What does the future look like?
One of the questions we’re all asking about—begging for, really—is what the future might look like. Where are we going, and what does the next year look like? Or the next four years? I’m stuck wondering if my child will go back to daycare this Fall, what school might look like, and how my work and the workplace more generally will shift. Which things will change permanently and what is temporary?
Please, someone, give us a rulebook for what this looks like. Unpredictability and uncertainty cause a lot of stress, so we crave simplicity and organization. I find myself searching for writers who have thought about this—people who have imagined it, who are dreaming about it, or have studied it. It turns out, there are definitely a few people who have written things like this, from winding forays into five-year futures, to epidemiologists and pandemic researchers thinking through so many of the layered consequences of viral diseases.
Here are the people talking about what the future looks like, and a few ways to begin thinking about what’s next. If you’re reading things you think I’d love, send me a note on Twitter.
Books on Plagues & Pandemics
Laurie Garrett wrote the 1994 best seller, “The Coming Plague,” and recommends the 2017 book “Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes.” If you’re curious what she predicts about the future of the coronavirus, she thinks a best-case scenario is a 36-month timeline for a vaccine. Here’s what she shared about going back to normal in an interview with the New York Times (here):
“This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. We created a whole new normal. We securitized the United States. We turned into an antiterror state. And it affected everything. We couldn’t go into a building without showing ID and walking through a metal detector, and couldn’t get on airplanes the same way ever again. That’s what’s going to happen with this.”
Books of Fiction
Some of our best daydreams come from our imagination. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the scope and limitlessness of the human imagination on a recent episode with Tim Ferriss (Episode #430, brilliant, I’ll listen to it at least twice). When it comes to imagination, I want to sink my teeth into stories and dreams of what people have already written about pandemics and plagues. Here are two:
Lawrence Wright wrote The End Of October, a book that’s “eerily prescient,” a novel about “a devastating virus that begins in Asia before going global.” A neighbor of ours walked over, masked, and dropped it off six feet away from us, said “I think you’ll enjoy this.” We’re going to dig into the book this week.
Several years ago, I read Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel, a novel about the collapse of civilization due to a super flu that kills almost everyone. It was and still is a book I have not been able to get out of my head.
This twitter thread is a rabbit hole of future imaginations
Varun Mathur wrote a lengthy thread on Twitter (it will take you at least 15 minutes to read through) and the thread just keeps getting better and better. What does the world look like five years from now?
“Masks are now as essential as shoes when going outside,” and “health is no longer a ‘guarded secret,'” but it’s “recorded in this public system, and is part of your profile.” Governments imposed density taxes, trains require time slots to get a seat, and we’ve moved to the internet quickly, near instantaneously. Eating out is now much more luxurious—and expensive. Work from home became semi-permanent for a large number of firms. The global talent pool shifted in balance once everyone began to work from home, due to “the willingness of someone elsewhere in the world to work EST hours.”
“The disruption in white-collar jobs triggered due to 100% work from home, […] has been a key society disrupting event in the West.” People began working for multiple employers. Travel never fully recovered.
But I missed his vision of childcare and schools—it wasn’t covered (as it is often glossed over in the world of “work”). It was Sharon Stolt who pointed this out to me in the first place, and so I reached out to ask:
Where is childcare or children featured in your future vision? Then I added a few more ideas:
“The nuclear family was already broken but this solidified the complete breakdown of the 1950s-2000 era family with 2 parents and 2 kids. Micro families would partner up, now called pods, where groups of 18-30 people would cohabitate and live together and share resources.”
“Schools and work schedules shifted to ABCD part days—6am to 12, 10 to 4, 12 to 6, 4 to 10pm. Children and parents went to work shifts at the same time. Workplaces distributed workers across both time AND space to maintain distancing while allowing for essential human contact.”
“You must write this down.”
Now is the time to start a journal even if you’ve never done it before. Write morning pages, start a 750words.com account, or start an Evernote, Moleskine, or Notion document with daily scribblings. Pick one—you have five minutes to decide, because the tool doesn’t matter, the writing does. Why? We are living through something we’ll remember for the rest of our lifetimes. The small details are what matters. We need record-keepers, and you’ll be telling your grandkids about this for the rest of your life.
I’m reminded of what Margo Aaron recently wrote about remembering and records:
“A record is so important. Our memories tend to operate in feelings instead of facts, so we either block out the pain and whitewash our experience or exacerbate it to the point where it hurts to look at.”
“How much do you wish you could read a page out of the diary of a woman from 1918 Philly right now? Don’t you want to know what she bought in the store? Were there even stores to go to? The department store had literally just been invented. Was milk being delivered in glass containers to her door? How’d she wash her clothes? Did she shower every day? Did her parents live with her? Did she live with them? How did she write letters? With a pen? Did she use oil lamps? If she got a cut, did she use a bandaid? Was plastic a thing yet? What books was she reading? What kind of shoes did she wear? Was she worried about gaining weight? How’d she curl her hair? If she wasn’t going outside, what did she wear? What was life like WITHOUT athleisure? What were people gossiping about!!!”
“We need writers. We need artists. We need all the professions and skills the world has deemed, “not profitable” (teachers, babysitters, early education specialists, janitors, academics, scholars, library scientists, cleaners, delivery folks, playwrights, chefs).”
In short, she says, “we need you to write this for us.”
Write down the future. Imagine it. Ask questions. Dare to dream what changes. If you’re exhausted, record what’s happening, any way you can. Your memories of last year, of last month—those matter. Everything is changing, every day, and we need the records. Your records.
Have a good Sunday, everyone. See you at the same time next week.
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I write a newsletter about personal development, psychology, and leadership. Recent essays cover how to make better decisions, designing your schedule and life, rethinking the structure of work to fit a more human body, and the intersection of parenting and work. If you're curious, seeking the spark of new and interesting ideas, and want some groundedness within the flurry of modern life, you will probably enjoy my newsletter. Don't see the form below? Head here to subscribe instead.