diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 09, 2020

Ten years ago, at the very start of the 2010s, I posted a series of ten predictions about the coming decade. I called my feature 2020 Vision which, even though it wasn't especially original at the time, wasn't yet the cliche it's become. Ten years on I thought I'd repost my predictions and see how I did - five today, and five tomorrow. I've included a link to your 2010 comments, but please only add to the 2020 comments, thanks.

202 0 Vision: redundancy
I was at the supermarket checkout earlier this week with a small basket of groceries when the future hit me. Of the ten or so cashier-staffed checkouts only one was open, and a long queue had formed. Meanwhile as many as sixteen self-scan checkouts were lit up ready for customers to do it themselves, but most were empty. A handful of staff tried gamely to guide shoppers from the single queue to the no-queues, even offering to do the scanning on their behalf, but absolutely nobody over the age of 40 was willing to shift. They clung gamely to what they knew, to the nice lady who does everything for you, rather than risk the pressure and potential humiliation of having to bag stuff themselves. Better get used to it, however, because by the end of the decade refuseniks may not have the option. Automation and outsourcing are on the advance everywhere, cutting costs for businesses and taking away the human touch. Why hire someone if you don't need to, and why provide a personal service when a machine will do almost as well? There are going to be fewer jobs to go round over the next decade, never again one for every available adult in the UK population, which means a world where unemployment is increasingly the norm. Expect to battle harder for the skilled jobs that remain, and to end up having to do a lot more for yourself, for nothing. And do remember to bring your own bags to the 2020 supermarket, because there'll be nobody to do it for you.
I was right that the self-service checkout was on the advance, and in many retail establishments it's very much the dominant force, but it hasn't completely taken over just yet. I still hate the things and avoid using them wherever possible, not out of Luddite sensibility but because of my tendency to make several errors while self-processing (I am that person you stand behind silently tutting "sheesh, he doesn't even know how to use one properly"). I still notice the generational divide, even that younger folk will happily queue to scan things themselves rather than walk over to an empty checkout and interact with a human operator. What hasn't happened is the rise of unemployment through relentless automation. As yet there are still plenty of jobs to go round, just not necessarily skilful ones, and fewer with any degree of reliability and long-term security. The touchscreen and app interface haven't taken over every human role just yet, but they're very much on the advance.
202 0 Vision: digitalisation
There's probably a wall where you live stacked high with the media you consume. Bookshelves, CDs racks, rows of DVDs, all lined up ready for use when fancy strikes. They may not be there much longer. Music is vanishing as a physical format, with most new purchases downloaded rather than catalogued. E-books are coming, and they don't need shelves. And why buy DVDs when you can watch films on satellite, or last night's TV on iPlayer, or a cat falling off a skateboard on YouTube. You might keep your old stuff on show for now, but your new media acquisitions are increasingly available only invisibly. Photographs have already vanished inside the machine, and soon all your other entertainment clutter will follow suit. Let's measure storage capability in megabytes, not cubic metres, thereby enabling access to your entire collection anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Why wait until you're in the High Street to buy stuff, when it's far easier to download your heart's desire right now? But digital formats can be lost as easily as they're obtained. Upgrade your software, mislay your smartphone or pour coffee into your laptop and they can all vanish. You never physically owned these files, they were never meant to last. And whereas you probably still possess a book or CD you bought in 2000, by 2020 you'll probably have lost almost everything you download this year. The future may be in countless ones and zeroes, but it's only temporary.
How out of date that first sentence now reads... especially the CD racks and rows of DVDs. Yes I know that you, archetypal DG reader, still play CDs and watch DVDs, but the world around you has very much moved on. Media is rarely bought these days, merely accessed, and most people stream their content from a bottomless catalogue according to whim. It might mean a hefty monthly subscription, but compared to building up a collection of individual discs it's likely a lot cheaper, and far more wide-ranging. Books haven't entirely followed the trend, because e-readers don't quite match the paper experience, but Spotify, Netflix, YouTube etc have risen to take control of audio and all things visual. And whereas your photographs and other data likely started out the decade inside something you owned, they now exist mainly within a private corporation's cloud for easy access whenever wherever. That's fine so long as you pay the subscription, or juggle your files, but one day they're all going to disappear and the historians of the future may struggle to track you down. We no longer care - we have got used to owning everything, and nothing.
202 0 Vision: consumption
By the end of the decade, we'll be using far more of the earth's resources than we are now. There'll be a lot more of us, for a start, which won't help. We'll all have a greater number of gadgets and gizmos, and they'll devour a lot more electricity. We'll still prefer to buy stuff rather than recycle, and more of our goods will journey here from countries further away. We'll travel more, even though we know we shouldn't, which'll belch out lots more CO2. And we'll probably recognise that this wasteful lifestyle can't go on, just like we do now, but we still won't have done anything about it. Why sacrifice today for the benefit of the future? Why fly less often, or change your light bulbs, or cut your food miles, while the industrialisation of the developing world continues unabated? Why adopt the environmental path when materialism is so much more fun? Hell, let's just party hard until the oil starts running out. Unless, of course, by 2020 the party's over.
There are certainly a lot more of us in 2020 than 2010 - an extra five million in the UK and an extra three quarters of a billion on the planet. We're also using a lot more stuff - and even if you personally aren't, the developing world is consuming hard to catch up. Reassuringly we are now better at taking the energy-efficient option, which is why your newer fridge costs less to run, but the energy required to power your cloud storage and browsing habits might be invisibly cancelling that out. Since 2010 it's become popular to prioritise experiences over physical ownership, which helps a bit, but it's only at the end of the decade that the idea of responsible lifestyle choices has gone properly mainstream. People are finally starting to embrace the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, tubthumping about the evils of single use plastics and wagging a finger at those who take unnecessary flights, as the results of climate change become ever more undeniable. There is at last acceptance that we should all be doing more to prevent future catastrophe... just no guarantee that the government we've just elected sees saving the wider planet as any kind of priority.
202 0 Vision: babble
It may be hard to remember, but there used to be a time when you didn't know what all your friends were up to. You couldn't ring them on their mobile wherever they might be. You couldn't swap endless text messages to while away an afternoon, or agree where best to meet up after you'd left the house. You couldn't repeatedly update status messages about what you were having for lunch or what you thought of that last kick in the football, let alone simultaneously read what everyone else was doing too. As recently as the year 2000 most people's lives were closed and private, and most definitely not Googleable or shared or broadcast. Expect the barriers to tumble even faster by 2020. We'll be firing off updates left right and centre, both intentionally and unintentionally, as technology enables the broadcast of everything around us. Specific location, emotional state, video livestream, all freely available to anyone who cares to look. Advertisers will have a field day, friends will become absorbed in an addictive web of data, and stalkers will never have had it so easy. We older folk may hold back because we still value the dignity of privacy, but an entire generation will have embraced a 24/7 transmission of their existence. Join in, or be nobody.
Well yes. Facebook had 360 million users at the start of 2010, it has two and a half billion now. Twitter's active membership has grown tenfold over the same period. WhatsApp was a niche service with a million subscribers then, and has over a billion now, enabling multi-person communication on a grand scale. Instagram wasn't even a thing at the start of the decade, and now provides an intimate glimpse into the everyday lives of one billion plus. We happily volunteer personal information on a grand scale, and big corporations gleefully accumulate all these nuggets into a marketable profile. Click 'Yes' to agree to terms and conditions. Click 'OK' to avoid entering some labyrinthine discussion about cookies. Sure, do whatever you like with my information, just let me watch this hilarious clip of an adorable pet owned by a friend I've never met. Seeing what everyone else is up to can be empowering, or mentally damaging, or both. But the more you share the more you're being watched by unseen forces, and that genie is never going back in its box.
202 0 Vision: Stratford Village
By 2020, the London Olympics will be long gone. In their place, up the Lower Lea Valley, will be a cluster of new-build communities establishing themselves in the Stratford hinterland. If all goes to plan, thousands of people will have moved into the stacked-up flatlets hastily erected around the stadia where international sporting records were broken. Bankers will grab the luxury penthouses in Radcliffe Towers, cosmopolitan couples will take up residence in Pendleton Court, and local Newham families will pack out the blocks along Tom Daley Crescent. There'll be new schools, new bus links and a swimming pool that'll have every other London neighbourhood seething with jealousy. The best connected residents will probably be those in the former athletes accommodation, since rebranded Stratford Village, a mere javelin's throw away from a whopping shopping centre and trains to Heathrow and Paris. Because it turns out the Olympics weren't about sport after all, they were about rejuvenation. Four of the poorest boroughs in the country given a once-in-a-lifetime financial uplift, and a swathe of contaminated sub-industrial wasteland transformed into uber-desirable prime real estate. The post-2012 property bubble should recoup billions of the billions of pounds that were spent on staging the Games in the first place, or at least that's the plan. We'll know by 2020 whether the parkland towers of London's Olympic legacy have created a characterless sink estate or a thriving mega-community. Who knows, maybe you'll even have moved in by then.
Conveniently I covered much of the evolution of E20 in yesterday's post. The Olympic Park may not have directly recouped the money poured into it, but it's generated billions for a corner of the capital previously unused to wealth, and it's not a bad place to live all told. Sometimes a single decade changes everything.


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