be less ambitious than the two gentlemen above and only focus on what the world will look like in 10 or 15 years from now.

The perfect storm driving change

The combination of the Coronavirus and the socio-economic upheavals that ensued propelled us on a collision course with the future:

The political landscape

  • Civil society groups cooked up a revolution, one soup ladle at a time
    Those involved in the Community Action Networks (CAN groups) became increasingly concientised about the needs and challenges of their neighbours and the inability of the State to make good on its promises to feed the people. They formed guerilla networks that grew collective food garden corridors running through neighbourhoods and alternative trade and barter systems.
  • The demise of tradition and outmoded loyalties
    The electorate has rejected blind loyalty. They are holding the elected accountable for spending and development targets, enforcing legislation and ensuring transparency in decision-making. Independent watchdogs are well fed, given teeth and not kept on the leash by any political party.

Social mores

  • Solidarity and social investment
    The social and environmental impact of one’s spending becomes a central consideration of each transaction. Not supporting schemes, such as feeding programmes and school supply drives through loyalty programmes are considered low class and bad manners.

Infrastructure changes

  • Working in your living room
    Your commute to the office can now be measured in steps. Businesses do not own brick-and-mortar offices anymore. Instead ‘hot desks’ and meeting rooms in shared meeting spaces for specific tasks and periods of time have become the norm. Instead of travelling allowances, staff receive data and Wi-Fi allowances.
  • Living in your (ex)office
    Since there is no need for office blocks anymore, a real estate revolution has taken place. People have moved back to areas they could previously not afford. Crime has dropped because there are now more people moving around after traditional business hours. Congestion and pollution have eased.
  • Bullet trains replaced Boeings
    Air travel has fallen out of favour. Rail has returned as the preferred method of travel. Countries across the continent are negotiating free travel passes.
  • Charging your phone in the wind
    Due to a better regulatory environment, it has become possible for municipalities, towns and provinces to supplement their energy reserves with alternative green technologies that work best in their particular areas: seawater around the coast, sun in the Karroo and landlocked provinces and wind in mountainous areas.

The World(s) of Work

  • The Gig economy
    Eyebrows are raised about expertise, flexibility and drive if you work for only one company. Loyalty to single institutions is seen as less desirable than creatively networking and adding value to diverse teams.
  • Formal jackets and PJ bottoms
    The office dress code has changed. Comfort and ergonomic clothes and furniture that sustain good posture in front of a laptop at home take precedence, whilst screen presentation has become of cardinal consideration.
  • Basic income grant
    Civil society and the government has finally accepted that it cannot employ all and that dignity, safety and adequate access to resources are inalienable human rights. There is a consensus that deep, structural changes and reorganization of society will take time and resources.

Education for all

  • Teachers are film stars
    Teachers are mandated to gain CPD points in videography and how to produce electronic learning materials. Coding for creating Apps have been added as a compulsory subject.
  • Textbooks and libraries on your phone
    Teenagers can no longer use going to the library as an excuse to leave the house. Paywalls have come down around academic institutions and all academic publications have been released into the public domain at no cost.
  • Education, Lego blocks style
    Standard qualifications have been replaced by a modular system which guarantees a mix between theoretical, technological and creative modules that are largely interchangeable between industries and fields of expertise.
  • Education as a way of life
    Lifelong learning has become the norm and is seen as a basic human necessity. Access to affordable learning opportunities across the lifespan is enshrined in the constitution.

Final Words

Innovation and development do not happen at the same speed throughout history. It is accelerating exponentially! The fanciful dreams of Côté and Smith seemed distant and novel in 1920, and worth a hundred years of innovation. The same amount of innovation, today, will be achieved in a few years, if not faster. We know that if you buy a laptop today, the technology has already become obsolete by the time it left the factory! Things are designed in such a way that continuous upgrading and development can take place. Thanks to the Internet of Things, this can even happen behind our backs through automatic updates.

Don’t be scared. Be prepared. Don’t make technology and innovation your enemy – befriend it, or at the very least the people around it! We know that these are dark days and everything feels alien and scary. We agree that we can only make educated guesses about the future – that we cannot know for sure what the future holds.

We also know that all things change, evolve and grow. Humanity is resourceful and resilient. The best advice we can give you is to surround yourself with good people who have weathered a few storms and proven that they have what it takes to survive.

All images by Jean-Marc Côté/Wikimedia Commons

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