What follows are my random points about the future of the United States as I see it, specifically over the next hundred years. This is my speculation, based on what I choose to pay attention to in news and world events for things political, religious, military and technological (for the most part). I spend more time researching and reading and thinking about this than anyone else I know.
Why a hundred years? Because that’s a span during which some big things will probably happen. At a shorter amount of time, say, five or ten years, the changes we’ll see the U.S. undergo won’t seem significant to most people. Change takes much longer than people anticipate.
Without further preamble, here we go:
Politicians and political processes no longer serve the people
Politics will grow useless as an instrument of the people due to corporate interests (if it isn’t, already). Politicians will only serve their corporate masters while pretending to support their constituents, particularly where “morality” is concerned: even now they pander to your social concerns while stealing your money and your health. This of course will continue. The system even now only exists to preserve and strengthen its own power as all systems do when they’ve matured. It used to be that your vote mattered and once there were good (even great) people in Washington who could be counted to stand up for their principles.
It’s too late for that, now.
This is not a left-wing vs. right-wing situation. It’s more of a top vs. bottom situation. There is no good outcome for the U.S or its people if this continues, but I don’t see anything stopping it. The most telling sign for me this is the case is the disappointment in our current president, Barack Obama. It seemed he had the markings of a Great Person, like the great people of the past, like MLK or Kennedy. But while the pretty words and stirring speeches are there, the guts and the heart and the moral compass are not. We the people keep hoping for someone Great to take office and right the wrongs and set a firm course for the future, and we keep getting let down and betrayed. The only way someone truly Great can enter into politics and win in the future is if the situation is dire, on the brink of collapse, and collectively we sense the nation at a turning point.
Public education will continue to decline
Public schools will continue to fail us because what they now do is not educate students to excel at life, but to pass tests and become a compliant workforce. Because education is also politics, the points above about the weakening of political power to actually help the people applies here, too. Expect no meaningful change. The general population will continue to get more stupid and find itself unable to effectively deal with life in a world dictated by 360° invasive corporate exploitation, creating a vicious cycle of poor jobs and low wages. Those children who are home-schooled by non-fundamentalists or who attend alternative schools (not charter or religious schools) will be beacons of intelligence and creativity floating in a vast dark sea of dumbfuckery. They will have an appallingly high suicide rate and many of them will leave the country entirely, essentially giving up on it.
The secondary education collapse and rebirth as digital
Secondary education will collapse much in the way real estate, newspapers, and the recording industry were destroyed and remade by technological, regulatory, and market forces. College will become too expensive and offer very little in practical terms for most Americans seeking to find adulthood employment. All their lives, the school system has been preparing them to take tests and conform to expectations in preparation for being employable. However, the jobs available will never pay enough to eliminate the crushing debt young people (and their parents) will incur. People will be getting into debt so they can then get into more debt, essentially. Fewer people will go to traditional college, making matters worse because the schools will be forced to drive up tuition, lay off staff, pay staff lower wages, and sell off assets in order to survive the collapse unless they can find a way to embrace the online education trend that even today is growing quickly.
Long story short: traditional secondary education will price itself out of the market and nearly destroy itself in the process. Online education will thrive for both primary and secondary education needs. Traditional schools who have transformed themselves through technology will continue to prosper (just as newspapers who have transformed themselves into total news organizations have) and some will support physical campuses, but be prepared for a surge in online-only education. Businesses which attune themselves to a more uniquely-educated workforce will have the ability to look at a resume and see the value in a fractured education consisting of various online and meatspace sources. Businesses which continue to hire only those who are traditionally-educated will have a harder time recruiting.
Robotification of the U.S. military
Drone warfare and military robotics in general will change the face of the U.S. military. Already, nearly 1 in 3 American military warplanes are drones. The major functional areas of the military will be robotics, special forces, and logistics/support. Masses of old fashioned boots-on-the-ground grunts may become a relic of the past, replaced by partially-autonomous robotics and highly-trained special forces troops. This will allow the U.S. to engage in conflicts in a new way because it risks little loss of life to its own side. The human population of the military will shrink. The main problem it will face is that the best people to work for it in this scenario would generally never want to enlist in the first place.
I say generally because people will sacrifice principle in order to pay off massive student loan debt or to even find employment where there otherwise might not be any. The populace of the U.S. will feel less and less personally invested in U.S. military action because it will be conducted remotely with robots. As long as they can be fed some kind of outrageous indignity to justify the action, they’ll allow it. Meanwhile the rest of world will see the casualties and the innocent lives destroyed by such warfare and react with horror and hatred even more than in our current situation with the so-called war on terror.
The robotification of the military will trickle down into all law enforcement. After all, drones and remote-controlled units will not suddenly grow a conscience and disobey an order to fire on protesters. Their remote pilots might not, either, since they will be trained to depersonalize and dehumanize their targets. Hey, it’s just a really expensive video game, right? Those aren’t people, they’re images on a screen.
NSA penetration and control of discourse
Parallel with the robotification of the military will be the expansion and penetration into our daily lives by the NSA and other agencies, particularly those relating to prevention of terrorism. Terrorism even now is already the excuse to throw away due process, the rule of law, and the Constitution, allowing the U.S. to act like an evil despotic dictator behind closed doors.
Public discourse in a reasonable, rational, informed manner on any of these changes taking place in the U.S. will be nearly impossible within the U.S. “Opposition” groups will be faked entirely or earnest ones will be overrun with professional trolls and shills whose mission is to make the group look bad in the media, while the media’s part of course will be to “report” and “discuss” all of this for the purpose of discrediting resistance and molding popular opinion. In probably about twenty or thirty years’ time, these functions won’t even need to be carried out by real people. The task will be handled by software-based agents, constructed based on in-depth psycho-social profiling which is already happening now. Think of it like Cleverbot crossed with a comment spamming application (just google “blog commenting software” to see what I mean) and given free agency to run autonomously. Its singular purpose would be to discredit groups and individuals to further the aims of the government or corporation that deploys it. Multiple copies of these programs can be propagated and deployed en masse to rapidly to turn the tide of any discussion on any site.
The tech gap grows
The difference between the technological “haves” vs the “have nots” will become more striking. A well-off tech maven from Silicon Valley will use technologies that are unavailable to and untrusted by the average American, essentially living in a different world, a different reality. Google Glass, self-driving cars, and augmented reality are only the beginning. “The future’s already here, it’s just not evenly distributed” (best-selling speculative fiction writer William Gibson).
We still probably won’t reach the implant stage (devices implanted directly within us, interfaced neurally, instead of carried/worn and relying on manual input/output), yet. But before then I expect to see more of an exodus of neo-luddites from society. MEST compression (matter, energy, space, time) will continue on its merry way, making technology cheaper, smaller, more powerful, and with a longer usage life. Think Google Glass for everyone. Except it won’t be for everyone, at least not at first: it will be for the few. Many won’t want it and this will be the neo-luddite tipping point for them.
America the outsourced
In a bit of an ironic role-reversal more Americans will become the outsourced employees of larger businesses, especially foreign ones. Why? More and more Americans will be too undereducated and living in desperate poverty. There will be a rise of first-world knowledge worker sweatshops. This is already happening as people try to make money on the side online and can only seem to get extremely low-paying work as they compete with foreigners in the third-world countries for whom low wages goes much further.
Medical advance backlog and rogue “doctors”
Scientific medical advances will continue and the pace will increase to create a severe backlog in applying these discoveries in any meaningful, beneficial way. Insurance approval and the pace of adoption of new methods/treatments/technologies will be excruciatingly slow. Even people who are terminally ill and in desperate straits to try anything will have difficulty in even knowing these discoveries have taken place, let alone be able to try and benefit from them. In my opinion this is already happening, and I expect it to continue and for the bottlenecks to become even more backed up. Based on the way the medical establishment operates, I don’t see any hope here unless rogue doctors (or even non-doctors) set up shop, for which of course they will be severely persecuted (probably some cool story material, here). More Americans will seek medical care outside of the U.S. because it’s just as effective (if not more so) and much cheaper. Bottom line, advances are happening and will continue to happen at a pace that’s too fast compared to our ability to understand and implement these advances meaningfully and effectively into our lives.
3D printing debacle
Fabrication, more commonly known as “3D Printing,” will become a minefield for knee-jerk reactions and legislation even more than it is now (a very small portion of the U.S. population is aware of 3D printing or its implications). Beyond the hot-button issues of printing guns, fabrication will reach into all areas of life. It will affect order and delivery (objects can be fabricated instead of delivered), construction, food (printing food instead of growing it) and medicine (printing of tissues, bones, and even entire organs). I don’t think that even in a hundred years we’ll reach the state where everyone will have a 3D printer in their home making anything and everything. However, it will decentralize and network-ize (network-ify?) manufacturing, making possible thousands of micro-factories run out of garages or collective spaces (similar to coworking spaces available now for rent).
Thanks if you made it this far
I think about stuff like this because… Well, because I can’t help it, but also it helps me come up with story ideas. None of it is terribly uplifting, I’ll grant you, but it seems clear to me that the U.S. has already reached its apex as a nation and is now in decline. What to do? I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. While it’s conceivably possible enough people who care and who are brave enough to take action might change things for the better, most people will do nothing. What you do is up to you. What you teach your children based on the world they’re inheriting is up to you. If you want to fight against the future decline of the U.S., I hope I’ve done a decent job of laying out some of the battle grounds.
I didn’t include any gigantic, earth-shattering events because those are just too difficult to pin down. You can’t predict mass revolution, secession, foreign invasion, viral pandemic, or ecological crisis (all of which are quite possible over the span of a century). At some point, the wheels on this cart are going to get too wobbly and they’re going to fall off. I doubt that will be within a hundred years but I don’t doubt it will be before the next two hundred. And right now there’s not enough to go on for even reasonably accurate speculation that far down the line. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor did it fall in a day.