söndag 1 februari 2015

Life online 2050

I work in a research project called "Scenarios and impacts of the information society" and I have written about it here on the blog now and then. The last time was in June last year when I wrote about about a study that I am doing together with Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling and that will hopefully result in an article (any month now).

This blog post tags on to a blog post I wrote one year earlier, in June 2013. At that time, we had developed five "scenario skeletons" for five different possible/interesting future information societies.  In that blog post, I had further compressed these five scenario skeletons into descriptions that each were just a few sentences long. Here's the three-scentence "Life online" description.

Life online
As much as possible, life is lived online. With the exception of having access to personal digital technologies that will get you online, other material possessions are of decreased importance. Most people work just enough to satisfy basic physical needs, and a new, positive culture has arisen around limited real-world wealth, a surplus of free time (spent online) and an abundance of free resources, information and culture online.

We have now expanded the scenario skeletons and fleshed them out into five or so pages each. I've worked quite a lot with this the last few weeks and we delivered the results to "the assessment group" within the project just a few days ago. It was for the most part really fun to work with this and I am especially happy with some of the scenarios. I will here exemplify with some excerpts from one of the scenarios, "Life online". I won't post the whole scenario below but rather some excerpts or around 1/3 of the longer scenario. We are not making any predictions about how likely the scenario is, our task has rather been to extrapolate as far as possible and I hope you agree that this has resulted in a very intriguing scenario!

Life online
Physical space, physical things and physical meetings have to a large extent lost their meaning in people’s everyday lives. Instead, people spend most of their time online. Information is not only consumed through screens but also in other, more immersive ways. The main driving force behind an “exodus to online worlds” is the fact that reality, in all honesty, can be pretty bleak and boring compared to the designed and much-improved virtual worlds that hit all the sweet spots in terms of motivating and satisfying us as human beings (e.g. suitably large tasks and challenges that can be solved, gamified interaction and short feedback loops that rewards desirable behaviors, reduced bandwidth in interactions with other people – making them much more understandable etc.). Also, the consequences of climate change were becoming increasingly evident and people more or less took refuge in the much safer and in some ways more predictable life online. 

Government spending have been dramatically reduced. Integration and equality has almost exclusively been reduced and simplified into an issue of infrastructure and access – since everyone is created equal online and every citizen has the right to online life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

The main responsibility of government, besides guaranteeing every citizen’s access to a life online, is to distribute the necessary remaining work among the adult population. One full day of labor per week (“workduty”) is seen as an unfortunate necessity – some tasks are, despite automation, absolutely necessary to perform in order to support full and enriching lives online for the largest number of people possible [and] people have tenuously and grudgingly accepted this tradeoff. 

Education and research does not get a lot of money since people for the most part do not need a lot of schooling beyond the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) to live healthy, fulfilling lives online. Most schooling is automated and done online anyway and children get as much screen time as they want from around the age of two. It is hard to lure them away from a screen only a few years later. Economic growth is no longer a primary political goal – the primary political goal is instead to maintain current structures and current economic activities with as little work as possible

While people met around the hearth in former times, most people live alone and the new heart of the household is the online access unit, often a comfortable chair with pull-down blinds, surround sound, tactile feedback and an olfactory unit. Apartments are small and cozy since not much is needed beyond the access unit and a bed.

Everyone has access to some health tracking and advisory system. Taking into account the sedentary lifestyle, people are still in remarkable good health due to the healthy diet, the tight monitoring and the reminders to switch to less immersive online modes and give the body a workout at regular intervals. 

Most people make the tradeoff to live a materially poor life offline in order to live an extravagant, time-rich life online. Immersive computer systems can simulate the most wonderful experiences online, including otherworldly beautiful natural landscapes, serene alien worlds, magic fantasy adventures, stately banquets where you are the guest of honor or libertine orgies. People can also choose less immersive experiences such as meeting up in an online simulated yoga class to keep your body in shape. 

However, the number of extremely introvert persons has, for unknown reasons, increased drastically in society. These are the descendants of the Japanese “hikikomori”, adolescents and adults who withdraw from social life both offline and online, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement, never venturing outdoors at all. While they themselves are seemingly content with just having access to “the world’s greatest library”, their non-participation in social activities online is seen as problematic. Around 10% of the 20-40 age cohorts belong to this group but it is hard to define a clear line between this extreme group and the normal surliness of people forced to perform grueling but necessary work, or, normal levels of anxiety when meeting new people.

Around the age of 15, [youngsters] move to their first own dwellings. Their raging hormones mean that they cannot keep from meeting other youngsters. Since it is difficult to obtain contraceptives, it is not rare that heterosexual meetings result in children. At the age around 25 people usually have got rid of this habit and are satisfied with the online equivalent. There is fortunately much support for single parents both in terms of robot servants and robot animals (companions) as well as extended daycare (an important part of citizens’ workduty). Children are always weaned into sibling groups at an early age, often forming lifelong bonds with their foster sisters and brothers. 

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