Whether you have fond memories of 8-track tapes, VHS Players, or CDs, there’s almost certainly some long lost piece of technology in your life that you don’t use anymore. Technology changes as the slow march of time goes on, and the changes in technology will inevitably change the society that uses that technology. As humans, our self-identity, both of our society and ourselves, are intertwined with the tools and technology we use. A person from the 1814 has very little in common with the average person walking around in 2014, and that fundamental difference is thanks to our relationship with technology. Once our technological capabilities change, our behaviour changes to accommodate our new existence, so naturally there are things we no longer do.
A mere 200 years ago, the day-to-day activities of the average person (when not caught up in needless wars brewed by powerful men with more ego than wisdom) revolved around finding and creating sustenance, whether that be through agriculture or physical labor to buy shelter and food. There was no service economy, and the knowledge-based jobs went to those privileged enough to receive an adequate education. Therefore it follows that the basic skill-set of the average person was composed of agricultural skills (butchering animals, milking cows, churning butter, sowing fields etc.) and whatever other general labor skills they may have picked up (cooking, cleaning, physical labour etc.). Think back to your grandparents and great-grandparents, it’s more than likely that they were equipped with the skills to butcher and skin a chicken with their bare hands. If a live chicken was handed over to you, would you be able to kill it, skin it, and prepare it for cooking? If you’re the average person in the western world, it’s doubtful.
It’s not so much that the current batch of western human adults are useless when it comes to these kind of skills, but rather that these skills are no longer necessary to survive thanks to the infrastructure of our society. When something is no longer necessary, it begins to fade from the collective memory and skill-set of a population. You’ve already done and learned about dozens of things in your life that newborn children being born today will never have to worry about. Here are 10 of most notable ones.
The opening entry, unlike some of the later ones, is actually quite easy to wrap your head around. Today, many people already see landline telephones as a quaint and unnecessary addition to the home. Although some of the older generation still prefer the comfort of their landline phone to their cellular one, most under 30 view landlines as a waste of money. Why pay for an extra line of communication – one that you can only access when at home – when there’s already a myriad of ways for people to reach you? There really isn’t a rational defense in support of the landline telephone that doesn’t rely simply on nostalgia and consumer preference for the way they used telephones as a youth. Kids today will look back on phones plugged into walls like we look at black and white televisions with ‘rabbit ears’.
9 Cable Television
Speaking of televisions, those probably won’t be relevant in the world of today’s newborns – at least not in the way they are now. There will always be television-like programming, but the method of distribution won’t be the same. You can already see the writing on the wall if you examine trends in the cable industry. More and more young adults, upon leaving the home, are foregoing cable television entirely in favor of online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube. The ‘smart’ televisions of the future will just need an operating system and an internet connection. So don’t panic, there’s always going to be someone making great content like House of Cards and Game of Thrones, you just won’t have to pay to subscribe to dozens of channels you don’t watch to get what you do.
Although handwriting is so ubiquitous it’ll never truly disappear from the human skill-set, it’s drastically decreasing use means that kids today will have some pretty sloppy handwriting. Long gone will be the days of fine penmanship and meticulous note taking by hand. When you can type on your computer and phone faster than you can write by hand, what’s the point? Soon enough the speech-to-text applications on phones will reach a very high level, and we’ll all be dictating what we want to write into our gadgets instead of actually writing it out ourselves.
7 Physical Media
Another one that might sound like a bit of a ‘duh’ to most of you, but one worth mentioning nonetheless. The disappearance of physical media began in the early 2000s with the MP3 player, but has spread to virtually all other forms of media that we consume. MP3s replaced CDs, eBooks are taking a bite out of book sales, and digital television/film and video game distribution have been established as the media distribution method of the future. Physical media will remain a niche, much like vinyl records, but digital will be the norm.
6 Electrical Plugs
Surely you remember the dark age of the Internet – before wireless connections. We had to hook up our devices to 56kb modems through long pieces of wire. Now we plug that same wire into a router to create a Wi-Fi zone to connect to the internet. Well, similar technology is soon going to revolutionize electricity. Wireless power technology – which has made considerable progress in recent years – will allow the devices in your home and all of your gadgets (laptops, phones etc.) to charge automatically when in the presence of the wireless field. The future is truly wireless.
5 Single Use Tools
Think back to your father or grandfather’s workshop. There was, more likely than not, a million and one things lying around, some that maybe got used once. The beauty of software is that it allows us to configure one piece of hardware to be used for multiple things. Think of what your smartphone has replaced; a flashlight, a compass, maps, an audio recorder, a camera, the list goes on. Expect that trend to continue, especially as 3D printing takes off and resourceful individuals create the schema for new and revolutionary tools and distribute the open source files online. How about a microscope and telescope function for your phone? We’ll take it.
4 The Retail Experience
20 years ago, if you wanted to buy something, you had to find a brick and mortar store in your area that sold the product or go through some mail-order service. Today, if you’re looking for something particular, you just have to go online and have it delivered to your house – and it’s usually cheaper. More and more retail transactions will be done online, whether it be on the phone or on a computer. For those who forgo online shopping, the physical retail experience will be very different. Automated checkout reduces the need for employee contact and automated payment systems could one day make retail shopping as easy as walking in to grab something and walking out, then later checking your digital wallet to see how much you’ve been billed.
Bad news for all you car aficionados, your passion may be going out of style rather quickly. Self-driving cars are not just a part of the future; they’re very much a part of the present. The technology exists, and once they navigate through the mess of regulation and red tape to get on the road, you can expect them to quickly become the norm. Self-driving cars will fundamentally change our relationship with the automobile. Sure, some people will want to buy their own, especially if they live in rural or distant suburban areas, but car ownership for urban dwellers will become kind of a joke. Why waste tens of thousands of dollars on a personal car when there is a swarm of self-driving taxis that are constantly circling the city (with significantly cheaper fare compared with human cab drivers who need to make a living)? Urban residents of tomorrow won’t own cars, they’ll just rent them.
2 The Internet (as we know it)
Lower your arched eyebrow, there’s a good explanation here. The present Internet experience is centered around us navigating a browser or a GUI on a screen, but that isn’t really what the Internet is. The Internet is connectivity, and that connectivity doesn’t’ have to be driven by the human hand. The perfect example is Google Now and Siri on your smartphone; it gathers and collects information on how its user's habits and location data, and then compiles and analyzes that information to give you suggestions. This is a prequel to the ‘internet of things’, connectivity between objects, the creation of the ‘smart’ everything. For children born today, the divide between the physical and digital world won’t be a screen – the divide won’t exist. Nearly everything will be connected to the Internet, at all times.
1 The Human Monopoly on Intelligence
Admittedly, this one is a bit out there, but not as out there as you might initially suspect. The concept of artificial intelligence reaching a human level of intelligence is known as the singularity, and there is extensive research and discussion on the topic online. When the singularity arrives, humanity is no longer the only known intelligent form of life in the universe – we’ll have to share that stage with our AI creations. This, obviously, opens a massive can of worms. The AI beings will, over time, become vastly more intelligent than we are. Do we hand over the reins of our society to them? Do we even consider them people? Is biological life the only legally valid form of life? No one has a clue, and as a society we aren’t giving it nearly enough thought. Current estimates for when the singularity will occur range from 2017 to 2112, but the median date appears to be 2040. With that estimate, a baby born today will be 26 when he or she is replaced as the dominant form of intelligence on the planet. It’s a strange proposition to be sure, but given the exponential growth of processing power and technology, it’s one that we should be preparing for.