In The Future, Only The Rich Will Climb Trees
“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”
George Orwell, 1984
Our relationship with technology as a status symbol will be inverted in the future. In the future, only wealthy people will be able to life a live free from technology. Wealthy people will be the only ones with access to real world experiences and stimuli.
The year is 2050.
You’re lying on the carpeted ground in the dark. Glass shards surround you. Your knuckles are on fire, but you can’t help but lick the blood on them and smile.
How did you end up here? Let’s go back to the beginning of the day.
You wake up in your bare studio apartment, to your voice assistant greeting you cheerily—and giving you a run down of the Amazon deals you might be interested in today.
You rub your eyes gingerly as you crawl out of bed, with your voice assistant opening your blinds to reveal a digitally rendered cityscape outside.
The view changes every morning. Normally, it’s some picturesque location, with a billboard off in the distance, or some other form of subtle advertising—an attractive person walking by using a product, a song playing off in the distance, or even something overt like a movie trailer that covers the whole view momentarily.
If you subscribe to the window screensaver service, you can remove advertisements and pick what you want to see.
Your sink is already running at the perfect temperature for you to splash water on your face. You look at the mirror and briefly see your normal face—before a filter is applied to advertise some sort of skincare product.
The toast comes out of the oven just how you like it, and the eggs fall right on to your plate before the entire thing lands on your tiny counter. It is accompanied by a vitamin shake that contains the right amount of nutrients and caloric content your body needs.
The toast makes the breakfast bearable, but that’s because you paid extra for a daily subscription for it. The eggs are free, and taste like powder. The shake is free, and tastes like medicine.
The fridge you have is free—it works just fine, but it periodically shows you advertisements for other food subscriptions and shames you for leaving it unfilled with treats and the like.
The apartment is free and you rarely leave it. After changing into your free t-shirt and pants (that sport a logo of course), you sit down at your small desk. Time to work.
There’s no need to travel to work anymore, everything can be done remotely. You log in and see your tasks for the day, along with a timer reminding you how much of your work day is left.
What’s your job? You don’t really know, and it doesn’t really matter. It involves something with data, but is so dumbed down that you can coast through without thinking much.
You get paid monthly—half of your paycheck goes directly to paying off your student loans, and the other half is paid out in a cryptocurrency only redeemable on Amazon (they’re paying for your apartment so you can’t really complain).
There are places where you can convert your crypto to more liquid currencies—but what’s the point? The only products you can afford are sold on Amazon anyways. You only ever convert your crypto to other online store specific ones.
After a solid 4 hour work day, you log off and reach your hand out to take the bowl of meaty paste your apartment has cooked up for you.
At this point, you’re a bit tired so you lay down for a nap. Maybe it’s something in the food, or maybe it’s your voice assistant whispering things as you sleep—but your dreams always seem to have product placements.
You wake up really craving mac and cheese for dinner, so you ask your voice assistant to order that subscription for you. It does so, and reminds you that you still have lots of crypto left that you must spend before the month is over, or else it all goes away.
Time for leisure. You go over to your desk and grab your VR headset, strapping it on as you enter the small booth that occupies the corner of your studio. After closing the door and sitting down, you immerse yourself in the experience.
People used to hop on and check their Facebook accounts first, so that they could AR chat with their friends—but nobody is using that anymore. It’s a lot more fun to use their persona clone, where you can re-create yourself in any way you desire, and interact with other people in a virtual world.
You change your character’s outfit before stepping outside of your virtual house (which you just spent a boat load of crypto upgrading), and wave to your neighbor who is one of your closest friends. The headset changes your voice to exactly how you want it to sound like.
The two of you decide to visit the park. You both take your time walking along the paths, observing families, couples, and animals ferry around in an over crowded space. After all, you could pay for a more expensive server with less people on it, but that would mean scaling back some other subscriptions of yours.
After an hour of taking in the beautiful nature (complete with simulated sounds, smells, and sunlight), you two decide to go watch a new movie. A short walk to the movie theater and you pick the newest film that promises an action packed adventure.
They mean it when they said adventure. You can’t believe that people used to just sit down at the movies and watch what was on the screen.
Now, movies are fully immersive and interactive—you can choose which character to assume, and you view the movie through a first person view (that can be switched to narrator/third person scenes), and your decisions can have an impact on the film’s storyline. Sounds hard to make right? Nah, they just have AI generating these at a rate of a few per week. Same thing with TV shows.
After watching (playing) the movie through as the main character, with your friend playing the villain, you two make plans to try it again—but inverting the roles. It doesn’t bother you that there were a few times where the movie paused to ask you if you’d like to purchase a random item you were using or viewing.
You wave goodbye to your friend, and take your headset off. Mmmmm, smells like mac and cheese.
After eating dinner, you feel the air in your apartment change. The lights are dimmed, and your voice assistant tells you that it’s been days since your last session, and your hormone levels are creeping up.
You don’t particularly enjoy this, but since you don’t really have to do anything, and it takes less than 10 minutes, you accept the proposition and proceed to put on your VR headset. You hear a whirr as the humanoid under your bed boots up and lays down to wait for you.
Afterwards, the humanoid powers down and returns underneath your bed. You take off your headset and feel calmer. You do wish that the humanoid had held you a little longer.
With not much else to do, you start to feel guilty that you haven’t called your parents in weeks. They live out in the country, where they inherited some land to build a cabin that doesn’t have any smart home capabilities.
You find it an inconvenience that it’s nearly impossible to travel to them (as self-driving cars don’t travel to non-urban areas), and that you have to use some sort of artificial landline website to call them.
Conversation with them is awkward. They don’t use any of the technology you do (except for your mom who loves her robot vacuum cleaner that plays computer generated copies of the songs she enjoyed in her youth, for a monthly subscription of course).
You can hear your mother asking your father if he’s taken out the trash in the background. Luckily for you, your apartment handles all that.
She asks if you’ve seen any of your friends recently…any of your real life friends. You hardly remember their names, and you have no idea what’s happened to any of them. You barely know the people on your floor to begin with.
After the phone call, you try to rack your brain for some clear recollection of what your childhood was like. You remember the air being heavily polluted, the line at the zoo to see pigeons in real life, the curriculum that forced everyone to integrate technology into even the simplest of things, the unbearable heat, and of course, the riots.
What were the riots about again? Your apartment hands you two pills as if it was waiting for you to arrive at that thought. All you know is you can’t sleep without them, so you happily take them as the lights turn warmer and softer.
Each night your memories of life before this apartment fade away even further, but the smile on your unconscious face seems to grow larger.
As you lay down and your eyes begin to flicker, your attention is captivated by the slideshow playing on your ceiling. The pictures are of your childhood, altered to show you using products that didn’t exist, and making it seem like your life was always like this.
You strain to lift your neck, as the blinds slowly close and the digital landscape switches off.
You catch a glimpse of the dark brick wall behind your window. All you want to do is feel something real.
No that wasn’t some fun writing exercise. If I had wanted to paint a clearer picture, I would have referred you to much more competent cyber dystopian writers.
That was an introduction to the life that may await us, and certainly our children.
Forgive me for being alarmist, but given how much technology has already radically changed our society, and exacerbated the most negative parts of human behavior, I believe it’s best to err on the side of caution as we look to the future.
I’m not here screaming that all technology is bad, or that technology has had a net negative impact on society. It is entirely possible that our future is intertwined with technology in a way that only has positive outcomes.
Remember that technology doesn’t always encompass computers, the internet, etc. Technology can be as simple as advanced irrigation techniques, wheels, etc.
I’m not the only one waxing on about the detriment of technology in our society. Just take a look at these best-selling books on Amazon.
What is all this hysteria about?
Think back to the last time you were without your phone for an extended period of time. Or without cell service.
I’m not going to spend too much time with the figures, and the exact statistics. The research is out there in the articles and books I’ve linked, and other sources you can find.
The trends are clear and observable. We’re getting worse at face to face communication. People feel lonelier, and are having less meaningful relationships. People are having less sex, men in particular. We are becoming more sedentary and literally physically weaker. Kids and teens are spending more time indoors glued to their screens. Some are more enthusiastic about becoming an E-sports star instead of dreaming of conventional stardom in football or basketball.
Noise exists everywhere. Much of what we spend our time on or with is free—but with a caveat. Our attention is monetized with target advertisements and packaged data about our behavior. Goods are often manufactured in a way that limits their longevity and compels us to order things by subscription and further shackle ourselves financially.
The original sin of the internet will always be relying on advertising to fund our information architecture. Without exaggeration, we fucked that one up so bad.
— can (@can) August 12, 2018
With Amazon’s delivery capabilities, and a whole host of other competing/similar services, it is possible to never leave your house and have everything taken care of. Now imagine autonomous cars being added to the mix, along with robot waiters/check out aisles. Your smart home will predict what you need before you need it, and will take care of many essential tasks/responsibilities.
As mentioned in my intro, VR headsets and augmented reality will make it feasible for people to work and enjoy leisurely activities all from their home. Even carnal desires like sex can be somewhat replaced—look at Japan as an example. People are already treating Alexa as their therapist or only friend.
It becomes very easy to see how human interaction gets completely phased out.
We’ve grown technologically dependent. And very few people seem to be at all concerned about this notion.
I am aware that all of this is not necessarily due to technology. Much of it can be attributed to our educational system and financial system, that systematically encourages people to pursue life paths that leave them in crippling debt and living unfulfilling lives. People don’t travel. This is not because they’re lacking in desire, but because they don’t have the money to do so. Yet we’re still somehow completely okay with people commuting four hours a day just to work.
I’m aware that people can go to trade school instead of college, a state school instead of a private one, pursue STEM degrees instead of liberal arts ones, and just move closer to where they work or find a new job—but the fact that the vast majority of our society engages in some sort of madness and no one blinks an eye is a sign of some underlying problem/delusion.
We seem to like to creep along slowly to our society’s collective destruction. So long as we fit in and don’t think for ourselves, the few weeks of vacation a year, the beer we have every night, the sports game we have on, the music we listen to, the shows we watch, the people in our lives make it all livable. But even then, that’s not enough for a lot of people.
To be anything but elite is to be largely powerless. This reddit comment (source forgotten) sums it up pretty well: “Humans are a commodity of the psychopathic super wealthy, who have always been the same psychopathic super wealthy, who like to play war and political games to keep it that way. They are unaccountable and immune to all laws and borders and the ‘weather’ of the stock markets.”
But what if you’re lucky? What if you work hard enough, and you make it out of the middle class, and are safely rich? Can you escape the current mundane existence?
For now, your escape from the rest the world is pretty great. Your stressors are less crippling. You can enjoy much more of what the world has to offer (the world is a beautiful place) and you have a semblance of freedom that most people don’t have. Even then, most of the people you think are rich are more miserable and overworked than some of the poorest people.
What would it mean to be rich in the future? We already have an idea of what life will be like (re-read my intro if you’ve forgotten). What does escape look like?
In the future, people will demonstrate their wealth by having real experiences, and by being as disconnected as they please.
Only rich people will know what it is like to breathe clean air, to see leaves on the ground, to know what a dog looks and feels like. Only rich people will have families and children, and know what it is like to have another human being love you.
Only rich people will be able to go out and buy ingredients to cook their own food. They’ll actually be able to dust off books and turn pages to get lost in a great novel.
Rich people’s refrigerators won’t bombard them with advertisements. They’ll have the money to have their home and appliances custom made, so that they control the amount of interaction that they have with technology.
There will be an entire industry of people who cater to rich people’s demands to have real experiences, to not be chained to their technology. It is already starting.
Just look at the billionaires of Silicon Valley, that raise their kids in tech-free schools, and homes. When the very people that invented the products that have spurred addiction in billions around the globe, decide to no longer use them—that decision speaks volumes about their belief in the power of technology.
Rich people will enjoy walking to work, and they will work side by side with their co-workers. They’ll still know how to engage in small talk, and have the luxury of spending time with friends and family often.
Rich kids will scrape their knees learning how to bike.
Rich people’s lives will have pain, real pain—both emotional and physical. But they will also have real joy, real triumph, real success.
And by then it’ll be too late for the rest of us. Medicated, beaten down, debt-ridden, socially isolated, and downright tired, we won’t have time to question the system. We’ll let the newest shiniest thing take our attention away, as we keep running on the hamster wheel.
I’ll keep this last part short and simple, as it’s the most important.
The first point is a disclaimer—reading this post might make you think I have some sort of bitterness towards rich people, but it could not be further from the truth. Pitting rich people as the villains against all of society never leads to progressive outcomes, and is largely false.
After all, most wealthy people have a net positive effect on the world—through their inventions, businesses, and charitable efforts. Your enemy is certainly not your rich doctor, lawyer, or small businessman, because you have more in common with them than they have with the ultra-rich.
It is only groups of select corrupt, selfish, short-term oriented, and manipulative people (who normally are wealthy) that are to blame for the societal problems we face. Even then, average people have more than their own share of the blame for being complacent and complicit.
This post is simply an observation that nothing matters more in life than class. Not race, not gender, not nationality, not religion, not sexuality, not any other label you could possibly think of (I’ll be writing a post on this notion at a later date). Some people may read this and take up arms in a socialist cause, others may scoff at that notion and detail the prejudices they face for other labels, and others may believe I am oversimplifying in an attempt to agitate.
The reaction I would like you to have is the very one that I have, of acceptance and motivation. Worry not about the cards you were dealt, the luck you do or don’t have, the obstacles or unforeseen barriers in your way, and work hard to make the most of your opportunities to ascend to the highest class.
The second point is more about the tone of the post, and the effect that it could have on your outlook.
Do not despair. I know you might be easy to feel as such after reading the article, but know that I only painted an exaggerated picture of the bleakest timeline.
Even though I operate with a strong belief that the predictions I and many others have made about a dystopian future, I myself am not pessimistic about my own fortunes. Most people would attest to the fact that I feel quite the opposite about my own future.
I believe therein lies the key to finding your own happiness, and making a difference if you feel a strong passion about not letting humanity down this path of self-destruction.
There are millions of highly intelligent and good-hearted people out in the world, people who want to make a positive impact, and enact change on a grand scale. Perhaps you’re one of them—and even if you are not, you can still be a vital piece to the efforts.
There is a likelihood that there is some yet to be invented (or currently being developed) technology that could easily solve some of humanity’s grandest problems, whether it be climate change, or food distribution, or energy, etc. Or perhaps there exists another planet, and a way for all of us to get there and start anew.
It is important to maintain an internal locus of control, to remember that we should only worry about the things in our lives that we can alter—and to forget the rest that is unchangeable. If you often find yourself stressing or anxious about your life, it might be worth it to start studying the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, that espouses the key principle of acting indifferent to that which you have no control over.
It is important to find meaning and fulfillment in your own self, as opposed to looking towards society to define what happiness ought to mean for you. Many people never once think critically in their lives—they listen to their parents, teachers, professors, friends, social media, bosses, spouses, and before they know it, they’re looking back wondering why they lived their entire lives the way everyone else wanted them to. Ask questions of everything. Especially about yourself and your own actions.
And if all else fails, if this paragraph feels like some last ditch effort to lift your spirits, then I have only two words of advice for you—become rich.