Douglas RushkoffProfessor of media theory and digital economics, CUNY
Douglas Rushkoff studies human autonomy in the digital age. The host of the popular “Team Human” podcast, Rushkoff has written 20 books and made the PBS Frontline documentary "Generation Like." He is a research fellow of the Institute for the Future and founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism at CUNY/Queens, where he is a professor of media theory and digital economics.
Who will run the world?
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Hopefully, people will run the world. Right now, people are increasingly run by the obsolete systems put in place by their predecessors. We are victimized by systems we don’t understand and that don’t really serve anyone. Even the wealthy are accumulating billions they know they don’t need, but can’t figure out how to use to have a positive impact on the world. So, if we survive the next 50 years, it will likely be because we have restored our capacity to make choices and execute them.
Which country will have the most powerful economy?
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If we survive the next 50 years, it will be because we understand the economy differently. We won’t be thinking of the world in terms of the relative power of national economies. We will have come to understand the very basic reality that there’s really one economy. There may still be nation states, and some will have bigger economies than others, but the economy will likely be understood more as a circulatory system than an arsenal.
What kinds of companies will be the most important?
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Smaller businesses will be understood as important again. We will likely move toward an economic system like distributism, in which businesses only grow as much as they need to in order to serve their function. The small businesses that will likely matter a lot will be small farms.
What will cause the biggest conflicts?
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Climate and climate migration will make today’s immigration crises look quaint. We’ll be looking at hundreds of millions of people trying to escape one region and move to another. National boundaries won’t really mean anything to these people (and really shouldn’t, since nation states are entirely artificial constructs). But residents of one area will feel like they have rights to land and resources that other people don’t.
How will people earn a living?
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Well, earning a living is another construct. Jobs are a relatively recent phenomenon. They came about when small business was made essentially illegal in the late middle ages, and people were forced to work as employees for chartered monopolies. In reality, people don’t have to “earn a living.” There may be some work for them to do, but that’s kind of a different question.
We will need people to manage climate, develop energy solutions, and educate children. Hopefully there will be fewer people making stuff nobody would want without advertising to sell it.
How will we communicate with each other?
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I think we’ll use a lot of spoken language. Maybe more gestures. Our digital communication should likely move beyond text and emoji to something more gestural.
How will we entertain one another?
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I think people will become reacquainted with analog, real-world forms of entertainment, like hanging out with other people, talking, touching, and playing. People may even play music together, or make art or theater, not for money but for fun.
What will we eat?
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I think we’ll be eating a lot fewer animals, and more lab-grown meat. Hopefully, more plants. As the health benefits of a local, seasonal diet become more clear, we should be taxing the environment a lot less as well.
How will we die?
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Well, we could all die in the next 50 years, but we probably won’t. I guess how we die depends on who we are. The majority of deaths will be climate-related. Cholera in flood zones, mass murder of migrant populations, starvation, and heat-related deaths. If we assume that the vast majority of the planet will be facing the direct brunt of the climate crisis, that will be most of the deaths. I suppose people in other regions will be dealing more with the spread of diseases— things from Ebola to mad cow disease.
What will we wear?
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I think we will still wear clothes. Probably clothes with fewer plastics and synthetics in them because we’ll all be more aware of how the microfibers kill sea life.
How will we find love?
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I think we’ll find it by looking into one another’s eyes in real life. With any luck, we’ll understand the difference between sex and intimacy, and come to learn how real-life encounters engender a certain intimacy we can’t get otherwise.
What’s your best prediction for the world in 50 years?
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That we’re still here, and hopeful.