First off, fuck the apocalypse and everybody who predicts it. There’s always an apocalypse somewhere, and our pop culture’s obsession with an America ruined by war/disease/starvation basically boils down to, “Can you imagine if the shit that’s constantly happening in the Third World happened to us?” There’s somebody out there living the social breakdown of The Walking Dead right now. Only instead of zombies, it’s some warlord’s death squads, and a crossbow won’t do shit.
No, this article is about the future, but isn’t about the apocalypse or a dystopia — this isn’t about killer robots (which we already have!) or a looming American police state. You’ve seen all that shit in movies. This is about the super weird changes that are coming in your lifetime that Hollywood doesn’t seem to care about.
Semi-related note: My new novel about cybernetic super-criminals and shit is out right now!
#5. You’ll Eat Bugs (And You’ll Like It)
If you found a cockroach in your cereal, your whole year would be ruined. We have such a physical revulsion to bugs that the above headline probably sounds like a threat: “In the future, food will be so scarce that you’ll scarf down a grasshopper! You know, right after cooking and eating your own diiiiick!”
“I wish my kids were here to witness this, but I ate them out of desperation first.”
But I’ve already told you this isn’t about making you afraid of a nightmare future. I’m saying that bugs will slip seamlessly into our diets the same way high fructose corn syrup did, only this time the world will be much better for it. I’m going to prove it to you in five steps. Ready?
A) You already eat bugs; you just don’t know it. The strawberry flavoring in your milkshake/yogurt/smoothie contains crushed insects — specifically this guy, the Dactylopius coccus:
It’s a type of beetle that creates a nice red dye when ground up, and food companies have been using it as a natural food coloring for as long as anybody can remember (note: If you see “cochineal” on the label, that’s ground-up beetle). You didn’t mind, because you didn’t know it was there. And in the future they’ll come up with some other name for the ground-up cricket meat in your burger. See, that’s the thing — when I said “eating bugs” earlier, you imagined shoving a writhing praying mantis into your mouth. But you wouldn’t eat a chicken that way — there’s a bunch of shit they do to it at the factory first. It’ll be fine. “But,” you say, “anyone would puke the moment they saw the cockroach farm where their ‘food’ is being grown!” To which I respond: Ever been inside a slaughterhouse?
B) It’s the only way to feed the world meat without permanently ruining the environment. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but bugs seriously don’t give a shit — they can pretty much live anywhere and eat anything. They breed like crazy even when we’re desperately trying to kill them. So, with the same amount of resources, insects will produce about 800 percent more meat than beef and generate a fraction of the greenhouse gases. It doesn’t seem like there’s much “meat” on an insect, but for instance 80 percent of a grasshopper is edible as opposed to only 40 percent of a cow. They’re boneless!
And they go great in pie.
C) They’re healthier to eat. Per calorie, a cricket has 40 percent more protein than beef and 40 percent less fat. Your rebuttal is probably, “But what does that matter if it tastes like shit? Or rather, tastes like a bug, since most people would rather eat shit than a cricket?” But consider that …
D) About 2 billion people already happily eat insects. In Mexico, the only reason they don’t eat more grasshoppers (chapulines) is because they can’t afford them — demand is so high that grasshoppers cost more than beef or pork. They’re trying to scale up production as we speak (right now they don’t farm the insects so much as try to go out and catch them — you can imagine what a pain in the ass that is, people running round with nets and shit).
E) Visceral disgust is something humans get over pretty easily. Remember that these huge, disgusting insect-like monsters …
… used to be so revolting to people that they were fed to the poor and prisoners. Lobsters used to wash up on the beaches in big, gross, smelly heaps, the giant, red, mutant cockroaches of the ocean. Now you’ll pay $40 for that ugly bastard. This:
Is meat stuffed into a tube that used to be filled with a pig’s actual shit. And it’s fine; we rinse it out and stuff it full of ground-up entrails and spices and eat it in the parking lot of a football stadium. Someday, you’ll just as happily eat a sausage made of mealworms. I think 80 percent of you don’t believe me (I actually left the bug-eating bit out of my book because I thought readers would immediately treat it as a horror novel) and that’s fine — if you can’t get over it, your kids and grandkids will. That’s because humans adapt. That’s what we’re good at.
#4. At Some Point, Lying Will Become Impossible
I have a question for any children who might be reading this: Do you still have that “Liar Kid” at your school? I and everyone I know had at least one in our class, the kid who’d just make up grandiose bullshit for no purpose. He’d claim he found a shark swimming in the creek near his house, or that his uncle was a stunt man who played the yellow Power Ranger — just a font of name-drops and fascinating anecdotes, all of which were pulled straight out of his asshole.
I ask because, well, how can that kid exist today? A trip to Google on your iPhone would disprove all of those things in five seconds.
“OK, you say your dad beat up Steven Seagal at a club in Bangkok? What was the exact date?
I’m just going to check to see if he was in the country at the time.”
It’s a whole personality type that would presumably be put out of business by modern technology. You know, the same as how the sleazy used car salesman is facing extinction for the same reason — anyone with an Internet connection can find out what a car is actually worth. So who else is about to see their dishonest house of cards come tumbling down?
How about sex offenders? Or just the dude who goes on vacation and hits the clubs pretending he doesn’t have a wife and three kids back home? Sure, right now it might be considered rude to do a background check on a dude while he’s sitting on the next bar stool offering you a ride on his yacht, but soon all of that will be done automatically, on the fly. Google Glass failed because it looked stupid and didn’t work, but the general concept — the ability to instantly make key information pop up right in front of your eyeball — is inevitable. Facial recognition will scan everyone you encounter, a little pop-up box letting you know that dude not only isn’t an Internet millionaire but is a fugitive known to the police as “The Key West Disemboweler.” If a search doesn’t raise any red flags but he still seems generally dishonest, that’s OK — they’ll have software that will watch his facial movements and tone of voice to see if he’s telling the truth.
Now let’s pause for a moment to appreciate how that little advancement will utterly change interpersonal relations in a way that’s almost too profound to comprehend.
“Now, when you say the porn on your computer must have been ‘put there by a hacker’ …”
I mean, I don’t know if you’ve really stopped to think about it, but lies are kind of what make civilization possible. Try to get through just one day without A) lying or B) intentionally withholding information and/or spinning the truth — see how long it takes you to ruin every relationship in your life. “Honey, you said you liked your Christmas present, but TruthApp says your eye movements indicate a 99.96 percent chance of falsehood. Now tell me you love me; I want to watch your face this time …” Oh, and just wait until your kids are old enough to use it, and ask you which child is your favorite.
Some of you have already lived long enough to see how, for instance, it’s gotten way harder to lie at work. If you’re a professional driver, you don’t stop at a bar on the way and claim you got stuck in traffic — they’re using GPS to track your vehicle and (if you have a company-issued phone in your pocket) your body at all times. Work at a warehouse and miss your quota for the day, don’t bother claiming you got sidetracked by another project or had “equipment problems” — they’re literally tracking your every footstep; they know you’re dragging your ass. Some companies have developed sensors for employees that “identify a person’s tone of voice, movement, and even their posture when communicating with others.” Awesome! You’ve never gotten angry at a co-worker, right? Or gossiped behind someone’s back?
“Hi, Janet! When you get a chance would you kindly take a moment
to eat my shit? Thanks!”
Of course, that’s not even mentioning the obvious: cameras, cameras everywhere. It’s legal for companies to record you everywhere but in the bathroom, and the law isn’t even completely settled on that. And don’t bother lying about what you did away from work, either; Facebook has developed software that can search every photo on the Internet for your face. “Steve, it’s come to corporate’s attention that you were at a party this weekend in which drugs were being consumed. As you can see, you’re plainly visible in the background of this Instagram photo here, between the man with the bong and the chimpanzee wearing a bra. Now, as you know, the company has strict policies about employee conduct when in public …”
Yeah, those last two words are going to come up a lot — your concept of what counts as “in public” is going to change radically over the next couple decades. But that just brings us to the fact that …
#3. Your Genitals Will Be For Public Consumption
And I don’t mean this in a good way. Regular readers know that I had a nude video leak to celebrity site TMZ, who has yet to publish it even though I’ve continued to “leak” it to them over email every few days since June. I’ve just decided that this is where the world is going, so I need to get ahead of it.
After all, these days when an Internet privacy issue surfaces, it’s met mostly with a few alarmist blog posts and then a collective yawn — like when it came out that Windows 10 literally logs your every keystroke and sends the data back to headquarters. “Eh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” The only way these breaches make headlines is if they include A) photos/video of a famous naked person or B) a famous person saying something racist.
And when nude photos of a bunch of celebrities leaked recently, it was interesting to see the sharp divide in the reactions. Anyone older than, say, 25 seemed to be in disbelief that these people would have ever taken a naked photo of themselves, on any device, ever. Among those younger than 25, well, somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent have themselves sent a lewd photo or message of some kind. In just a few years that practice went from “Clearly the work of a depraved exhibitionist who needs some kind of therapy” to “Standard rule of dating for everyone but prudish weirdos.” That means that at some point we will hit what experts don’t call the Dick Pic Singularity: the point at which everyone will have nude photos or video of themselves on the Internet, and it just won’t be seen as a big deal. We will all be nudists.
Are you repulsed by that? As repulsed as you were by the concept of eating bugs earlier? Because it’s the same deal — either you’ll get over it or your kids will.
“Huh, back in his day Grandpa was quite the fuckboi.”
I can tell you firsthand that I’ve seen just as big a change in my lifetime. I grew up way back in the day when your teenage poetry, gossip, and horrible thoughts went in a locked diary that you kept hidden under your mattress. These days, it goes on Tumblr or YouTube for 3 billion Internet users to view if they so desire. Growing up, I was trained to be self-conscious on camera; today, my computer, phone, and television all have cameras that watch me back while I use them. We’re all “in public,” all the time, and that’s just the way it is.
And you know how they’re pushing to put body cameras on police, to make sure they’re not shooting dudes just for the hell of it? Don’t be surprised when they put body cameras on servers at restaurants, to make sure they’re being polite to customers, and soon after that, body cameras on everyone. In that book that I keep linking to, I speculate that these will become standard, everyday gear, not because some oppressive government is making us but because we want to. Just, stream it all — stream everything. Whatever need for privacy we once had, we’ve decided the need for the approval of an audience is greater.
“I’m leaving you. It’s not you or me; my viewers just think you’re boring.”
So, these days when somebody gets fired because they were secretly recorded saying something awful in the privacy of their own home (as Hulk Hogan was), we don’t worry about the “secret recording” aspect at all. “Hey, if they didn’t want their employer hearing them say it, then they shouldn’t have said it! Even in private, at home!” But are you sure you want that to be the rule, that everything you do is for public consumption? If you’re reading this as a defense of telling racist jokes, let me ask you:
Do you like your job?
If not, do you ever vent about it?
Because you can say goodbye to that — no employer is going to keep you on the payroll if you complain about what a shitty company it is in public (where “in public” now means “in your own home, near a microphone you didn’t know was recording”). Now think about the secretly atheist kid in a religious family who now has to self-censor every conversation for fear of it getting out. Or the closeted gay/trans teenager, or the secret revolutionary in an iron-fisted dictatorship. Even if you rid your own life of cameras and microphones (which itself will tag you as a reclusive weirdo), you’ll be surrounded by strangers who have their own.
And if you complain about how back in your day kids weren’t obsessed with documenting
their lives, everyone will know.
At my first job out of college, the guideline was, “Never put anything into an email you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.” You are, they said, creating an electronic record of your words, and the mere existence of that record gives anyone an automatic right to publish it. Well, in an era when every conversation creates an electronic record, you can amend the rule: Instead of, “Never put anything too controversial into an email,” it’ll be, “Never say anything too controversial out loud.” Unless, of course, we stand up and demand the right to not automatically lose our livelihood just because we got upset and said some stupid shit one time.
In other words, this doesn’t have to be part of our future unless we let it. Which just leads me to the fact that …
#2. Our Concept Of Employment Is About To Radically Change
It’s easy to shrug when you see a headline screaming that about half of our current jobs will soon be done by robots, or that there’s a factory in China that needs no workers at all. That whole “robots are taking our jobs!” bit has been around since before they invented robots. In the 1800s they told cautionary tales of a great man made obsolete by a steam engine; today we’re shown videos of hotels staffed by robot dinosaurs:
And yet … the trend is pretty clear.
A hundred years ago, the average American worked about 60 hours a week; it’s about 34 hours now. The percentage of American adults either working or trying to find jobs has been dropping since the ’90s, now matching the lowest point in 40 years, and of the ones who are working, more of them are part-time. So this prediction of a future “job-free” economy isn’t some crazy Nostradamus prophecy, it’s the direction we’ve been heading for a while now — each time there’s an economic crash, the jobs never quite come back to where they were before.
But when/if this jobless future arrives, the problem won’t be the robots taking over (how can it be a bad thing that we’re able to make more stuff with less effort?). No, the issue is how much we humans hate each other.
Spoiler: a lot.
See, the idea is that soon the only jobs left will be the ones that computers can’t do — tasks that take creativity, or people skills, or that are just plain too complicated (it’s actually hard to imagine a robot plumber doing all the steps needed to find and fix a leak inside your wall). So there will be a certain class of people who have those complex skills, and then there will be everyone else (and feel free to speculate on what percentage will be in each group).
Now, it doesn’t make sense that everyone but the most talented will be left to starve (as so many pessimistic articles seem to imply) — the corporations buying those expensive robots need customers to buy the shit they’re making, and the evil billionaires and politicians who run the world need happy consumers. This is where ideas like a guaranteed basic income come into play — basically the government gives everyone a paycheck just for being alive. The idea is that if we don’t need humans to do the work, we do still need them to make and raise children, to not riot in the streets, and to consume things so that the economic Circle of Life keeps running.
They’re going to start opening the stock market by holding out a child, with a dollar sign
drawn on its head, Simba-style.
And at the mere suggestion of that, a whole bunch of you just felt a sense of physical revulsion. “You mean 200 million people will be on welfare?!?” You’ll spit that last word like an accusation, in the same way you’d scream “TRAITOR!” or “WHORE!” That’s because most of us have been raised from birth to hate the able-bodied poor, and I mean Hate with a capital H. To see them as leeches, as a cancer in the system. As thieves. That guaranteed income will be taken out of the pocket of the robot repair guy who still has a job; what is his reaction going to be when he’s walking home, exhausted after a double shift, and sees your jobless ass hanging out at a coffee shop and spending your government check on robot-made Frappuccinos? It doesn’t matter that his job makes him 10 times more than you get, because that doesn’t change the fact that his paycheck would be 50 percent bigger if he wasn’t having to support your lazy ass.
We don’t have to guess his reaction, of course — go to any Fox News comment section. Listen to Mitt Romney.
Unemployment, they say, is immoral. Sinful. Here’s a story about somebody setting a homeless man on fire. Here’s another one. We’re as repulsed by them as we are by, I don’t know, a bug we found in our food or something.
“It’s time we start eating the real insects in our society. Vote for Smith. Vote for cannibalism.”
The cruel irony is that if this automated future comes about, we’ll have all the makings of what sci-fi writers used to describe as a utopia — we’ll be growing the food and building the houses just fine. The obstacle won’t be a lack of resources; the obstacle will be us, and the fact that we have been taught to motivate ourselves with the hatred of the “lazy” lower classes. And when we start kicking them around, what can they do about it? Go on strike? They don’t have jobs. Refuse to buy anything? Then they’ll starve. Riot in the streets? We’ll roll in with tanks. And notice how I’m saying “we” like I won’t be one of the ones left out? How many of you are doing the same thing? No wonder I’m pushing this book shit so hard.
But that just brings me to the final point …
#1. There Will Be A Fundamental Shift In Power — We Just Have To Decide What It Looks Like
Raise your hand if you rent your home, rather than own it. Now raise your other hand if your landlord has ever done something that would get a person fucking shot if they’d done it to a homeowner — like let themselves in to check your fire alarm while you were asleep in the next room. There is a fundamental difference in power between renting and owning — “your” home is literally not yours. They decide if you have a pet, or smoke, or repaint the place. Oh, and guess what — home-ownership is at its lowest point in half a century. Everything is heading that direction — the entire concept of owning things is slowly going away. This is a bigger deal than you think.
You gamers out there already know what I’m talking about; once upon a time you would go to the store and buy a physical object called a video game, which you fully owned, forever, to do with as you pleased. Now, you’re just renting, regardless of what they call it. A few years ago a Steam user found this out the hard way when Valve banned him from using any of the 250 games on his own computer due to a misunderstanding that was eventually cleared up. I bet until that day he actually thought those were “his” games. Today, more and more non-game software is being sold via a monthly subscription so that you lose access to it the moment you stop paying.
“Look who’s come crawling back” -MS Paint when your Adobe subscription starts to equal your rent
Meanwhile, the biggest competitor to Ford and Toyota isn’t Tesla — it’s Uber — the future will most likely be a swarm of cars, all networked together, probably driverless, conveniently picking you up and dropping you off on command. No need for you to get a car loan or pay for gas and repairs (renting is always more convenient than buying). And then one day, when you’re running late for work, you’re going to try to order a ride on your phone and the app will tell you that you’ve been banned from Uber. And only then will you realize that, as in all of the above situations, you traded power for convenience.
I mean, what’s to stop them from shutting you out if, say, you were heard insulting the company in public? They can just add it to the terms of service you didn’t read before tapping the “Accept” button. You know, the same as how PayPal can freeze access to your own money if they think you’ve broken their terms of service and can lock out your access to your money for six months while they investigate.
“It’s cool; I’ll just tell my colon cancer to chill.”
“So? I’ll just use some other company!” Well, here’s the thing: For whatever reason, this new economy seems to favor monopolies. Amazon dwarfs the next biggest e-commerce site, and can you even name an auction site other than eBay? When’s the last time you used a search engine other than Google? PayPal is 80 percent of the online payment market; Steam utterly dominates PC game sales …
That means we’re heading toward a future in which you rent the things you have to have, from the only game in town. The future is Comcast.
Now think about the entry above, about the jobs. Having your own unique skill and source of income also comes with power; you have something the world needs, and as long as you do, you “own” your livelihood. But if the government is simply giving you a check, then you are at their mercy — like how they’re constantly threatening to cut off welfare recipients for doing drugs. Now you’re “renting” — you can find yourself completely locked out of the system because you violated somebody’s terms of service. So you’d better damned well fall in line. You will make that power-for-convenience trade until your life is full of convenience and devoid of power. It will be very nice and comfortable, right up until you do something They don’t like.
“That’s the last time QueefMaster420 calls my company Fartcast.”
Now, I wasn’t lying when I said this article wouldn’t be scare-mongering about a coming dystopia. That’s because it doesn’t have to happen. We will have to reclaim that power. I’m not talking about quitting society to go live in the wilderness or forming mobs to burn down the banks. We will instead have to come together as a people and guarantee the fundamental rights of even the most unprofitable human beings. Getting over our distaste of those outside the economy will be no different from getting over our distaste of bugs — we’ll do it because it’s what we need to do, as most of us will eventually be in that same bug-eating boat.
We won’t let our own pettiness destroy society. I’m … almost sure of it.