Recently, a few writers whose work I enjoy, like Erik Hoel and the Slime Mold Time Mold people, published predictions for the year 2050. This seemed like a fun exercise, and I couldn’t think of anything else I felt like writing about this week, so I thought I’d come up with a few of my own.
2050 feels far away, but really, it’s only 28 years from now. I’m 31, so we’ll hit 2050 before I’m twice as old as I am now. A lot’s happened in my lifetime, but the world of my birth year of 1990 wasn’t all that different from the world of today. If you looked closely, most of today’s trends were present in some form then, just as most of 2050’s trends are likely present in some form today. The future is already here, it’s just not evenly yada yada yada.
So, here are seven predictions for 2050, in no particular order. Should go without saying, but just in case: these are things I think will happen, not things I want to happen. Caveat emptor.
Plastic surgery for everyone
As prices go down and techniques improve, plastic surgery will follow the path of tattoos and piercings and become significantly destigmatized. It will become common to alter aspects of your body dramatically and to talk openly about doing so. The increasing visibility of trans and nonbinary people will contribute to this trend, as they expand our perspective on the many forms the human body can take.
As with tattoos and piercings, body modification will be used not just to conform to dominant beauty standards, but also to give your appearance a unique stamp. Think elf ears and bunny tails, not just nose jobs and breast implants. Many of these procedures will become easily reversible, enabling people to try on different alterations as fashion and personal taste evolves.
We’ll mostly muddle through climate change
The U.S. won’t pass any significant climate legislation in the next decade. Technological innovation, as well as market and cultural pressures, will lead to a significant reduction in worldwide emissions, but we won’t hit net-zero by 2050. We’ll blow through the IPCC’s 1.5° warming target and end up on track to hit somewhere between 2 and 3° by the end of the century.
Although this will cause significant suffering worldwide, for most people in developed countries climate change will be closer to a nuisance than an apocalypse. Many will incorrectly see this as evidence that global warming wasn’t the big deal the climate Cassandras said it would be.
Religion will decline, but religious fervor will remain as strong as ever
The decline of organized religion in America will continue, with increasing numbers who don’t attend religious services or formally identify with any religion. But a decline in religious institutions isn’t the same as a decline in religious feeling. Alternative spiritualities like astrology and ayahuasca will grow in popularity, and movements like QAnon, which we previously categorized as conspiracy theories, will come to be more properly understood as new religions.
Less whiteness, not that much less racism
By 2050, America will be majority non-white, but that term won’t mean the same thing it does now. Their skin may not be “white” (already a completely subjective term), but many Asians and Hispanics will essentially become subsumed by the white majority, just as Jews, the Irish, and Italians did before them. This shifting coalition will reveal that what many progressives today call the deep-seated “white supremacy” of American society is perhaps better understood as specifically anti-Black racism.
Black Americans will remain the one major racial group blocked from this path to whiteness and will continue to be the victims of social, political, and economic discrimination (although of course some incremental progress will have been made on this front as well). Our new majority-minority society won’t lead to a liberal utopia or an era of permanent Democratic governance any more than the end of WASP dominance did a hundred years ago.
America will get less democratic, and we’ll mostly shrug
Whether it’s Trump in 2024 or someone else further down the road, future Presidential candidates will realize that any sufficiently close election is effectively stealable, through legal means, if you have enough other elected officials on your side—and if you have no shame. At some point in the next 30 years, we’ll see an election thrown to the “losing” candidate (or passed to the House, who in turn elects the “losing” candidate) via the collaboration of like-minded state and local election officials, likely under the pretext of correcting imagined fraud.
Many people will be outraged, but not outraged enough to sustain the kind of mass protest movement that would be necessary to prevent or reverse such an outcome. This kind of periodic, on-the-margins electoral malfeasance won’t be categorically different from the electoral college or existing voting rights restrictions—we’re just already used to those. Most of us will, unfortunately, get used to this new world too.
The rise of A.I.-powered writing will lead to an explosion of memoir and personal essay
By 2050, the descendants of GPT-3 will be good enough to write not just the next Marvel movie, but even works of literary fiction. You’ll often still be able to distinguish between A.I.- and human-authored novels, but the A.I.-authored stuff won’t be worse, just different, with weirder choices and visibly non-human thought patterns.
As A.I. crowds human writers out of many popular genres, lots of writers will fall back on the one form of writing A.I. will never be able to do: telling true, first-person stories. Memoirs, personal essays, and other forms of quote-unquote “authentic human experience” will become even more popular than they are today. There will be at least one high-profile JT LeRoy-style scandal in which a popular memoir is revealed to have secretly been the work of an A.I. fabulist.
Life will continue to be a confounding mix of pleasure and suffering
The average person’s material comfort will have risen dramatically by 2050, but it won’t make most of us happier as the hedonic treadmill rears its ugly head once again. Most of us will continue to stumble blindly in the search for joy and meaning in our lives, finding, no matter what we do, that suffering is an inherent part of existence. We will live in the future, but our experience of what it’s like to be alive will remain fundamentally unchanged.
Except for me personally, of course—I’ll be rich, famous, and in a state of perpetual bliss.
Yours in realizing that I pretty much have to keep writing this newsletter until 2050 now,
[Insert shameful, groveling plea for subscribers here]