Utopia: Inspiration, not Aspiration
Making predictions about the future is risky (some might say foolhardy). Nothing is certain. On the other hand, guessing future trends isn’t as random as predicting the weather. As author Jeremy Rifkin points out in his book The End of Work, futurists at the turn of the century—mostly science fiction writers—“correctly predicted electric clothes washers and dryers, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, refrigerators, garbage disposals, even electric razors.”
Of course, futurists also got a lot of other stuff wrong. We don’t travel around the planet in pneumatic tubes or flying cars, nor do we travel regularly to the moon or eat our food in the form of paste—at least not yet. As we progress through the year, we’ll be looking at many ideas about what an idealized sustainable lifestyle of the future might look like. As the book, Visions of Utopia, astutely notes, utopian dreams since the time of Ovid (43 B.C.) tend to depict similar ideals: “rivers of milk and nectar shall flow, that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and spears be beaten into ploughshares. [...] There shall be neither hate nor envy nor hunger nor thirst. There shall be much leisure and few lawyers. There shall be no private property, and there shall be communal camaraderie...” And of course, there will be lots of consensual no-strings-attached-sex, and no war. Fun will be had by all.
On the other hand, one person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia. We like our utopias at a distance, or at least in small doses. Many of us would balk at the strict rules of behavior, commerce and social relationships required to live in one. Consider the popularity of theme parks such as Walt Disney World. Millions flock to visit this “magic kingdom” of nostalgia and fantasy. But the kingdom maintains its brand image with strict rules about employee behavior and relentless attention to cleanliness and order. Perhaps Disney found the secret formula for utopian success: Give them a fantasy, but don’t make them live (or work) in it for very long. Visitors know they can leave the narrowly defined world of the park, and return to the ambiguities and struggles that constitute “real” life.
The next century, depending on whom you ask, looks vastly different. To illustrate, consider the following two views: Technotopia. In the world of Ray Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines), everything comes down to how fast we can crunch the numbers. He sees a future of human beings merging with computer technology as inevitable. In Kurzweil’s world, in 100 years, we’ll not only be virtually immortal, we’ll hardly need housing, transportation or food as we know it—so complete will be our transformation.
By 2099, he predicts, “The number of software-based humans vastly exceeds those still using native neuron cell-based computation. […] Humans who do not utilize such implants are unable to meaningfully participate in dialogues with those who do.” How many of Earth’s billions will actually participate in this radical shift in the human condition, should it come to pass? That’s not addressed, but if you consider that only 34 percent of the world has Internet access today (internetworldstats.com), you can bet the digital divide of the future will be deep and wide.6
Third Sector Uprising
Jeremy Rifkin, author of The End of Work, suggests that an underestimated force in American culture could lead us toward a more humanistic future. This “third sector” consists of
Digital Dreams. In this engineering-based vision of the future, nanobots prepare our food, and human beings become more machine than “organic,” living forever.
organizations that operate outside of the corporate or government power. These include schools and colleges, hospitals, social services organizations, museums, libraries, art galleries, orchestras, theaters, animal welfare organizations, neighborhood groups and so on. They carry enormous clout, and may not accept the path that technocrats have mapped out for our future. Rifkin suggests that as more people lose their traditional jobs to computerization, they will find themselves free to devote time to the third sector, influencing local politics, community directions, and “offering a much needed antidote to the materialism that has so dominated twentieth century industrial thinking.”
Our view is that each of these predictions is only partly right. New trends and technological advances are changing ALL of the rules. These include the sharing economy, the foodie movement, permaculture, inward migration to cities, green urbanism, a huge drop in the cost of solar technology, the return of co-op business models and more. All of these trends form a countercultural, and in many cases, more sustainable response to the wasteful economic models of yesteryear. Why own a car when you can share one? Why eat oranges from South America when your neighbor grows a better-tasting variety? Why live in outer ring suburbs when everything you need or want is within walking distance in the city?
The Intuit 2020 Report predicts that in just a few years, “Work-life balance will no longer be a myth, but a reality as people invest in the places they live to make them better, forging new communities. This weave of community fabric will see people re-establishing stronger ties with family, friends and community spawning local economic development in new, dynamic ways.”
As citizens of one of the most affluent countries on Earth, we’re among the fortunate few who get to choose from a whole palette of opportunities. As you journey with us into the future through The Celestia Project, we look forward to hearing your ideas about how things might go—how we might pass down to future generations a place of stability and wonder. We begin this month with that most fundamental of human needs: food security. We’ll have a lot more content available at our onlineheadquarters: videos, slide shows, articles and handouts. To visit our ONLINE HEADQUARTERS.