Once upon a time, life was reasonably predictable. Your father worked in the fields, and he’d teach you to work in the fields, and then you’d teach the same to your kids. Life picked up speed with more innovation and industry, only to end up where we are now. Innovating so fast that each year feels like a decade, with us tripping over ourselves on this technological treadmill that gets faster and faster — and faster.
Societal leaps that used to take hundreds of years are now predicted to be more like 10 years. Or five.
As I mentioned while comparing my childhood to my son’s, we’re living in a time of Old vs. New. Of evolution in real time. Of epic transformation.
And if things continue on the trajectory we’re on (which of course they will), life for our kids will change in ways we can’t even comprehend. And that’s a daunting realization for a parent, considering our sole job is to prepare our kids for the real world. But what will the real world be like when they’re adults?
Rather than look backward for a script and a model, we have to start anticipating the changes — or at least watch them unfold with conscious awareness, trying our best to ride the wave.
In an effort to do just that, here are 15 ways our kids’ future might be totally different from the reality we know:
15 Ways the World Might Change for our Kids 1 of 17
It's impossible to predict what life will be like, but I try to be as optimistic as possible. We could go into the Fukushima-like warnings and worst-case-scenario economic collapse predictions, but every generation has claimed that the end is nigh.
Far more likely, however, is that life will go on. But at the rate we're going, it'll be much different than our kids' current childhood life.
Will Privacy Exist? 2 of 17
Without a doubt, privacy will be a major concern for the next generation. We stumbled into this Digital Revolution — giddy over all we could do — yet social media and the new online media boom changed life fast. We didn't have time (or didn't think to make time) to reflect on how our actions might have some major long-term effects. And privacy is one of those things that we didn't realize was a casualty until we started to feel the repercussions. Not to mention the recent realization that businesses and even our own government are engaging in some uncomfortable privacy breeches of ordinary people.
In the future, privacy will be either completely non-existant (if the next generation accepts their inborn lack of privacy as normal), or privacy will be a fundamental right that they fight to protect. Experts might argue the latter, considering privacy protection is becoming a major concern for consumers — even calling for specific lawyers and engineers who solely work on privacy issues.
Regardless, privacy (or a lack thereof) will be a major concern for the next generation.
A Different Method of Education 3 of 17
I mentioned in a previous post that I'm not sure traditional college will hold the same kind of weight for our kids that it did for us. The Digital Revolution changed so many industries — from marketing to publishing to traditional small business — making our college-educated skills outdated in four year's time. And not only that, but the Internet has proven itself to be an incredible tool for up-to-date education — with e-courses, podcasts, documentaries, and virtual lessons at the touch of a button.
We have the beginning bones of a new education system with models like Udacity, Globe University, M.I.T. Open Courseware, and UnCollege. And even if education doesn't turn into a completely virtual experience (and I'm not sure it should, given the value in actual peer-to-peer contact), there's no doubt that it'll be easier to supplement education and access more interesting teachers and valuable knowledge via online tools. Hopefully our kids will grow up to know much more than could fit in a limited history textbook.
The Internet Forces Accountability and Transparency 4 of 17
In my recent post Santa in the Digital Age: Will He Survive?, I argued that our instant digital information and lack of privacy makes it increasingly hard to lie or manipulate the general public. In the context of corrupt government and corporations, this is a very good thing. The book, The New Digital Age, outlines how this will affect our future political climate with a more "wired and well-informed public."
But the implications spill over to ordinary Joes, as well, who will have digital footprints spanning their entire lives. Will we have secrets in the future? Will people still be able to get away with doing and thinking terrible things, without public scrutiny?
The Internet Also Encourages Tolerance and Compassion 5 of 17
Here's another point that I touched on in Santa in the Digital Age: Will He Survive?: For all the negative aspects of the Internet, there's just as much positive potential. And I'm not the only one who sees it. Robert Thurman — a Buddhist scholar and respected proponent of peace — gave an interesting TED Talk about how our interconnected world can bring about a mass enlightenment, making us more compassionate and tolerant people.
And don't you see the evidence around you? The Internet can certainly be a negative space with anonymous bullying and mean-spirited comments, but we can also share incredible eye-opening insight via sites like TED and Upworthy. We're exposed to ideas, stories, and people whom we never would have been able to experience. The smaller the world becomes, the easier it is to recognize that we're all living creatures experiencing the same fears and hurt and love. Speaking of love...
Equality for Love 6 of 17
It's hard to imagine which currently normal things will one day be looked at as barbaric or ignorant — like slavery, doctor-endorsed cigarettes, women's lack of rights, and other embarrassing blemishes on America's history record. Yet it's so clear that gay marriage will be one of those blemishes that simply won't make sense to our kids. (Or at least I can hope.)
Just look at the progress we've made so far. Seventeen out of 50 states now have legalized same-sex marriage (and it looks like UTAH might be next!), with the frequency seemingly picking up. Looking back on similar civil rights movements, it's so very clear which side of history the DOMA supporters will be on. Love is love is love. And our interconnected kids might understand this better than anyone.
See the World Without Leaving Your Chair 7 of 17
The gaming industry is BANANAS. And when you read about the future of virtual reality (specifically the kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift), you'll realize that the next generation might have a completely different experience as far as games, movies, and ordinary reality. With the next step in virtual reality, people will experience life in a way they never could.
Cyrus Nemanti, a writer for Slate, recently tested the Oculus Rift headset and made some interesting points about the far-reaching effects it might have. "This is the real promise of virtual reality: the rekindling of the human sense of adventure. Virtual reality makes possible explorations we never dared to embark upon," wrote Nemanti. "What the Oculus Rift is going to bring to the masses is the ability to do things because we can. 'Impossible,' 'unsafe,' or 'ridiculous' will be the bywords of the lazy or the boring."
He goes on to mention doctors using VR simulators to learn and practice techniques, movies being a 4-D experience, and ordinary people flying to unexplored planets in a way that feels real. The new virtual reality could change everything.
Will Face-to-Face Communication Still Be As Important? 8 of 17
It's hard to predict just how communication skills and habits will change as technology advances, but one thing is sure: It'll keep on changing. So maybe it's up to us parents to instill healthy face-to-face interaction and a core understanding of proper communication without the emojis and text speak.
New Cures//New Illnesses 9 of 17
Food allergies in kids have increased 50% since the late 90s. Autism in children has increased by 78% in the last decade. The recent antibacterial movement is now believed to cause health risks by destroying our natural bacteria. And — possibly most concerning when discussing the future of health — antibiotic-resistant bacteria is dramatically rising.
On a brighter note, futurists have many predictions about the future of health. Our kids will probably be taking a more consumer-driven approach to their health, monitoring their health conditions and symptoms with even more apps and gadgets than we do today. And as genetic testing gets cheaper and more accessible, we'll be able to focus more on prevention of predispositions rather than treatment of full-blown problems. Futurists also believe that in 10 to 20 years time, we'll be able to easily grow new organs with stem cells. Also, if experts like Dr. Oz are right, meditation will be as strongly recommended as physical exercise for overall health.
Voting and the Democratic Process Has to Change 10 of 17
Political candidates rise and fall via Twitter. We can donate campaign money at the click of a button. The President can jump on a Google+ chat and talk directly to his constituents. And yet our voting system is still an archaic (and many might argue flawed) system that doesn't at all reflect the current times. How long until the voting system gets a modern makeover? Hopefully by the time our kids can vote.
Downloading Memories — and other Ethical Concerns 11 of 17
One of the more buzzed about conversations in the science realm is the possibility of downloading our consciousnesses — our memories — into computers and directing the inputs and outputs with simple binary codes. (Catch it at the end of Ed Boyden's TED Talk.) It sounds far-fetched and sci-fi, but we've already been able to implant false memories in mice, which is HUGE. (And a little scary, to be honest.)
If there's one thing for certain, our kids' future will be more sci-fi-like than we believe is possible — causing strange new ethical concerns as far as cloning, controlling, and regenerating ourselves. Perhaps The Matrix and Inception will be as eerily on-target as 1984 is today.
Perhaps the next question we should ask as a global community: "Just because we can do it, should we do it?"
The Future of Social Media 12 of 17
Social media isn't a dying trend. In fact, it's been evolving since I was a kid myself with primitive versions of Friendster and MySpace. But what will the future of social media look like? Most likely complete and total societal saturation. And Facebook? Facebook will be way silly.
Work/Life Flexibility 13 of 17
Given our non-stop "connectedness," it can sometimes feel like there's no division between life and work — with the ability to check emails on vacations and plug into Wi-Fi virtually anywhere. And yet the Internet has given us more flexibility than we've ever had (with virtual meetings, document sharing, and video chatting), making it easy and even economical to work from remote locations and make a schedule that best fits our lives.
Hopefully the next generation will find a way to better harness this perk, and achieve a healthier work-life balance away from cubicles and 9 to 5 hours.
Everything Will Come From a Printer…Including Food?? 14 of 17
The entire concept of 3D printers makes my head spin. I'm not smart enough to understand how this device is making three-dimensional plastic. But what about a printer that makes food? MIT created a digital food printer that uses different ingredients to make real nutritional meals. Is this the future of the food industry? And what kind of implications will that have?
We Will Know More About Ourselves And the World 15 of 17
Just like we used to believe the sun rotated around a flat earth, many of today's scientific assumptions will be proven wrong. Especially with our bodies. Genome sequencing is starting to be more affordable, and so we're finally understanding more about our genetic makeup and also about our ancestor's evolutionary path. Our kids' future will most likely be filled with facts that would blow our minds today. They just might be able to solve some of the bigger questions — like the universe possibly being a hologram (!?!?!?), for instance.
Brain Evolution 16 of 17
Juan Enriquez gave a fascinating TED Talk on why we might be in the midst of a massive brain evolution, especially in children — whether it's the extraordinary sensory input, our changing diets, environmental chemicals, or a natural progression of humans. According to Enriquez, our grandkids and great-grandkids could be a very different species. Watch it.
We Have No Idea 17 of 17
The truth is, we have no idea the ways the world will and won't change. The chemicals that will be deemed toxic, the industries that will be reformed, the terminology that no one would understand today. We don't know the full implications of climate change or possible future wars.
Maybe all we can do is teach our kids to be kind, responsible, and mindful of the direction our world is headed.
What do you think? How will the future be different for our children?