diamond geezer

 Friday, January 10, 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'm reposting my predictions to see how I did - five yesterday, and five today. I've included a link to your 2010 comments, but please only add to the 2020 comments, thanks.

202 0 Vision: screens
Our lives are increasingly dominated by screens. You're staring at one at the moment, when you could instead be staring at the view, or some art, or deep into your partner's beautiful eyes. There might even be someone staring at you right now, trying to attract your attention, whereas your mind is lost instead inside some swirling field of photons. Stick a screen in the corner of your living room and the family is transfixed by it. Switch on a screen in a pub and the conversation falters as eyes drift away. Be it gaming, computing, e-books or video, there'll soon be nothing quite so ubiquitous as the screen. Need some exercise? Take your eyeballs for a virtual Wii-jog. Waiting for a train? Why not watch an advert instead? Have a burning desire to know the cricket score while you're halfway round the world? There'll be a screen in your pocket can tell you. The shining light of the future will be the permanent screenglow illuminating your face. Best make sure you're plugged in, or fully recharged, else 2020's going to pass you by.
Yes, all this and then some. Ten years ago most phones weren't smart, but today's are optimised to deliver visual snacks and full-on video content to increasingly greedy eyeballs. On the Central line yesterday I looked around the carriage and noted that over half the passengers were staring at a screen, and many more would have been if only there was wi-fi in the tunnels. We've reached the stage where people will happily stream a TV show while they walk along the pavement oblivious to all around them (a special hello to the hipster in the Magic Roundabout t-shirt who nearly smashed into me on Wednesday). Rather than losing ourselves in our own thoughts we now prefer being stimulated by the creations of others, or perhaps we simply don't have the power to tear ourselves away. Meanwhile advertising posters are increasingly morphing into advertising screens because the technology's cheaper now, and because moving images are harder to ignore. Even my local roundabout now has its own advertising beacon blazing down, and it won't be the last. Whether portable or permanent our screens continue to stimulate and distract, and the next decade will only bring greater incursions.
202 0 Vision: snark
We've always been a nation of moaners. Be it over the garden fence or gossiping over a coffee, there's nothing quite like slagging off something, or someone, that fails to meet our expectations. In the past these complaints have been aired mainly in private, out of earshot of those being complained about. But now we're increasingly able to slag off people and organisations in public, where everyone can listen, without necessarily having any visible means of response. If you're angry that your train's been cancelled, be sure to vent your bile via an instant tweet. If there's a political opinion you disagree with, why not leave a bigoted fruitloop comment on a newspaper website? And if there's some journalist or multinational or individual that you think we should all gang up against, tell us which online community to join and we'll sign up and hound them into submission. There's a fine line between indignation and persecution, and connected networks make it so much easier to tip from one to the other. Prepare for snowballing hatred, anonymous vilification and crowdsourced prejudice to become more widespread as the decade passes. And should you dare disagree, feel free to leave me one of those typically pompous irrational comments of yours, just to prove my point.
Snark could well be the defining feature of the last decade. Negative thoughts on disparate subjects came to the fore in all aspects of public life, increasingly hard to hide, and frequently embraced. Would Donald Trump have been elected, or anti-European fervour have been taken seriously, without the feedback loops that social media enables? A particularly potent source of anger is the ill-informed opinion, based on instinct or gappy knowledge, but shouted just as loud as if one were a genuine expert. We can all be guilty of misplaced confidence sometimes, but those who fail to stop and think before broadcasting their ignorance can cause a great deal of damage. If your argument boils down to "I know what you're thinking", remember that you probably don't. If someone's action makes you angry, know that amplifying it rarely makes things any better. Rein it in, or brace yourself as societal entropy takes its course.
202 0 Vision: extinction
I shall miss newspapers. Proper newspapers you buy, as opposed to ad-packed comics stacked with celebrity gossip and press releases, because their days are surely numbered. News now streams 60/60/24/7, so if I want to know the big story that's just happened I can find out everything online, whether Rupert Murdoch's erected a pointless paywall or not. I can read about it, watch video content about it, even join a conversation about it, all several hours before I pick up my paper from the news-stand. And yet I still prefer the print version to online, because of the different ways the two formats are structured. On paper I start at the front and work through to the end, scanning every story and reading those that pique my interest. But online there's a hidden hierarchy, a decision tree to negotiate, which means I overlook several stories I'd otherwise have found really interesting. Online I cherrypick my news, rather than taking a broader outlook, and I'm reliant on headlines and thumbnails to grab my attention. I like a newspaper I can carry, and scan, and spread out, and scribble on. But the smartphone generation don't think like that, preferring instant-free to delayed-physical, so newspaper sales are bound to tumble over the coming years. Titles will go to the wall, unsustainable by internet advertising alone. Campaigning journalism will fade, replaced by lo-cost reporting and PR-repackaging. Regular deliveries to the nation's smaller newsagents may even cease, kicking off a vicious circle of spiralling decline. Gradual extinction will save paper, but won't save papers. You youngsters may not care, but I shall miss them.
We discussed this last month. Most UK newspapers lost around 60% of their print circulation over the last decade, which is a dramatic fall, even a full-on haemorrhage. But only the Independent has actually folded since 2010, or at least reimagined itself online, and the others publish on. They may be thinner, more expensive and less widely read, but they are still going and they continue to influence the national debate. I note that I can still buy a newspaper in three places within ten minutes of home, but that's down from five, and a lot of shops that still say 'Newsagent' on their awning have replaced papers and periodicals with packets and provisions. As for local newspapers they really are a shadow of their former selves, often debased to online clickbait, thereby allowing local politicians to make important decisions unobserved. If the 2020s kill off a few more national titles too, our government is unlikely to complain.
202 0 Vision: austerity
We'll never have it so good. Blame who you like - governments, bonus-stuffed bankers or an ever-greedy society - but our immediate future is financial depression. No you can't have a new loan, because we gave too many to people we forgot couldn't pay them. No you can't step onto the property ladder, because that's still only for those who stepped aboard several years ago. No you can't have another job because too many other people want too few, not unless you scale down your goals and expectations. And no you can't have a decent pension when the (delayed) time comes, because current reserves can barely afford to fund those who've already retired. We should expect a decade with less financial security, lower aspirations and reduced support by the state. There'll be pressure to cut services left, right and centre, which'll be fine until some service you rely on is scaled back, made chargeable or deleted altogether. You won't really need that 3D plasma TV, and your life won't end if you don't go on four foreign holidays this year, secretly you already know that. But there'll be no protection from the erosion of social provision, not unless you already boast a privileged cushion of wealth. The next decade is blue, and the next decade is in the red. If you haven't started saving yet, you're probably too late.
At the start of the last decade we had a Labour government (remember those?) and yet I was still predicting cuts. They happened, big time, as the outcomes of the economic crash of 2008 rumbled on and the incoming Tory government chose to embrace prolonged budgetary downsizing. Only recently has the Chancellor deigned to claim that austerity is over, but raising public spending from such a low base is nothing special, and living standards still aren't back where they were before it started. Local government spending in particular remains ruthlessly constricted and may never recover, which I suspect was the original intention all along. For the time being there are still more libraries than food banks in the UK, but don't count on that balance being retained. Pensions are indeed dodgier, benefits less secure and lifestyles more precarious... although if you own property you may not have noticed quite how bad it's got.
202 0 Vision: older
About the only thing we can say with any certainty about the upcoming decade is that it'll be 10 years long. That's but a blink in the history of humanity, but a significant proportion of your lifespan on earth. A hundred and twenty months to live, and love, and yearn, and strive. Five hundred weekends to fill with fun and frolics, or to hide away in lonely desolation. Three and a half thousand days to enjoy, or perhaps to endure. Five million minutes, any one of which could be your finest, any one of which could be your last. May you make the most of every opportunity the forthcoming ten years may bring. Seize the decade, before it seizes you.
I had a good decade, thanks, indeed relatively benign (other than losing my job, which it turned out was survivable). I could have engaged in more fun and frolics, and grasped more opportunities, but never underestimate the allure of stability. Your 2010s may not have been ideal, but if you're reading this you are at least still here to make the most of your 2020s. I hope the first quarter percent of the new decade has been good to you.

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