National Geographic : 2015 Jan
Firsts FROM THE EDITOR Looking Ahead This issue of National Geographic is built around the idea of “firsts”—discoveries, innovations, and actions that changed the world. As a first, it’s hard to top the bravery of Ruby Bridges, who tells us in our 3 Questions feature what it was like to be the first child to desegregate an American public elementary school in the South. We also use the term less formally, as in a photo essay on America’s “first” bird (the bald eagle) or a vibrant story on Africa’s “first” city (Lagos, Nigeria’s com- mercial center, which is driving the biggest economy on the continent). So in an issue of firsts, how do we forecast what comes next? What will be the next “firsts” that will change us, our families, our communities, and our planet? In an attempt to answer some of those questions, we went to the experts and futurists who contemplate coming changes both prosaic and profound. Take Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley seer who, in 1994 (four years before the founding of Google), predicted that the future belonged to “those who control the filtering, search, and sensemaking tools we will rely on to navigate through the banal expanses of cyberspace.” Indeed. Whether it’s about the anticipated demise of the combustion engine or a de- crease in divorce, we hope you’ll find these experts’ ideas thought provoking as we en- ter 2015. One cautionary note: No predictor is always right. In what he calls his “worst forecast,” Saffo wrote in 1993 that “cyber- punks are to the 1990s what the beatniks were to the ’60s—harbingers of a mass movement waiting in the wings.” That’s one mass movement we still await. Onward to the next firsts—and Happy New Year! Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief HOW WE WILL LOVE WITHIN 10 TO 20 YEARS Pepper Schwartz Professor, University of Washington Divorce may decrease after the baby boomers, who have a high divorce rate, age into their 50s and 60s. We will also see more people who are in love but do not share a domicile. Though definitely couples, these people are tied to different places because of a job or family, or be- cause they love where they live. Maybe we will see people going back and forth between assisted living facilities. HOW WE WILL LIVE WITHIN 5 TO 10 YEARS Paul Saffo, Technology Forecaster Driverless cars will share roadways with conventional cars. This will happen in urban areas first and will take a decade to fully diffuse. In the long run, people won’t own cars at all. When you need to go somewhere, you’ll have a subscrip- tion to an auto service, and it will show up at your door. We’re moving away from a purchase economy. We will subscribe to access rather than pay money for possessions such as smartphones. We won’t buy software anymore; we’ll subscribe to it. A new religion could emerge in the next decade or two, perhaps based around the environment. Digital technology is the solvent leaching the glue out of our global structure— including shaking our belief systems to the core.