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Opinion

A Radical Pessimist’s Predictions After 10 Years

10 years ago, I bookmarked “A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years” by Douglas Coupland. I’m not sure why I that specific post resonated with me. At the time, I was binge reading a couple of his books. He’s a smart author with an eye for trends (he coined the term, “Gen X”).

Either way…it’s been 10 years now since 2012.

How well did a pessimist do predicting the future?

It’s going to get worse

This one was off the mark. The world is richer, less impoverished, healthier (in every way), and better fed than ever before.

Now, pollution & habitat loss have increased, but we’re finally going down. Democracy has flat-lined, but is no longer decreasing.

There were mega-problems in the 2010s. He predicted that…but he also didn’t predict just how well humans would be at solving the same issues.

Now, to credit Douglas Coupland, this one is a bit of an astrologer’s feel to it. You hear what you want to hear. But, by every metric, the world is better now than it was in 2010…even if we have seemingly larger problems in front of us.

The future isn’t going to feel futuristic

Nope, the future never does. But – if you transported any of the every day technology of today to 2010…you’d have a magical multi-billion dollar business.

I mean – have you seen your photos from 2010? Have you played around with ChatGPT? Have you accessed that random file on your desktop from your phone in a super rural area? Electric cars? Food delivery? On-demand transportation?

We could be living in Blade Runner, and it would feel “normal” because humans always get used to whatever our environment is.

The future is going to happen no matter what we do

Yup. This turned out true.

The future will feel even faster than it does now

Yes – this is right. I think it’s not simply the speed of communication, but the potential of speed that creates a feeling of frantic hurry.

Then again, people have always been complaining about the “speed” of the future.

Move to Vancouver, San Diego, Shannon or Liverpool

These are all lovely cities, but the author was suggesting a flight to climate cities. That still isn’t actually happening (yet). Florida and the American Southwest kept piling on people in the 2010s.

You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state

Yes – I think he anticipated the feeling of always being in contact with everyone. Mild anxiety from not having your phone is a thing that is super-weird but also super-real.

The middle class is over. It’s not coming back

Yes and no. Inequality keeps increasing, even though it has been plateauing in the past two years. However, there are definitely more sectors to be in the top 1% – it’s just that everyone has a random niche. For example, there are fewer “middle” car dealerships. However, there are more top 1% Ram truck dealers or top 1% Nissan Leaf dealers, etc.

Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores

No? Retail has radically changed, but, if anything, online retail has forced in-store shopping to become even more hands-on.

Try to live near a subway entrance

This is still good advice…but people still are not doing it in general. That said, more cities are building dense housing near transit, so maybe?

The suburbs are doomed, especially those E.T. , California-style suburbs

LOL. While cities definitely got better, and more people moved into them, the suburbs grew even more.

In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness

Yup. Everyone complains, but it’s really, really hard to go back.

Old people won’t be quite so clueless

Yup. Thank you Facebook and UX designers – tech is easier and easier to teach.

Expect less

Yes – even though everything is general awesome…there are more crazy weird “once in a century” events happening. It’s what Chaos Theory predicts as you add complexity.

Enjoy lettuce while you still can

Not true? Lettuce both in the grocery store and via my garden seems fine.

Something smarter than us is going to emerge

Not quite yet, but the advances in AI & machine learning have been amazing to watch.

Make sure you’ve got someone to change your diaper

Yes, every developed country around the world is struggling to provide for the massive elderly population.

“You” will be turning into a cloud of data that circles the planet like a thin gauze

Le sigh. It’s weird, but also normal.

You may well burn out on the effort of being an individual

Le sigh…this is both incredibly wrong and incredibly right. While online ads & platform bubbles have definitely made marketing categories clear, they have also increased observed levels of narcissist behavior. So maybe this was totally wrong?

Untombed landfills will glut the market with 20th-century artifacts

Vintage style is still with us and growing…but landfills are definitely still growing.

The Arctic will become like Antarctica – an everyone/no one space

Yes – this was a totally true prediction. It’s getting awkward up there.

North America can easily fragment quickly as did the Eastern Bloc in 1989

People keep predicting this. And during the worst of the pandemic closures, there were fractures. But, this is very much overblown and wrong.

We will still be annoyed by people who pun, but we will be able to show them mercy because punning will be revealed to be some sort of connectopathic glitch: The punner, like someone with Tourette’s, has no medical ability not to pun

Weird prediction, but true?

Your sense of time will continue to shred. Years will feel like hours

Yes! And there are documented reasons why. Solution? Turn off your screen and have new experiences.

Everyone will be feeling the same way as you

Yes – the pandemic accelerated the feeling of global vibes. It was pretty weird chatting with Brazilians, Spaniards, and Indians and having the same “how’s the day going?” conversations.

It is going to become much easier to explain why you are the way you are

Oh yes – popular medicine and mental health awareness have helped this situation.

Dreams will get better

Not sure what this prediction was about?

Being alone will become easier

Unfortunately, yes. It’s become a trope that you have to work to get out and find community and meet other people.

Hooking up will become ever more mechanical and binary

I don’t know about this one (happily married since mid-2000s). But anecdotally, based on online internet culture, this has become true.

It will become harder to view your life as “a story”

People keep trying to make their life a story, but yeah, online life has made stories more like so this happened, then this happened, then this happened.

You will have more say in how long or short you wish your life to feel

Yes, this is very true.

Some existing medical conditions will be seen as sequencing malfunctions

Yes, I think this is true.

The built world will continue looking more and more like Microsoft packaging

Yes, this is definitely true. So much of modern construction has become modular.

Musical appreciation will shed all age barriers

Yes, online streaming has made music consumption and appreciation very different than in 2012.

People who shun new technologies will be viewed as passive-aggressive control freaks trying to rope people into their world, much like vegetarian teenage girls in the early 1980s

Yes. Speaking as someone who shuns a lot of new technology after checking it out…this is true. I mean, this is a blog post instead of a YouTube short. Very weird.

You’re going to miss the 1990s more than you ever thought

LOL – there was a bestseller about this. And the ’90s are trendy in every way.

Stupid people will be in charge, only to be replaced by ever-stupider people.

Le sigh. So this came true in more ways than one…and in more countries than one.

You will live in a world without kings, only princes in whom our faith is shattered

Yup.

Metaphor drift will become pandemic

Yup.

People will stop caring how they appear to others

LOL – so this is maybe the most accurate prediction on the entire list.

Knowing everything will become dull

Yup – who cares when you can access the sum of human knowledge anytime, anywhere?

IKEA will become an ever-more-spiritual sanctuary

Yup – the cult of IKEA and comfort consumption is real.

We will become more matter-of-fact, in general, about our bodies

Yes, this is true. And all for the better, thank goodness.

The future of politics is the careful and effective implanting into the minds of voters images that can never be removed

Le sigh. Sloganeering has always been a part of politics. But the elections of 2016 and onwards have turned it into a true science.

You’ll spend a lot of time shopping online from your jail cell

Le sigh – oh how very true.

Getting to work will provide vibrant and fun new challenges

How many software updates does Zoom need? And why is my scooter not charged?

Your dream life will increasingly look like Google Street View

Not sure what this is?

We will accept the obvious truth that we brought this upon ourselves

Yup – so very, very true.

Takeaway

The best prediction articles are always more about the present than the future. Even if the predictions come true, it’s never quite how you’d imagine it, because you can never know the full context around the prediction (e.g., try explaining how a phone is basically required to exist in 2022 America to yourself in 2006).

By Nate

I'm Nate Shivar - I live in Atlanta and love exploring the city, outdoors, books & Internet. Read about me, my Now page, or my work.

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