Usually when you think about the future, you imagine all the cool new stuff we'll be using (or at least trying to use, before we go hunting for a low-tech, highly efficient sledgehammer).
Usually when you think about the future, you imagine all the cool new stuff we'll be using (or at least trying to use, before we go hunting for a low-tech, highly efficient sledgehammer). But the future is also about things becoming extinct.
Things such as paternity disputes (already on their way out) and keys (ditto) and Russian democracy (feel free to argue the point) and, alas, careers. (You know it's true.)
Richard Watson's book "Future Files: The 5 Trends That Will Shape the Next 50 Years" is filled with little jolts like that — things you recognize on the horizon, either rising up or sinking down. Some are great. Most aren't, starting with ...
— Plain old walls. These are going extinct. "Any flat surface has the potential to be a screen," Watson says. "There are restaurants in Tokyo where the menus are in the table and you order by touch screen." He predicts short animations on cereal boxes soon, too. Goodbye, sanity!
— Lettuce. It's not that all lettuce is on the way out, but hydroponically grown lettuce may be because it takes a lot of water and energy to grow but delivers almost no nutritional value. That puts it at the top of what Watson predicts will become a list of "socially unacceptable foods" — foods that seem selfish. Bottled water already is headed that direction and could find itself as uncool as McMansions and Hummers. And speaking of Hummers ...
— Car profiling is on its way. You are what you drive. Fast-food restaurants with drive-through windows could start employing technology soon that recognizes the make and model of your car and alerts employees (or machines) to begin preparing food accordingly. After all, the inhabitants of a late-'90s Hummer and a 2008 Volvo usually order different foods. Predictably different. Welcome to your future as a caricature of yourself!
— Pay to play (or at least relax). Everything is speeding up so much that soon we will be willing to pay for a chance to decompress. We already have seen the growth of quiet cars on commuter trains. Airplanes will have quiet sections, too, if they (God forbid!) start allowing cell phones. Couples will book vacations at fancy unplugged resorts so they have no choice but to relate. And meantime, a village in England is petitioning to take itself off the GPS map. It does not want traffic coming through town.
Dropping out of the tech world may become the ultimate luxury, which means most of us common folk will remain stubbornly plugged-in. Leading to ...
— Infinite connectability. Pretty soon, you ALWAYS will know where your children are, thanks to GPS devices in their backpacks (already available). You always will know what's in your refrigerator, even when you're at the office, thanks to RFID chips in your food cartons (already doable). And the marketing world always will know where you are, thanks to your electronic trail (already being tracked). So if you text your friend, "I'm hungry," your cell phone service will sell that info to McDonald's, which immediately will send your phone a 50-cent coupon for the nearest golden arches.
I'm not looking forward to being caught in this matrix of marketing. But I'm sure that once I get that coupon, I'll start salivating for french fries. That's the thing about the future; it comes, and then, like it or not, there we are.
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at Advertising Age. She is the founder of FreeRangeKids.com and the author of the upcoming book "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry." Email her at email@example.com.