Brenda Cooper

2009: What to Worry About, How to Hope

It looks late, but I typically do my outlook for the year in mid-January.  As a futurist, I’m no expert.  Rather, I weave together the things I heard and read with my own impressions.   Of course, there are expert futurists in particular fields, but I like the variety of many audiences.

Remember, futurists have no crystal ball, and I won’t be 100% right.  But I do spend a lot of time thinking about the future.  So here goes:

The Economy:  Don’t look for magic bullets.  There is no one bailout big enough to make as well- at least not in the form of money.  We need hope.  Actually, we need a bit of economic magic, a bit of luck, a lot of hope, and to be prepared to grit our teeth.  I expect a down year in the first part of 2009 (and so does everybody else), and some up after that.  I strongly suspect we’re in for more swings.  We’re still getting the hang of a fast, vast, and electronic economy.  In 2008, the financial sector fell like a house of cards.  We could see it teetering before that, but almost no one saw the speed and depth of the fall. Expect at least one more event like that: American automakers?  China?   Airframe makers?  Widespread local government failures?  I don’t mean struggles, I mean falls.  Expect one, maybe two.  Speaking of hope, I hope I’m wrong.

This is going to be a year of learning, and I’m hoping for some serious bright spots in 2009, but no new bubbles, and no real sustained strength yet, either.  Sustained strength will take an acknowledgement that economic expansion that needs consumer spending – and specifically our American consumer spending – is a ponzi scheme.   We need new thinking.  I bet we’ll start to come to grip with that.  It’s early, but 2010 could be a lot better.

Wildcards to hope for:  High oil prices to help create some strong new industries.  The reinvestment in infrastructure works better than we hope (and I already like the idea).

War and Peace:  By the end of the year, I think there will be more calm in Iraq, and MAYBE real progress in Afghanistan.  We won’t be out of either place, but could have a severely reduced role in Iraq.  Expect more conflicts globally, though.  The brighter side?  We’ll see better and less unilateral diplomacy. 

If we’re lucky, no nukes will be fired again.   This is a rising threat, not a falling threat.  World political leadership is very unstable at the moment.

Wildcards to hope for:  More international coalition building at a grass-roots level – demands for peace by the people.  More serious discussion about world governance (not government – governance – those are different concepts – we don’t want aany more concentration of power). 

Technology:  It’s another year of building the all-mobile world that knows where it is.  We’ll see better and more useful geo-aware applications and a lot of new designs.  We’ll start to see chips in people – maybe just in travellers (particularly kids) in unsafe places, or criminals we can’t afford to house, but the technology will become more widespread in 2009.  We’ll see more personal GPS devices and more acceptance of the idea that others will know where we are. 

Wildcards to hope for:  Real progress in energy storage (batteries).  Good for mobility, good for solar power and clean power and green transportation.

I already made my climate predictions.  In short, more bad things happen, but we learn a bit and start building more accountability.

Overall:  A rough year, maybe rougher than we expect.  But we’ll also see some progress, and some fundamental changes in how we think.  We’ll feel more respected and included by our leaders.  Since we’re Americans, we’ll still whine, but we’ll also start to make better choices.

Feel free to weigh in!  if I get more than ten comments with reactions, support, or different ideas, after a week, I’ll send one of the commenters a hardcover copy of THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA.  Commenters will need to leave some way for me to contact them.

2 Responses so far

  1. 1. Paul

    The arctic will be free of ice by 2,120…no, 2050,…no, 2030…
    I know how ice melts. Take a tub of ice. Dump it in the kitchen sink or bathtub. Run water on it. Watch. We keep being surprised when the earth’s ice melts in the same pattern: slowly, slowly, inflection point, fast.

    Like Y2K and computers, though, if we really do something about it now, all the naysayers will assume it wasn’t a problem in the first place.

    The economy: Odd thing here. If everyone just spent money, it would start fixing itself. The problem is, it takes everyone. If some of us spend money, and others don’t, we just have some people hitting tough times sooner.

    War: War will continue to be hell in 2009.

    Tech: One thing that really bugs me about the move from landlines to mobile phones shows up on radio and tv call-ins. The lack of signal integrity has talk show hosts and djs saying “what?”; “could you repeat that?”; “your phone cut out” a lot. A lot. Signal to noise is making conventional media irritating; this is at the same time newspapers are going away. And tv is going digital. We’ll be left with blogs as our news sources. There will be less and less information integrity in 2009 and on.

  2. 2. Carol Phillips

    I’ve thought too about this “chips in people” thing. I’m surprised we don’t already do it, if it is common and even expected in our animals now. My dog has one, and the kitten is getting hers in a couple of weeks. Why don’t I want them in my kids? I’m the epitome of over protective mom.
    I’m afraid of who has access to the data. I’m afraid there is some global conspiracy to keep tabs on people. Big corporations going around saying “It’s safe, don’t worry” doesn’t make me feel better.

    I truly feel that there will never be a 100% honest election in the country as long as we use electronic ballots. There isn’t any way to prove they are safe from backdoors. Well. then I also believe there won’t be any honest election until there are no more corporate bribes to politicians I mean corporate campaign donations.

    The future holds less and less freedom for people, and more and more power for large corporations, and the people who control them.