We live in the future – that’s self-evident. At the moment I’m writing the words that you, gentle reader, will soon be reading, typing on a non-existent keyboard displayed on a sliver of glass, which will soon be uploaded to a database sited in San Francisco, to be read by people I’ve never met all over the world. This miracle is not even miraculous: so commonplace is it to live in the future that we take it for granted. We live in an age beyond what the previous generations could have imagined: a world that sometimes seems like a mix between Logan’s Run and William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. We may not have flying cars or trips to the moon, but technology has escalated in different directions to those favoured by the futurologists of the ’50s.
It’s always difficult to predict what will come next, because progress comes in leaps and bounds, always into new and unknown directions. In the ’60s it seemed like by the year 2000 we we would be living in biodomes surrounded by robots, and luckily that’s not the case: progress happens in unexpected ways. At the risk of falling on my sword, I’d like to showcase a couple of new developments that I hope will, one day, be regarded as the ordinary.
Here’s an interesting fact: in some parts of the UK and the US, there are more bees in cities than there are in the countyside. Bees, in particular honey bees, are incredibly important to agriculture (they’re my favourite animal: I’ll be writing about why before too long) because they aid the fertilisation of plants. The reason why there are more bees in cities than in countries is simple: bees need variety. Large-scale farming and monoculture (think those eerie, endless fields of corn and wheat in the American midwest) are bad for bees – the prevalence of pesticides and lack of diversity have led to a downturn in bee populations. Monoculture and large-scale farming is an unfortunate necessity of human civilisation- we need lots of food and, barring some kind of Malthusian catastrophe, farming is only going to become more concentrated. Biodiversity, on which animals like bees survive, is becoming confined to the unlikeliest of places: the city. London by itself has 110,000 acres of open land which hosts wildlife. Very little of this, however, is given over to food production.
The solution is simple: devote the countryside to large-scale food production. Devote the rooftops of cities to growing fruit and vegetables.
Absurd as it sounds, roof space is in many ways ideal for planting. Plants on roofs have an ideal combination of carbon dioxide, sunlight and moisture. The effect they have on the building is to provide an insulating effect, reducing heat loss, while at the same time reducing energy consumption of heat regulators. They lower the overall temperature of a city, so much so that it is estimated that the temperature of Tokyo could be lowered by 1 degree Celsius if half of rooftops were given over to gardens. Reducing the overall temperature of cities is key to reducing smog and improving general living standards
The ultimate effect is this – plants and flowers reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, boost biodiversity (in particular among bird and insect populations), and provide small-scale food production for businesses, communities and individuals. Gardens like these are becoming more prevalent in major cities, including Singapore, New York and London. The end result for the consumer is simple: fresh fruit and vegetables, grown locally, on your table.
Oh, and they look really nice too.
For argument’s sake I include nuclear power among the clean energies. Public opinion is largely against nuclear power due to a number of early mistakes: the same approbrium is not given to fossil fuels, which by sheer number have caused more harm to people or the environment than nuclear power ever could. The other three are solar-, tidal- and wind-power. Regardless of whether you believe these present a viable alternative to fossil fuels, the fact remains: we will eventually run out of coal, gas and oil. Given that our economy is based largely on energy new, with oil reserves serving instead of gold as the basis of fiat currency, it makes sense to have an alternate source of energy set up.
The solution, again, rests largely with individuals. Many houses are being built with solar panels in the UK, other houses, like the one I live in, have been retrofitted. Solar energy in particular is a basically infinite source of power: houses that have solar panels have reduced energy expenditure and can even make a profit by selling their produce back into the energy grid. What’s appealing about this is how simple it is: just lay your panels out and watch the electricity roll in.
Solar panels are currently expensive but, as I mentioned the other day, there is a miracle material on the way: graphene. Graphene sheets will make unbelievably efficient solar cells of very low weight and size. Expect to see them on everything in the future.
Wind and tidal power are largely dependent on the weather and I don’t know if they have a future; while iconic, wind turbines have a serious effect on things like the water table wherever they’re placed (they require massive construction) and deliver varying amounts of power. Tidal power generators have also been shown to have a negative effect on their local ecosystem.
Watching Mad Men reminds me that not so long ago men were men and women were women, and if you didn’t like it you shut up and dealt with it.Thankfully we live in more advanced times where people can be (at least in the West) more open about their gender identity. We are starting to see something interesting take place: people are discovering that gender identity and sexual identity are different things. There are many straight women and womanly straight men, as well as manly gay men etcetera. People are not confined to rigid gender roles any more: you only have to think about new words entering the vocabulary – Mankini. Guyliner.
As a fairly feminine straight guy this is great news for me. I am no Burt Reynolds or Tom Selleck but that doesn’t mean I can’t rattle your headboard (so to speak, wink wink). The end product of all of this social development is a society of people who feel comfortable with what they’re wearing. Sure, you can’t tell if the cute humanoid at the bar is a guy or a girl but, let’s face it, after another round of drinks will you really mind all that much?
You are a social being. You belong to a community. As primates we started off knowing tens of people. Then we knew hundreds. Now we know thousands. What has happened is that your community has gotten bigger in the last few years, and that’s disturbed some people.
We have to accept that we are always connected – not only to each other, but to the greatest source of knowledge that has ever existed. Scientists have discovered that people are developing a new kind of memory not seen before – something called Paging Memory, a type of memory previously only seen in computers. A computer doesn’t keep all of its files open at the same time. What it does is remember the path that leads to the file. Humans are doing this now: instead of remembering a fact, they remember how to get to the fact (what website to access, what google search string to enter to get to the fact). Information is now being filed so that we can devote more brain space to important things like how to use the damn computer in the first place.
Really this is nothing especially new: your great-grandparents kept everything they knew, or needed to know, about the world in their heads. They knew how to skin a bear or cure Leprosy (or whatever it was people used to do) without consulting books. The generation after that learned the value of reading and writing, because reading meant that information could be stored outwith the brain; in other words in writing. Memory and information became externalised. Paging Memory is just the latest step in this evolution. so much of what we know and remember is stored as external memory, either in photographs, websites or documents that we, the human race, are pooling our information into one huge collection. We are a species connected to each other by a shared font of information. So much of our communication with people is online that it’s changing the way we think. We think in words and emoticons now. We think in 140-character tweets. We are a species who have taken hive-mindedness to its ultimate effectiveness: a species of individuals tied together by a shared experience.