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Weekend Assignment: Oh Beautiful, for Spacious Skies…

June 29, 2010

Weekend Assignment this week asks what the America of 2062 will look like:

Next Tuesday is my birthday, I am not quite 50 yet, but when I was a little girl I liked to sit and imagine what the world, more specifically, America, would be like when I reached 50! Having nearly arrived at my goal age, I am now aiming for another 50 years! So, in honor of my 48th birthday, I want you to search your imaginations, and tell what I can expect in the year… 2062!

Extra Credit: Tell me, is the world anything like you imagined it would be when you grew up? What’s different? What’s the same?

And so, I slip on my time-visor helmet, and prepare to reveal to you the FUTURE!  Or FUTURES! as the case may be:

The time-visor vibrates, and images start to appear – images of world both familiar and strange.  I slip through the time-stream, selecting a moment, a point, a possible future.  I close my eyes.  And open them again.

*     *     *

I look out over a desolate landscape.  Dust twirls through the abandoned street.  Above, the sun glares mercilessly, like a portrait of Big Brother.  Sweat drips down my shriveled hands.  I stagger to my feet, rising slowly from an weathered gray rocking chair, using a cane to steady myself.  It must be 115, maybe 120 out.  I cough a light laugh.  It’s a comparatively cool November afternoon.  I shield my eyes against the unwavering sun as I step off the porch.  I can hear the deafening hum of the paramilitary hover-runners bearing down on my house.  An unmanned seeker-drone zips down the street, five feet off the simmering asphalt.  The peripheral cameras catch sight of me, and the seeker-drone pulls up short, and turns in midair to focus on me. 

“Halt,” a hollow, metallic sound emits from the drone’s speakers.  “Do not move, citizen.  Homeland Security Enforcers will be arriving momentarily.”

I take a step forward.  Painful memories of a life I didn’t live flash through my mind.  No.  This isn’t how its supposed to be.

The hover-runners cast a shadow over the walkway to the street.  A violent wind kicks up, blowing dust and debris through the air beneath them.  Their shade is cool, the fiery wind an old lover’s caress.  Ziplines drop down and black-clad police in full riot gear descend, their faces hidden behind tinted shield-visors.

“You are under arrest for sedition, citizen.”  A meaningless charge, in this day and age.  The America I love is dead.  Gone.  The 58-starred flag on their arm patches is a mockery.  I take another step forward.

“Give me liberty…” I quote.  The soldiers raise their assault rifles.

A com officer in the rear taps his link.  “Requesting permission to execute order 216.”

“…Or give me death.”  The soldiers don’t even flinch.

“Order 216.  Permission granted.”  The com officer’s link fizzles.  He nods.

I raise my cane in an angry gesture.

“By order 216 of the Martial Law Code, your execution for seditious acts and thoughts has been approved.  Surrender, and justice will be swift and merciful.  Put down your weapon!”

I sneer, and shake my cane.  “Get off my lawn, you lousy kids!”

*     *     *

 My mind reels as I’m pulled back into the time stream.  Something went wrong.  History flashes forward and backward as the time-visor’s software searches for the critical temporal error and corrects for it.

*     *     *

I open my eyes to a white ceiling.  A mechanically cool breeze stirs the hair on my head.  I have hair.  I rise from bed, still wearing the soft cotton pajamas.  I feel well-rested, ready for the day.  My hands are slightly wrinkled, but as I grab my robe, I find my grip is surprisingly strong.  The hall light comes on automatically.  It’s still early – the sunlight filtering through the windows is tinted with yellows and reds.  Music begins wafting through the house, an upbeat tempo, designed to invigorate. 

“Good morning, Mr. Watkins.”  The words come from nowhere.

“Good morning, House.” I acknowledge.  “But keep it down, will you?  Mrs. Watkins is still asleep; I’d like to let her rest.”

The music fades to a soothing melody, quietly.  I step into the livingroom and the shades adjust, letting in the morning sunlight.  I pick up the skylink, and it activates my preferences.  A screen appears in the air, showing the time, temperature, and top headlines of interest to me.  76 and beautiful out.  Or 24.  All these years, and we still haven’t finished upgrading to metric.

Headlines flash. More skirmishes on Lake Baikal and the Aral sea.  Chinese and Russian forces face off.  Not America’s business – not since we finally withdrew our troops from Afghanistan – but the president is sure to make a statement.  The U.S. and Canada reached an uneasy truce over the water in the Great Lakes only four years ago.  I put the skylink down, and head to the kitchen to make pancakes.  The grandkids are supposed to be coming by today.

*     *     *

I slip the time-visor off, and think again, considering the question posed by the Weekend Assignment.  What will the America of 2062 look like?  I’ll be old, by then.  But will medical technology advance so that I won’t feel quite so old by then?  What other technological advances will there be?  What challenges will we face, as a people, collectively, or individually?  Which will we be able to overcome?

There are a lot of variables, of course.  Many possibilities that are realistic.  The glitch in my time-visor made me realize that almost anything can happen, but what does happen depends on the choices we make.

I think back to the advances and the missed opportunities of my own lifetime.  I’d always assumed that we’d have begun a serious manned exploration of Mars, by now, but here we are still debating whether its a good idea (or not talking about it at all, ceding the conversation to those who don’t want to spend that money).  I had believed that the prejudices and hatreds of America’s past were already buried in history books, but no part nor place in the modern America.  Instead, we still squabble, letting the old racial attitudes and renewed bigotries guide the public policy.  I’d been raised to believe that by now we’d have flying cars.  And yet the application of that technology remains impractical today.  When I was a child, we never dreamed that every possible shred of knowledge would be available to all in a vast global network.  And yet, here I am today, posting these thoughts on my blog.

Yes, the world is a different place today than the one I grew up believing in.  Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.  The next fifty years are sure to be a wild ride – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

 

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2010 12:25 pm

    Hi :)

    WOW! I am completely awestruck! Just WOW! A part of me wants to know more, like every little detail about how we came to this. Another part of me doesn’t want to know at all. I can picture it all quite vividly in my imagination. What an amazing thought. Thank you so much for the look forward!

    • June 29, 2010 12:37 pm

      Thanks!

      The how’s and why’s are, perhaps, better left to the imagination. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I do feel like I’m in my element when I’m writing something more like a story than something that actually happened. This was a little different since I played the role of the protagonist.

  2. June 29, 2010 1:19 pm

    Wow, it goes to show you that a one-degree change can produce MASSIVE effects over the course of time.

    Does it make you think about life? The small choices that we make will change our lives for the better or the worse. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except for one little change—the pages turn themselves, and there’s no back button.

    Good job Stephen! -j.p.

    • June 29, 2010 1:31 pm

      Thanks.

      Yeah, it kind of is like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. I do think about these kinds of things, sometimes, but usually in the context of bigger life-decisions and moments. Where would I be today, what would my life be like, now, if I had done “X” instead of “Y”? What if I’d had the foresight to choose X over Y? Would things be better, worse, roughly the same but different?

      Those are questions we can only explore in the imagination. And the same is (almost) true looking forward. The difference: we have the capacity still to choose X over Y in the future.

  3. June 29, 2010 4:41 pm

    What a bleak kind of future that seems to be… who knows what will happen, the real trajectory that the world takes. This made me stop and pause and think.

    • June 29, 2010 4:42 pm

      My question is…what were the eight extra stars for? hmmm…?

      • June 29, 2010 4:51 pm

        Good question! I’m glad you asked. They’re for

        [spoiler];lkasdgl ;lkjfff ;kejlkjefa ae,cir.fsxx tjemasd,viuojc.l. oiuwej.vielkcnviwer;lkj awqa,cd rvz. [/spoiler].

        Bet you didn’t see that coming!

      • June 30, 2010 2:42 pm

        um………?! lol

      • June 30, 2010 2:48 pm

        I hope my joke didn’t come off as insulting. The point was I picked a random number greater than 50 and intentionally left the meaning to the reader’s imagination… :)

      • July 2, 2010 10:39 am

        I wasn’t insulted at all. The one thing that came to my mind was Puerto Rico, for starters! :-) After that, I don’t know, maybe parts of Canada and Mexico?

      • July 5, 2010 5:03 pm

        Maybe, yeah… ;)

        Although… excluding D.C. and Puerto Rico, did you know there were four other U.S. territories/protectorates… in theory, any one of them could apply for statehood in the future.

        Although, even if all of them joined, I’d still be three stars short… Hmm… }:)

    • June 29, 2010 4:49 pm

      Well, I tried to compare and contrast a bleak future with one that’s not so bleak, with the idea to think about what things might lead to one over the other. I guess the bleak one came on a little strong… and the not-so-bleak was just a little quiet. Then again, I hinted in my not-so-bleak world that all was not well in the world…

      • June 29, 2010 6:01 pm

        I thought they were both bleak, different experiences of unsettled times – one directly confronting the conflict, the other indirectly via the news (but who knows what would happen if you stepped out the door in that future?).

      • June 29, 2010 7:42 pm

        True. I included the bleak news because I suspect it’s human nature to be in conflict, and to argue over the distribution of limited resources. The question was how deeply these conflicts and issues affect a given nation-state (and its citizens), and whether conflict over those resources will lead to the degradation of democracy in that nation state. In one scenario, democracy fails, in the other it survives in one nation state (i.e. the U.S., and probably also Canada, by the way I portray it) and conflicts are resolved equitably whereas in nation-states that lack strong democratic institutions armed conflict is the only fallback.

        At least, that was the way I was trying to handle it. That, and to pose the question: what would cause democratic government to fail in countries with strong democratic institutions, and what might enable it to continue to succeed?

  4. July 1, 2010 5:17 am

    Beautifully written! I like the contrast between the two visions, and I’m really not sure which one is better. Both are pretty bleak. I wonder what someone would have seen fifty years ago looking through the same vizor? Possibly also two very different visions. Our world can be pretty bleak too.

    • July 1, 2010 8:32 am

      Indeed, our world can be pretty bleak, sometimes. But it can also be beautiful. I think the same holds true for America… sometimes we can do some pretty sick things, as a country… and sometimes we can do things that are amazing and awe-inspring.

  5. July 1, 2010 6:29 am

    Outstanding! I would hope we’ll never get near the dystopian option you lead off with, but I do agree that the future depends of the choices we make. Doc Brown says it in BTTF III: “Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!”

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