Wer Visionen hat, soll zum Arzt gehen.Helmut Schmidt, “eine pampige Antwort auf eine dusselige Frage”, Wikiquote
“Someone with visions should go to the doctor” is a popular quote by a former German chancellor, in a way representing modern politics pretty well. While improving the world in increments has gotten us a long way, I miss positive visions in mainstream politics (too few like this or this). As Adam Curtis puts it in this Economist interview:
Politics gave up saying that it could change the world for the better and became a wing of management, saying instead that it could stop bad things from happening. The problem with that is that it invites all the politicians to imagine all the bad things that could possibly happen—at which point, you get into a nightmare world where people imagine terrible things, and say that you have to build a system to stop them.The antidote to civilisational collapse, The Economist, 6th December 2018
Daily Life in 2050
Below I’ll describe five areas of daily life: Transport, Jobs, Shopping, Housing and Health. While those are separate topics, some of their viability depends on synergies between these areas.
Topics not covered can be assumed to not change that much in this vision. I also know even less about those potential other topics and don’t want to stretch this too far.
Traffic within cities is running on renewable electricity, powered by small lithium-ion batteries, but individual transport is primarily human-powered, with electric motors enhancing various forms of small vehicles like bicycles. Lots of variations exist to support parents with babies or toddlers, people with physical disabilities, or people transporting bigger items. For trips across city quarters, these vehicles can be attached to bigger electric vehicles like busses (which are mostly running on software, with remote operators monitoring and supporting as needed).
Individual highway traffic in and out of the city is also running on renewable electricity, powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Vehicles are driven by software when conditions are fine, or remote controlled by trained operators when conditions are really bad. The amount of this type of traffic is pretty low, as most people live within the city quarter where they work (see Jobs belows).
Most vehicles are owned and shared by the public. They are stored in towers above or below ground, with most of the process of storage and retrieval automated. This in turn removes the need for massive spaces and buildings for parking large, combustion-engine based vehicles, giving way to a decent mix of small and big parks and living quarters.
Transport on medium distances is covered by a non-profit* train network with reliable schedules. Long distance travel is still the domain of airplanes and one of the last industries burning fossil fuels. Yet thanks to strict regulations, business travel, especially of the “cross an ocean twice a day” type, is massively reduced, resulting in a large decrease of air travel and related pollution.
A vast majority of people (like lawyers, accountants, designers, programmers, engineers, architects, insurance agents) work from home, with their employer covering the costs of the home office, or work in the city quarter where they live (see Housing). A lot of jobs, that used to require people to stay in one location to offer services to other people coming to that location, are now much more flexible or don’t exist anymore. Doctors see their patients remotely or at their own homes (see Health). Most shopping is decentralized (see Shopping). Garbage disposal, while generally a much smaller concern thanks to all kinds of reusable containers and packaging (in contrast to still energy intensive recycling), is heavily automated, also with remote monitoring and operators. Deliveries are grouped per building and across orders, getting the amount of delivery traffic and related jobs under control.
Grocery shopping in stores doesn’t exist anymore, instead groceries are delivered on an ongoing basis, per apartment block or street. Daily use items are subscribed to, with storage units (fridge, freezer) suggesting increases or decreases based on consumption, and recipe apps automatically ordering special items. Various seasonal fruits and vegetables don’t need to be delivered at all, since they grow on walls, balconies, and roofs. They’re mostly planted and maintained automatically, with interested residents helping out where needed.
Other food is also available according to the regional and seasonal options, avoiding shipping blueberries half way around the world. The amount of food that is inefficient to produce in huge quantities (beef, pork, salmon) is rarely consumed, with most of the population preferring other options.
Other shopping, for example for clothing, furniture or gadgets, is also heavily decentralized. Instead of people going to stores, designers come to their clients home, take the necessary measurements and recommend items to order. Customizations take longer, but can accommodate all kinds of particular needs.
To allow people to live well, close to where they need to, housing is now a non-profit public service everywhere, focused on providing decent living space for everyone. Moving from one place to another is almost trivial, as living spaces are both heavily standardized and highly customizable.
Lamps can be exchanged with two simple motions, lightbulbs can all be adjusted to whatever brightness and color temperature are prefered. Bed frames are flexible in their dimensions to accept various mattress sizes and depths and can be decorated to anything from industrial to fantasy style. Wardrobes can eject their content into compact boxes ready for transport. Wallpapers don’t need any glue or scraping to replace. Couches can be reassembled to the preferred layout, the covers quickly replaced. The kitchen is pretty much the same everywhere, with energy efficient appliances being kept up to date by the building administration.
Grocery subscriptions are transferred when moving, though adjustments may be necessary based on local availability of some products.
Most doctor visits are replaced by a self check up at home, supported by an app and a health kit. People are supported by the app in checking for common issues themselves, talking remotely to a doctor (that currently has a low workload) to clarify details. When that isn’t enough, doctors and therapists visit their patients at home, with schedules optimized for short wait times and by medical priorities.
When that isn’t enough either, non-profit hospitals provide all the other necessary care, focused solely on the health of their patients of employees. Since emergency rooms no longer have to deal with any non-emergencies, waiting times and work load are significantly reduced. Staff is hired based on the population and demography of the city quarter the hospital is located in. For uncommon conditions and diseases, experts from around the world can join discussions and operations remotely. Any mistakes or accidents are always captured and reviewed in a blameless post-mortem process (think of how air traffic has been doing that for decades). No one ever dies from an infection caught in a hospital.
This is obviously incomplete in infinite ways – zooming in on any of these topics will necessarily provides a fractal increase of details and issues, as with any complex system. And then there’s all the various topics missing.
I enjoyed this as a valve to process the many articles and podcasts I’ve consumed in last months and years. I might expand on some of these topics or others in the future.
I’m curious what others think about these ideas. Maybe some are already happening elsewhere? What’s missing? How much of this could (really) work in other regions of the world?
*) There’s several mentions of “non-profit”, while leaving it open if these are state or privately owned. I don’t think it matters that much, since there’s good and bad examples of both types. They need to be decentralized enough to be able to serve their community well.