“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” When the novelist William Gibson said this — probably in the late ’80s, though, like a lot of prophetic aphorisms, when he first said it is not exactly clear — he was describing distribution by place: iPhones arriving en masse in Steve Jobs’s United States, all-inclusive social-credit scores blanketing Xi Jinping’s China, antibiotic-resistant superbugs cropping up in India before spreading as far as the Arctic, climate change flooding the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh long before it conquers New York or Tokyo.
But the distribution is uneven in time, too, because the future never arrives all at once with the thunderclap of a brave new world suddenly supplanting the comfortable old one. Which is why future-gazers like Gibson are always talking about how their works aren’t about the future — and pointing out how terrible their records would be in predicting it — but about the world in which they were written.
They are right. Today the world has the uncanny shimmer of future weirdness, its every week stuffed with new events that seem to open up strange new realities only to be forgotten as the next wave of strangeness hits. But as the decade pulls to a close, we’re unpacking the last year of it in a timeline of crucial 2019 dates that played like premonitions of where we’ll be ten years from now. The future is present in these moments — epic, like the battle for Hong Kong; eerie, like virtual makeup; and personal, like contemplating gender-confirmation surgery.
What kind of present is it? In certain ways, it’s an in-between one: We’ve spent 2019 waiting for Brexit and for 2020, for the next round of climate talks and the next recession. But taking a tour through the calendar of news events with an eye toward the future is actually pretty dizzying. Somehow, our present is both Neuromancer and The Handmaid’s Tale, both Waterworld and Mad Max, Idiocracy and 1984 (an updated version of 1984, anyway, in which the nations of Oceania pride themselves on the freedom exhibited by handing over surveillance powers to corporations that work with police states, rather than to the police states themselves).
Those worlds of novels and movies might seem contradictory, but it’s not as though we have to choose only one when imagining the future. Reality is much messier than that, much weirder. It’s not one history book following one arc, whose shape you can judge from the cover that encloses it. It’s full of not just revolutions but counterrevolutions, dead ends and false starts and false predictions. Over the next decade, at least a few of these will probably come to seem naïve or Pollyannaish or prematurely apocalyptic. But we’ll also, presumably, come to find a lot more of them obvious and old news. By then, the weirdness of the future might not even feel so weird.
This odd future came into view:
Last year, Xi Jinping declared himself president for life. This year, he put his army on a permanent war footing and effectively staged a five-month battle in Hong Kong. More than a million Uighur Muslims are imprisoned in concentration camps in western China, and Han Chinese officials are being sent to the region to live with the prisoners’ wives. A social-credit system monitors your every move and gives you bonus points for reading the president’s writing daily on your phone. By at least one estimate, China will grow past the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy as soon as 2020. Others predict it’ll take a decade or two longer, but Xi will still be in power then, too.
In the ’50s, they had to use the word cold because it was a different kind of war. This one will be, too, and perhaps as disruptive. Already this year, a third of American farmers’ income came from insurance payments and Trump-administration bailout money to make up for profits lost from the trade war. And there are much more intense pressure points yet to be pressed, given that most of our pharmaceuticals (and iPhones) are made in China.
2019 is the 30th anniversary of 1989, that iconic year when the Berlin Wall fell and citizens came out en masse throughout Eastern Europe to topple dictatorships. In 2019, we have again seen mass protests breaking out across the world, from Hong Kong to Moscow, Tbilisi to Belgrade, Santiago to Prague. But unlike in 1989 — and unlike the Arab Spring or the “color revolutions” of the early aughts — it’s hard to see what these protests have in common. Some are demanding the right to vote; others focus on corruption or even smaller, tactical goals. They don’t articulate themselves as part of a global story in part because, in the current moment of populist authoritarianism, the challenges are much more complicated than they used to be. It’s not just a matter of democracy against dictatorship because, these days, it’s much harder to define a government as democratic or dictatorial. Many, such as Serbia’s, offer a semblance of political rights: The protests of 2019 find it harder to gain traction than those against Milosevic in 1999. In the Czech Republic or Georgia, the country’s richest men control the government, but the political system remains plural. Even in Moscow, censorship, compared to the USSR’s, is thinner, while freedom of movement is a given. Ideologies, too, have become more liquid. The Chinese Communist Party is, well, not terribly communist. So it’s harder for protesters to define their own narrative in opposition. If the rulers of the 20th century were stolid and slow like Arnie in the original Terminator, today’s regimes can transform like T2. Going forward, protests will shape-shift, too. —Peter Pomerantsev
Netflix announces that You, a drama it lifted from Lifetime, is “on pace” to be viewed by 40 million “accounts.”
All of the entertainment we used to consume in more independently quantifiable ways — via TV ratings, box office, album sales — has moved to streaming, where we just have to trust Netflix or Spotify or Apple to tell us how popular it is, and they will almost certainly lie. Netflix occasionally releases random stats about how many people watched something, and they usually strain credibility. In June, it claimed 30.9 million watched a new Adam Sandler movie in its first three days, which would have made it one of the biggest openings in history if it had been released in theaters. And we never know how successful any movie is when it’s released on for-pay VOD (via iTunes, Amazon, or your cable box) because nobody shares any numbers at all, which is strange because streaming is how plenty of non-superhero movies make most of their money now. Obviously, they will know — the producers and stars who benefit. But the public will be living entirely in the dark, never knowing if something is actually a hit or just totally Astroturfed. This will be really disorienting; today, at least, the popularity of an artist accounts for like half of the way we feel about them. And hard audience figures were, for a generation of barroom debaters about pop culture, the closest thing anyone actually ever got to a “fact.” —Lane Brown
Television-dominated politics famously began the night that John F. Kennedy trounced Richard Nixon in their broadcast debate, reached its height with Ronald Reagan, and arrived at a sort of parody state with Bill Clinton, who pushed TV’s empathic capabilities to the limit — like Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey, he reached through the screen and felt our pain. By the time George W. Bush was landing on an aircraft carrier in front of a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner, the values of reality TV had replaced those of traditional narrative TV. And while some of this season’s presidential candidates (Beto and Booker in particular) still attempted to project a television emotionality closer to the warm fuzziness of The West Wing than to factual political debate — as everyone knows, facts make for boring television — the era of television politics is, actually, coming to an end. Twenty-first-century issues are just too real and intractable and upsetting for a medium that insists on wrapping things up at the end of every show. The digital storytelling that has replaced television is characterized less by linear, emotional storytelling and more by nonfiction truth.
Consider the Facebook Live and Instagram videos of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Each is far too ideological for the tube, but their fact-based messaging and justified outrage work perfectly well on social media.
And we are fast approaching a turning point where, as happened with AOC and Greta, users will actually be able to identify and promote what becomes popular themselves — whether that’s a bartender in the Bronx, a teenager in Sweden, or someone or something else. This is as many early internet visionaries predicted, but the results, to this point, have been more chaotic than utopian. But some chaos, sometimes, is good. —Douglas Rushkoff
And a lot of others will go on them to deal with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, replacing a culture of daily psychotropic medication with one of periodic hallucinogenics.
A photo of Virginia governor Ralph Northam in blackface surfaces; Northam does not resign.
Among racism’s many paradoxes is that it’s more advantageous to practice it than to wear it as a badge, and so denying or recasting one’s racism despite contrary evidence is an old practice. (Even former Alabama governor George Wallace, who famously proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in 1963, denied his own on the basis that he didn’t actively “despise” black people.) That this pattern continues today on the right can be attributed, in part, to a widespread belief that, actually, racism is defined too broadly rather than too narrowly. More than half of white Americans — including nearly 80 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning whites — think that people seeing racism where it doesn’t exist is a bigger problem than their failing to see where it does. This polarization will only calcify as accusations of racism maintain their stridency and the accused decline to reckon with their validity. The result will be a significant share of the white adult population that believes racism hardly exists anymore — because, in their frantic efforts to avoid being labeled racist, they will have redefined racism out of existence.
When that happens, the hate group Identity Evropa will become a viable Third Party. The Proud Boys will hold seats on county councils. A Richard Spencer–type will be elected to a state legislature. Political campaigns like Ku Klux Klansman David Duke’s successful 1989 run for the Louisiana House will once again become commonplace. Trump’s “very fine people” carrying torches and assaulting protesters in Charlottesville, the Virginia school resource officer who was outed as a white nationalist — these will expand into robust constituencies to whom politicians and private enterprise will cater. An America where flagrant racism is nowhere means it can better proliferate everywhere. Today’s trend will be tomorrow’s status quo. —Zak Cheney-Rice
Thanks to China’s most popular makeup app, Meitu, even Putin can have dewy skin. The app’s 456 million users post 6 billion Meitu’d photos per month, dolling up their selfies (or photos of world leaders) with the glossy lips, rosy blush, and glowy skin they’ve never had. And virtual-reality makeup is starting to take hold in the U.S. Earlier this year, YouTube launched augmented-reality ads that let viewers virtually try on products, like M.A.C lipsticks, to determine how they look before purchasing them. These apps will allow us to be both lazy and beautiful, moving through the world as camera-ready digital avatars. We could fall asleep without washing our faces, drink so little water that our pee is neon, and still look good, dialing into conference calls with our fellow avatars, I mean, co-workers.Kathleen Hou
Emma: We met in preschool. But I don’t remember feeling like, Oh my God, best friend forever, until probably like end of elementary school.
Zoe: Last year, you had this big junior history paper that’s, like, super-hard, and you had a really hard teacher as well, and I remember you being like, “This class is really hard.” But your teacher specifically said that your paper was the best, and I feel like, in the future, you’re going to do something that’s political but also writing. When we go on college tours, you say, like, “International relations”?
Emma: I could see you being a lawyer because … when you talk about politics, it’s like the way you say it sounds like you could be in the courtroom. I picture you having such a good life at 27. I feel like you’re going to have either a career or the beginning to a career or like maybe be in law school. I think you’re going to be very financially stable, first of all.
Zoe: I think you’re going to just be very settled and happy with what you’re doing, and you’ll be happy with, like, your friends and with your boyfriend or whatever. Like, I’m not sure financially … but regardless, you’re gonna figure out a way to be happy with the situation and make it the best and end up, like, actually loving it.
Emma: I feel like you’re gonna have just the funniest boyfriend ever.
Zoe: They have to be, like, weird.
Emma: I feel like we’ve both realized that we need weird men in our lives.
Zoe: If you tell me a guy is weird, I’m like, Yes, that hits the spot.
Time’s “Optimism” issue.
Appreciating the singularity of Spielberg, Hitchcock said that the then-young director was “the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch.” DuVernay feels just as singular: the future of auteur filmmaking both demographically and technologically, using her prodigious social-media and real-world networking skills to unify facets of her talent, interests, and public image and using her fame, industry clout, and social-media reach to raise up artists who have yet to achieve her level of success. —Matt Zoller Seitz
Like Kanye, Travis Scott has an ear for what’s popping in hip-hop and the wherewithal to ingratiate himself to whoever’s making it pop. Like Drake, he has great respect for the formatting of classic albums and a knack for a hummable hook. Like Future, he sounds at ease in a lurid party scene. Travis’s ascent in this decade — he hasn’t plateaued yet — has been a feat of mixing, matching, and borrowing threads until a personal style developed in the blends. He’ll be a force in the ’20s if he can write more personal lyrics … and also if he can’t. —Craig Jenkins
In whatever other ways robots might outperform humans, surely writing is one thing that separates us from machines? Or so we thought. On the other hand, we already read AI-generated text with some frequency in the emails we receive from people using Google’s Smart Reply and Smart Compose functions, for example. And just as we read text from robots, we write text for robots frequently, too, anytime we construct a search query that seems oddly phrased in human languages but gets us exactly the result we’re looking for. And we increasingly encounter text with a simultaneous robot and human audience: tweets meant to engage an audience but also surf the Twitter-sorting algorithm, say, or SEO-spam-farm articles that both communicate to humans the answers to their queries and communicate to robots that an article should be ranked highly in search results.
This sort of writing — think of the strange and stilted language in the pages that come up when you Google something like “how to tie a tie” — represents a kind of bot-human pidgin, a simplified language meant to be used between two groups that don’t speak the same native language. It’d be nice to think that as robots become better at writing like us, and understanding us, we’ll return to a natural, human English, but it seems more likely that as we grow more comfortable writing to (and reading from) robots, a sort of creole will emerge: a functional language developed from a mixed robot-human grammar. —Max Read
editorial in Nature warns that changes to human diet are urgently needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.
For starters: Flying. Driving. Ordering so many Ubers. Takeout containers. Single-use anything. 20-minute showers. Baths. Gender reveal parties. Gendered baby names. Not talking to our kids about sex, or race, or climate change. Eating avocados. Prisons — for anyone. The two-party political system. Not voting. Drinking diet sodas. Fast fashion. Wearing fake fur, which pretends to be fur. Ghosting romantic partners. Having children. Stanning Kanye. Stanning Taylor Swift. So many hetero rom-coms. All the things we don’t even know we should feel guilty about yet. Not using sunscreen.
By John J. Lennon
In 2001, I shot and killed a man back in Brooklyn. In September 2029, a little less than ten years from now, I’ll see the parole board. I’ll tell them that I am sorry for killing and take responsibility. Then I’ll suggest, trying not to sound too smug about it, that perhaps assessing my CV and career as a prison journalist is a better way to predict my future risk — or success — in society. They’ll likely let me go. As long as you’re not a serial killer, a cop killer, a person with serious mental illness and no support, or the guy who killed the other John Lennon, you’ll probably be granted parole in this new criminal-justice-reform era. I’ll be 52. Not too young, not too old.
I often look out my Sing Sing cell window and watch the sailboats blow by on the Hudson, the mountains turning green and brown and white. I think about getting out in ten years. I picture myself at work, maybe in the glass-walled offices of Esquire, 21 stories above my old Hell’s Kitchen Manhattan neighborhood, staring off with the 30-year prison gaze, still stuck in my head at my desk, occasionally laughing and talking to myself, like I used to do all of those years in the solitude of my cell. I hope my colleagues won’t mind.
I think about shallow shit, too. I need several teeth implanted (all they do is pull them out in here), and I want veneers, and I want a one-bedroom in Manhattan, in a high-rise building with amenities. And I want to sport Ferragamo, cashmere scarves, and peacoats. It’s conflicting, I imagine, to hear how someone who once took a life thinks about living a good life. Even still, I don’t want you all to resent me for wanting these nice things for myself.
I think about how it will be to live in society with the narrative of my past just a few fingertip swipes away. What will the dating scene be like? I imagine I’ll meet someone, tell them my name, and they’ll stalk me out and ghost me as if I were the bogeyman. Or they’ll be intrigued, subconsciously waiting for me to become dark and manipulative, like a true-crime villain.
*This essay was produced in collaboration with the Marshall Project.
In 2017, an infectious Romanian party song called “Panama” somehow found its way to Thailand, where it became the soundtrack of a viral dance craze. If this doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because the song traveled from Romania to Thailand via China, specifically via Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of the app you know as TikTok. This unexpected cultural exchange never registered on America’s pop-culture radar.
Not that long ago, it would be hard to imagine the U.S. entirely sidelined in any global pop-culture phenomenon, but this may quickly become less the exception than the rule. Outside a few science-fiction novels and mobile games, China’s media industry has still not quite figured out how to consistently manufacture culture that resonates with international audiences, but the explosive global popularity of TikTok — a social platform for sharing and remixing shortform videos with a powerfully addictive recommendation algorithm — is creating a jarring new reality for Americans and Europeans, who have until now had a near monopoly on the platforms that capture the world’s attention.
And over the next decade, the rise of TikTok will be only one small part of a much more fundamental shift in cultural power. The Chinese government is currently betting big on a much more massive platform play: the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious set of infrastructural projects in over a hundred countries. The initiative is off to a rocky start by many accounts, but transformations don’t have to be total to be significant — and disorienting. Even if it fails to live up to the Chinese government’s immense expectations, the effort will still shake up the arteries by which power and influence flow around the world.
All eyes are on censorship of political speech as China rises, but it is unlikely that the Chinese government will ever control the global news feed with an iron fist — after all, it has never even managed this within its own borders. Instead, its influence will be negotiated in infrastructural road maps and marketing decisions, connecting previously disconnected regions and allowing for new cultural collisions — Nollywood films taking off in Indonesia, say, or Thai and Brazilian protesters sharing tactics.—Christina Xu
By 2050, there will be more plastic in the water than fish. And straws account for only one-40th of one percent of the 8 million tons of plastic that flow into the world’s rivers and oceans now every year, and five Asian nations (China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam) dump more plastic waste into the ocean than the entire rest of the world combined (including the U.S.). Which means that plastic-straw bans like those that swept across the guilty-feeling liberal West over the course of 2019 will have no effect at all on the nauseating amount of plastic that has already accumulated in the world’s oceans. But it may have the effect of irritating plenty of conservatives, who already suspected that the Green New Deal meant liberals were coming for their hamburgers; the plastic bans were proof they were coming for your Big Gulps, intensifying a cycle of inconsequential but mutually maddening political theater. —David Wallace-Wells
When the FDA cautioned against using surgical robots to treat cancer, MD Anderson quickly stopped using them. But high-end surgeries aren’t really where the important breakthroughs are. “You’ll go your family physician, they’ll take a blood draw, and you’ll be on your way” says David Crosby, head of early-detection research at Cancer Research UK imagining a new future of screening. Or you could use something like a Breathalyzer, since cancer also excretes metabolic by-products that evaporate out of your lungs. “In ten to 15 years time,” Crosby predicts, “I don’t see why you couldn’t go down to Walmart and buy a cancer breath test that sits in your kitchen drawer.”
Current cancer treatments “are Stone Age therapies,” says Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia University. We already know how to improve early detection, she says. For example, tumors require more and more blood supply; new vessels create greater heat, and these hot spots can be located with scanning devices. “So we put you to bed in bedsheets that scan you,” Raza offers. “You take a shower in a shower that scans you. Women wear a smart bra equipped with 200 biothermal tactile sensors that detect changes in temperature.” (That bra is already in clinical trials, actually.)
A child born in the future could have a cancer-detection chip implanted at birth. “It would just sit inside your body and continuously monitor the mixture of molecules in your blood,” says Crosby. “The moment anything indicative of cancer emerges, you get a ping on your smartwatch or something that says, ‘You probably want to go see a doctor.’ ” —Clint Rainey
Sure, it will seem gross, at first, when your uncle receives a heart transplanted not from an organ donor but a pig or monkey that had been genetically engineered to grow human parts inside it. But it won’t take long for the public to be persuaded — so many people getting the help they need, designed specifically for their bodies to avoid transplant rejection — even though the animal-rights activists will have a field day.
At a rally in Long Island City, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposes yet another plan: regulating tech conglomerates.
Today, anyone who hopes to restore the competitive, pluralistic, decentralized internet has to overcome not just the tech companies’ commanding market dominance but also the political influence Big Tech can buy with its monopoly profits. This can seem hopeless: We have to weaken Big Tech’s profits in order to rob it of political power, but while it wields that political power, it’s hard to imagine ever eroding those profits.
How then might we arrive at a 2029 where the internet is restored to its sunwalled glory and chaos?
Perhaps it could come in the form of a plea bargain. Big Tech companies are notoriously incorrigible, getting into trouble with the likes of the FTC, being given a second chance in the form of a “consent decree” — a pledge of good behavior — and then getting into worse trouble for flagrantly violating the terms of its parole (looking at you, Facebook).
When that happens, the FTC could offer the repeat offenders another chance but also attach arbitrary conditions to that chance: For example, the FTC might tell Facebook that it must not use legal or technical countermeasures to prevent third parties from plugging competing services into Facebook Messenger, Instagram, or even Facebook itself. (This is called “interoperability.”) After all, a court recently found that LinkedIn could not seek to prevent HiQ from scraping its publicly available data. Not only did the court find in HiQ’s favor: It also ordered LinkedIn not to take technical countermeasures to keep its competitor off the service.
The implications of that kind of plea-bargain protection would be enormous. It could allow “adversarial interoperability”: nonprofits, tinkerers, and even venture-funded start-ups building tools and services to help internet users gain more control over their online lives, even if doing so violates a patent, bypasses a copyright lock, or breaks the terms of service (which are, after all, neither read nor complied with by anyone, anywhere, ever). A million small and medium-size enterprises could offer a million different sets of house rules, and the monopoly would be effectively disrupted. —Cory Doctorow
By Heidi Julavits
In June of 2015, I met an Italian man while drinking wine on the lawn of a Florentine villa. The weather was hot and sunny, the winds strong. The constant thump and crack of the nearby party tent lent the afternoon a malevolent feel, as though we’d dressed up to witness a ceremonial flogging. As we talked, the man kept casting uneasy glances toward the sky. Not only was Florence getting hotter by the year, he said, but the winds seemed to be getting stronger. Italy has a number of seasonal winds; they’re named, sometimes for their moods, sometimes for their point of origin. (La Tramonata, a cold, dry, winter wind from the north, translates as “beyond the mountains.”) This wind, he said, felt less predictable than the named winds. Irregular and strong, it had started to blow the red ceramic roof tiles off historic buildings like the one above us. It wasn’t unusual for a tile to blow loose and explode in a piazza like a bomb.
In New York, most winds, unless they’re hurricane-strength, don’t get names, and most don’t make the news. One day in late October, the wind in New York made the news. It was 40 mph and the skies were clear. In California the same day, the wind also made news. There, due to high winds and the shoddy state of their equipment, PG&E had to stage a blackout… Read More
By Lane Brown
On Friday, August 16, at around 7 a.m., a pair of suspicious appliances was found on a subway platform at the Fulton Street station in lower Manhattan and, an hour later, a third near a garbage can on West 16th Street. Initially, police thought they might be improvised bombs, like the shrapnel-filled pressure cookers that blew up at the 2013 Boston Marathon and in Chelsea in 2016, but upon inspection they turned out to be harmless empty rice cookers, probably meant to scare but not explode. Trains were delayed during the morning commute, but since that happens often enough without any terrorist help at all, the scariest thing about this episode may have been the way the alleged perpetrator was caught.
Minutes after the discovery, the NYPD pulled images of a man leaving the devices from subway surveillance cameras and gave them to its Facial Identification Section (FIS), which ran them through software that automatically compared his face to millions of mug shots in the police department’s database. The program spit back hundreds of potential matches in which officers quickly spotted their person of interest: Larry Griffin II, a homeless 26-year-old the NYPD had arrested in March with drug paraphernalia. FIS double-checked its surveillance pictures against Griffin’s social-media accounts, and by 8:15 a.m., his name and photos were sent to the cell phones of every cop in New York. He was arrested in the Bronx late that night and charged with three counts of planting a false bomb. (He pleaded not guilty.)
This might seem like a feel-good story: A potentially dangerous person was identified and apprehended with previously impossible speed and no casualties thanks to by-the-book use of new technology (or newish; the NYPD has used facial-recognition software since 2011). But zoom out a little and it looks more like a silver lining on one of this year’s biggest feel-bad stories: The facial-recognition system that ensnared Griffin is only a small piece of a sprawling, invisible, privacy-wrecking surveillance apparatus that now surrounds all of us, built under our noses (and using our noses) by tech companies, law enforcement, commercial interests, and a secretive array of data brokers and other third parties.
In 2019, facial recognition may have finally graduated from dystopian underdog — it was only the fourth- or fifth-most-frightening thing in Minority Report; it’s never played more than a supporting role on Black Mirror; and in the Terminator movies, it was a crucial safety feature preventing the Terminator from terminating the wrong people — to full-grown modern worry… Read More
In leaving their mark on the #superbloom hashtag, visitors also left one on the physical place: Poppies are easily killed by trampling, and footsteps through the flowers created the appearance of a trail, inviting still others to follow and trample them further.
The effects did not go unnoticed. Stories of inconsiderate #superbloom Instagrammers caused a backlash. In this context, each photo looked less like a dreamy escape than an irresponsible faux pas, showing a subject destroyed in real time by its representation.
Photographic representations of places have always affected those same places, from visitors to Yosemite seeking an IRL Ansel Adams photo to people overrunning an Icelandic canyon after seeing it in a Justin Bieber music video. Already in 1977, Susan Sontag called the photograph “experience captured” and the camera “the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”
Since then, Instagram has encouraged a contagious rash of acquisitiveness, since the purpose of many Instagram posts is not just to declare “I was here” but to gain attention and inspire imitators. But the consequences of Instagram-fueled desire are a harsh reminder that the world is not an inert shop of wonders for our consumption. Any day now, geotagging a photo to a suddenly popular area might be seen like littering, a digital action with physical consequences. Better yet, maybe we won’t be there in the first place—and I won’t know either way, because you won’t tell me. —Jenny Odell
“Right now, if there is a hack, if it was the right state in a close election, the entire federal election, you wouldn’t know the result. Eleven states don’t have full backup paper ballots. There are some counties in Florida that don’t have backup paper at all. All of New Jersey doesn’t have a backup paper ballot. Now, it’s one thing if in a governor’s race or a senator’s race you have to do it over. But what are you going to do about a presidential race?” —Amy Klobuchar
The investigation that produced no prosecution was just the beginning of a very bad year for American accountability and functioning government. The president refused to cooperate with subpoenas, he held up military aid to get dirt on Joe Biden, and for a few days last summer, Oregon looked like a failed state. Unable to prevent its government from imposing restrictions on carbon emissions through the formal political process, the Republican members of Oregon’s state senate fled the state to deny the Democrats a supermajority quorum. Governor Kate Brown responded by ordering state police to round up the rogue legislators. The Northwest’s right-wing militia community responded by promising to protect the renegade Republicans from Brown’s jackbooted thugs. Oregon Democrats folded; climate action died so that a functional state government might live.
This is a preview of things to come. The tension between our constitutional order and the demands of the climate crisis aren’t going anywhere. As both partisan and urban-rural polarization deepen, the composition of the U.S. Senate will very likely award permanent veto power to the most conservative elements in American society. The Republican Party could easily retain control of the upper chamber throughout the coming decade — even if it perennially loses the popular vote in presidential elections. Unable to pass ambitious climate legislation at the federal level, deep-blue states with economic clout like California will push the envelope on their own authority. When the Trumpified judiciary cracks down on (blue) states’ rights, it will be Democrats’ turn to override the verdict of the formal political system. The nullification crisis will begin. The ensuing conflict may be uncivil. —Eric Levitz
Doing so would require halving emissions by 2030, though we’re still adding to them.
“Lachlan Murdoch admonished Shep Smith for bucking the pro-Trump line and told him to dial it back — something that even Roger Ailes wouldn’t do. Without Smith, they’ve dropped that veneer of journalism and have fashioned themselves into a giant torpedo that will be aimed at whatever is standing of our society at that point.” —Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America
It is, in the end, a bit weird, class-wise, to pay someone else to carry your baby. Much more comfortable to get a Ziploc bag to do it.
By Cyrus Grace Dunham
I like taking naps at the end of the day, when the sun is starting to set but my room is still so hot that I can’t be in there without sweating. I took a lot of naps this August and September. I would lie naked on top of the sheets, looking down at my body and out at the mountains turning pink, until I drifted off. Often, in the blurry space between being awake and asleep, I’d have this vision of the future:
I’m lying in my bed, in a different house but still California. I look down at something like a penis, twitching as it rests on my thigh. Still, this urge to say “something like a penis,” instead of just letting it be a penis. I put my right hand under it and lift it up to rest in my palm, bent slightly. The skin is soft and papery, it pulses. It’s a living creature. One I have to protect and tuck away. For a few seconds, I just watch it there in my hand, then place it back on my thigh… Read More
For a pop star, Eilish doesn’t appear to obsess much over image or artifice. She dresses vividly but never garishly. She’s affable but no-nonsense in interviews. She’s not clamoring for placements on huge records. Her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go is a family affair, all hushed, homemade beats and blood harmonies aided by her brother Finneas. It made all the adjacent pop radio hits seem fussy by comparison. And it will last. —Craig Jenkins
We’re due for a neo-Victorian age of restraint, modesty, chastity, and conformity. And not a moment too soon! Social media homogenizes our thinking and joke-making while also making certain emotional outbursts seem inappropriate, pointless, even disgusting. The past 20 years have been a Wild West for sharing feelings and personal information online (I do it constantly), but now that the roads are more paved and the stakes are more apparent, perhaps new generations will become more circumspect. Maybe the current internetty predilection for stoicism is a harbinger of things to come. Also, have you noticed that the coolest young musicians don’t move their faces or express emotion very much? Like Billie Eilish, who seems very in control of her face. No gratuitous eyebrow movement, no unnecessary smiles. Her face is more like a veil than a mask. To me, she embodies how powerful and attractive it is to be calm, controlled, and unreadable. Impassive, removed, an enigma. It feels like a reaction to the oversharing decades of the aughts and ’10s. In this current era, where everyone can know everything, it’s cool to keep things to oneself, hold cards to one’s vest. —Edith Zimmerman
The Impossible Burger debuts at select Burger Kings, part of a rapid mainstreaming of plant-based Frankeneating perfected at restaurants like Noma, where asparagus preserved in mold is regularly served.
No, things don’t look overly promising now, but the business of food — its cultivation, its manipulation, its production and steady, rabid consumption — is something we fire-ant Homo sapiens have always done ingeniously well during our short, star-crossed time on this planet. Imagine urban centers surrounded by towering vertical farms as the sprawling horizontal model of farming that drove prosperity (along with waste, global warming, and declining health) mercifully disappears from the Earth altogether. Instead of steaks and chops, the fashionable “live food” restaurants will be devoted to the exotic, endlessly diverse realm of the insect kingdom. (“Would you like candied grubs on your kombu porridge, sir?”) Innovative chefs will be less like cooks than scientists, experimenting with edible mold and utilizing a virtual bouquet of chemically enhanced smells and tastes. “Gourmet” dinners will exist, increasingly, not in reality but in the ever-expanding realm of the mind, designed to be enjoyed at vast expense by pale, starved-looking gourmands wearing elaborate sensory helmets in the comfort of their own homes. The rest of us will subsist on increasingly sophisticated faux-meat patties, rehydrated vitamin powders engineered to taste like vanished “home cooked” delicacies (Grandma’s meatballs, chicken potpies, eggplant Parmesan), and Soylent-like substances cranked out on 3-D printers, which those great food innovators at the Pentagon are designing now for troops in the field. And what about the bellicose, opinionated, wine-swilling, foie gras–gobbling restaurant critics who once roamed the great foodways during the vanished Era of Plenty? We will survive, of course, although in slimmer, much less bellicose form, because as long as there is food, nourishment, and human life on the planet, there will always be critics. —Adam Platt
We asked few chefs to imagine dinner in 2029.
Savory bar with ancient grains, mushrooms, and seaweed
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