To hear the full audio of every audio postcard listen here:
Here are all the answers from the Five Year Anniversary episode, lightly edited.
What message would you send to someone living 50 years in the future?
First off, I want to say hello to all the cyborgs, mermaids, humanoids, aliens, and microbes that are thriving and ruling 50 years from now! Beep boop beeeeeep! Greetings from the dystopian hellscape that is the year 2020 in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. Is podcasting still a thing? Is eugenics and inequality still around? Do disabled people still exist in your timeline? I really hope so although I imagine how we think and talk about disability has progressed for the better.
Back in my day, I had the delightful chance to be on Flash Forward podcast talking about human gene editing with Rose Eveleth. Talking with Rose and other folks make me realize that we are constantly creating and reimagining the future through every single conversation. Most of my work is centered on building a future that we all deserve and need, one centered on joy and abundance, one where all bodyminds are accepted, where access is a cultural value, and that the weakest and most marginalized are the ones leading the way. Living during this current pandemic has taught me that many sick, older, and disabled people are our modern-day oracles telling our truths to a public that doesn’t want to hear or believe us. May you treasure the oracles that are in your communities right now and I hope you listen to them with an open spirit and heart. Smell ya later!
Alice Wong // disability activist, host of Disability Visibility // Snip Snip Snip
The first thing I want to tell you there in 2070 is that that whole bunch of photos that you see from the early 2020s when we all have terrible looking hair and look like we’ve been crying a lot? Those are from the pandemic, when we had a horrifying confluence of capitalism and racism. And it killed a lot of people all at once and caused a huge amount of suffering. We kind of knew that suffering like this happened every day in other parts of the world, often because of stuff we’d done in the United States. And some of it happened every day in the United States to disabled people and people of color because reliable healthcare had never been there for some people. But then it came to lots of us who have avoided it our whole lives. Some of us weren’t surprised, but we were pretty stunned. So that explains the photos.
The second thing I want to say is that I’d like to take this chance to not say sorry.
Some of us knew that there were even bigger problems in 2020 than the cruelties of the for profit health care system; that the stuff, the cars, the yoga mats, the smartphones, the instapots, the bacon burgers, were killing the planet, and that producing and distributing the stuff meant really awful lives for lots of people at the time and probably assured awful lives from people well into the future — that is into your time. But we bought them anyway. We knew what they meant and we didn’t stop. We didn’t elect the people who had better ideas. We didn’t resist. And I’m not saying sorry. Sorry isn’t helpful. Definitely not helpful. To say sorry is a comfort. And the possibility of comfort of being forgiven for the consequences of our action is the problem in 2020.
So I’m rejecting the chance to say sorry to the folks of 2070. Instead, I’m aiming to start making the right choices. Thanks for giving me the chance to not apologize, but to act. So that’s all. Hope you’re safe. Hope you’re healthy. Hope there’s still hope. Thanks.
Amy Slaton // Professor, History, Drexel University // EARTH: The Cement Ban
My message to you is to pay very close attention to the things that you love to do, because if it’s something that you love to do, your heart’s in it, you’re passionate about it, then chances is that that thing that you love to do is what makes you unique. And it’s probably where all your gifts are, the gifts that you want to share with the world. So pay attention to it. Don’t just take a job just for a paycheck. But pay attention to the things that you love to do.
Angeli Fitch // voice actor & lawyer // EARTH: The Ocean Farm
50 years from now. I struggle with this question. I guess one of the things that I would like to explain about our age is that as a society we were very bad at looking to the future. We were very bad at preparing for things that we knew were coming — whether it was this coronavirus pandemic or climate change. And part of that is because we are very bad at acknowledging communities that often have less power than the predominant populations that do have power in this country and elsewhere.
I wish I could feel more optimistic right now, but I think my hope for 50 years from now is that people won’t want to hold on to power as much as they do now. My hope is that society will be more open to sharing power and sharing thoughts and ideas because they will have seen what people in this current age have gone through. Now, the likelihood of that happening seems very low because I’m sure that people 50 years ago might have sent the same message to us today.
And so I guess my next thought is to go more personal on this. And I think a message that I would want to send myself 50 years from now is that I did the best I could. I think that I have a tendency to be really hard on myself. When I look back on, say, my teenage years, I could have done more, I could have learned more things, I could have learned more languages, I could have learned to code, I could’ve stuck with drawing, I could have started playing guitar earlier. All these things seem very trivial when I say them out loud, but they are things that go through my head on a regular basis. These small regrets. And so the message that I would want to send myself is that I did my best and that I tried my hardest, both during periods like this pandemic and also just broadly when it comes to climate change.
I did my best. I probably could have done more, but I did my best. I did what I was capable of doing at the time. And I hope that that is a message that I will listen to with an open heart 50 years from now. And I would want that message to also be available to others, because I think a lot of us are trying our hardest right now and I hope that 50 years from now, we can be kind to ourselves too. And we can look kindly back at the actions that we took in 2020 or 2019 or 2021, my hope for us is that we can be kind to ourselves while acknowledging our many failures.
Arielle Duhaime Ross // host of Reset // Greetings From Paradice
Ashley Shew: All right. New recording. How old are you?
Daughter One: Two!
Ashley Shew: Wow, you’re so good at talking for age two.
Daughter One: I’m just kidding. I’m nine.
Ashley Shew: All right. And you know, in 50 years, you’ll be 59. What message would you like to send to someone living 50 years from now? Maybe your future self?
Daughter One: What’s cheese and I like shirts.
Ashley Shew: You like shirts?
Daughter One: And don’t poop on trees I’ve tried!
Ashley Shew: What happened when you tried pooping on trees?
Daughter One: The bark fell off. It was too hard of a poop.
Ashley Shew: OK. Well, this has been a productive talk. Do you want to give an earnest message?
Daughter One: What does that mean?
Ashley Shew: A sincere message to someone 50 years from now?
Daughter One: I thought don’t poop on trees… OK. What’s duct tape and why do you use it?
Ashley Shew: It’s not a question, a message. Like, Always be kind to trees. Don’t poop on trees took a better form than you’re currently working with. It’s not a question, a message.
Daughter One: I like cheese and it’s delicious. But I also like… Well, I hate hot, hot dogs are not very good. I hate the texture of them. But what I’m trying to say is…. eggs, even though I don’t like them, I like making them.
Ashley Shew: OK.
Daughter One: I also like baking.
Ashley Shew: You like baking? What’s your favorite thing to bake? Muffins or cupcakes? Or are cupcakes just muffins in disguise?
Daughter One: I like baking muffins.
Ashley Shew: Do you hope there are muffins in the future?
Daughter One: Nah.
Ashley Shew: Maybe you want to tell someone the future. Look up muffin recipes. They’re fantastic.
Daughter One: Yeah.
Ashley Shew: Would that be a good thing?
Daughter One: Yeah.
Ashley Shew: All right.
Daughter One: Also, what’s glass?
Ashley Shew: That’s another question. And you know glass is. All right. Sorry, Rose. Thank you.
Ashley Shew: What message would you like to send to someone living 50 years from now?
Daughter Two: Well, there are some values that would never change. So I would ask if we’re still protecting the planet, because that’s one of the most important things in the world. I’d wonder, I’d wonder if there were going to be as many trees in there or a species that have lived while I’m a child have gone extinct.
Ashley Shew: There probably will be.
Daughter Two: Yeah.
Ashley Shew: Is there anything you want to say to someone 50 years from now about these things, maybe someone your age, which is 11 so in fifty years will be 61 then.
Daughter Two: In 50… so someone my age and 50 years, I would tell them to protect what little nature they have left. If there is little left and we have a lot left because people have taken a stand to make sure to protect it.
Ashley Shew: What do you like most about nature?
Daughter Two: I like the fact that it’s always changing, it’s always in constant motion.
Ashley Shew: Just like you.
Daughter Two: Yeah.
Ashley Shew: Love you.
Ashley Shew // Professor, Virginia Tech // Enter the Exos, Dr. Doolittle
So I’ve been thinking about what I want to tell someone 50 years in the future. And unfortunately, the advice I wish to relay is not poetic or smart or timeworn or anything. I don’t feel like I don’t have anything that I could teach the future. I feel like all that I can do is document or attempt to document the moment we’re living in.
I can so vividly imagine a future where everything gets wrapped around the coronavirus outbreak. I can imagine future scholars saying that the word “viral” came into prominence after the coronavirus. Kind of like with the rise of the atomic bomb, how everyone was eating candies like Red Hots and that kind of made its way into language that things were “atomic.” I can see people being like, oh, yes, the term “virality” stemmed from this time period.
I feel like as an old lady, I’m going to be correcting people all the time. “No, people were using viral before that was a thing. Screens were also already a thing. We were already devising ways to avoid each other and have food delivered to our doors. Society was already extremely rigidly striated and it was already really hard to live and get by. The coronavirus really only drew these things into stark relief.”
I think that there is this tendency when we look back at history to make everything so cut and dry. I think about this all the time. Every time I try to tell a history story. We imagine that everything springs from a handful of mighty events. The example I’ll give is when I did the story about the history of pockets. The narrative that everyone was passing around was that women used to have big pockets, and then the French Revolution happened and the American Revolution happened and big fancy dresses went out of fashion because excess was out; elitism was out. It was popular to look like a commoner during the rise of liberalism. And that got rid of big dresses and made no room for pockets. Everyone was wearing these more simple, modest dresses with a tighter silhouette that didn’t allow for pockets.
But it’s really not true.
History is very queer. Or I guess time is very queer. Both things can be true at the same time. Nothing just happens instantaneously. A style came into being and some people adopted it and some people didn’t. And there’s a huge in-between period where some people were wearing pockets and some didn’t.
And there were interesting tensions that arose when some people had pockets and some people different didn’t. It’s like these strange sort of liminal transition moments in history that are so easy to forget under the huge, wild, overwhelming circumstances of a pandemic or a war or a revolution. And so I guess that’s what I would say to people living 50 years in the future, is that a lot of the problems that we will continue to be dealing with after this were already present and latent.
Avery Trufelman // Host of Articles of Interest // EARTH: The Polar Flip
What I would like you people to know, in the future with your flying cars or barren wreckage of civilization, with your collectivist housing and Soylent diets or garden floating and spectacular solar domes. As you read the histories of our era, I would like you to remember when you shake your heads that our decisions at our inability to avoid the choices that lead to your future moment or play our best part in the epoch you say we are either beginning or finishing. That we only have our own path to go off. We don’t know what you know.
Calvin Gimpelevich // author of Invasions // BODIES: Switcheroo
Dear future, I wish you Godspeed. You may have by now perfected quantum computing, solved the problem of aging, or even sent a woman to the red planet. But I urge you to consider where you came from 50 years prior and beyond that into the distant past. Here is a quote that may explain how we got to where we are now in the year 2020 and by extension, how you two where you are.
“It is not proper for a man’s life to be a circle, she thought, or a string of circles dropping off like zeros behind him. Man’s life must be a straight line of motion from goal to further goal each leading to the next and to a single growing sum.” It comes from the book Atlas Shrugged A Tale of Man’s Struggle Against an Inner and Outer Nature.
What is nature, you may ask? Let me give you the simple definition that nature is that what emerges if you stop constantly pulling and tearing at the material world’s edges. I wish we had realized that there is a place for every being in nature’s constant flows and rhythms. A lot has been and will be said about man’s hubris.
But let me close with this quote by Henry David Thoreau and preserve it for you so it might continue to give food for thought for posterity. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Carl Evers // Patron
2070 Hello. I think a lot about you. First, let me say, while you’re probably caught up in all the nostalgia that’s everywhere you look for the 2050’s. Let me tell you that you were living in one of the best of times right now here in 2070. How do I know? Well, sit down. You’re probably not gonna be ready for this. I’m living here in the year 2370. Yep. That’s almost 300 years into your future. I’ve read a lot about your century and specifically your decade.
While it’s probably not news to you, yes, the 2070’s do seem more divided than ever. Between those who believe that human autonomy is somehow more “real” than hybrid intelligence. You see, you’re going to soon have one side of people who want to completely focus on free decision making. These folks come to be called “freebees” sometime in the next two years. This term was originally coined in the 1900’s for stuff you would get just by purchasing something. Kind of ironic, right? On the other side you’ve got the “natches,” or the naturals. These people feel that the only folks who have worth and merit are those who have learned skills taught to them by reading, attending classrooms, or even experiencing things firsthand. It’s kind of a really awkward battle between those who want to just live life through hybrid intelligence where, let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy, decisions are made and they’re good for all of us. And those who believe the only folks who have merit are those who’ve learned things well, the old-fashioned way.
And I can kind of see it. I can kind of see both sides of it. You know, the freebies. They believe that now that you guys have outlawed attention assault. (When did that happen? 2061 I think? Oh well.) They believe now that attention assault has been outlawed, that hybrid intelligence is more than adequate for all natural experiences. I mean, we have to think about each other, right? And that’s hard to do. So, yes, it’s going to seem incredibly hard for you right now, but if you’ve learned one thing from reading so much about the 2050’s or the 1950’s, (what is it with you guys and 50s?) it’s that right now the time you’re in, while hard, is probably the best time of all. So let me answer a few questions for you before I go. Our time is really limited when they send these transmissions back.
So first question. Yes.
Humans finally do leave Earth. We actually build that home on Mars we were promised and not the temporary crappy one we got in 2030. No. A real one, the one we were promised after the great American collapse of 2052.
We don’t conquer death in the future. You see, as you remember, after the first full time BCI or brain computer interface recipient was attached to A.I. to form our first hybrid intelligence in I think 2046, we thought that would be it. Having people inside A.I. with all their memories, hopes and dreams will create a new place for us to live. Unfortunately, sometime in your next 40 years, we find out that mortality is part of a system of sorts that functions outside of our worlds, outside of our consciousness. It kind of keeps a cosmic order. It’s important. So unfortunately, even in hybrid intelligence, we’re still going to die.
Finally, back in the year 1968, yep, almost 100 years ago, there was so much going on: We had early computers andspaceflight. People were even experimenting with psychedelics. There was this man born. You haven’t heard of him, but his name is Chris Dancy. He actually became kind of famous for wearing technology and saving lots of data. How quaint, right? Well, he wasn’t just a regular person. He was the first human time traveler. You see he’d learned that time was a type of energy, like a feeling or a sense. People started noticing this time sense way back in the 2020s. But he did something amazing. He learned to manipulate it with his thoughts. He could start to see deep into the future, to your world and 2070 and all the way to my world here in 2073. So much so that sometime in the year 2123, yep. Years from the current time here in 2070, people find his books, they find his data and they start to analyze it and they realize. He actually traveled to the future.
So it might seem scary times have that effect on people. The world is really divided. And we’ve seen this before. Our ability to dream, be lost in thought, have nightmares or even just wonder out loud something when we’re alone. That was our first glimpse at what it was like to tap into this river of time that this man discovered. Here in the future, we all have the ability to change not only the future, but our current moments. We’ve learned that using this feeling of daydreaming and hope has a way of reshaping our reality. We even have a term for it. It’s called Flash Forward. It’s kind of magical and we don’t use the term magical lightly.
So hang in there, 2070. You’ve only got another 53, I think, to go before everyone learns how to do this. And then you’ll wonder why you guys worried about so much for so long and you realize that worry was just an anchor on time. You’ll wonder why you wasted so much of it.
Oh, and one more thing. That ability to go backward in time? That we can’t do?
Well, that same man figured out how to do that. And that’s why he’s here in 2073 telling you about 2070. And guess what? He did it from 2020. Take care. See you soon.
Chris Dancy // the most connected man on Earth // My Everything Pal
To the people 50 years from now, I’m hoping that as you hear this, you figured out a way to think more clearly and more immediately about how values make their way into our systems, both technological and non. About the fact that any human created system will have human values woven into it, and that the best thing that we can possibly do is to make sure that that’s done intentionally. I’m hoping that you’ll think about the lag time between when we realize that our values and our biases have made their way into our systems. And when we try to do something about it and try to think about what that means and what the implications of it are. I’m hoping that you’ll think about that before you make the systems that you make. I’m hoping that 50 years from now you’re looking at the lessons that we’ve been trying to learn for the previous 50 years and the 50 years before that and the 50 years before that and you’re thinking about them as places where we had good intentions but had not yet reached meaningful execution. I’m hoping that you’ve built on that as much as possible.
Take the time to think about who the most marginalized among you are think about their perspectives, their lived experiences. Figure out how those perspectives and those lived experiences can be accounted for first. Think about who knows what you don’t know, both at an individual and a societal level and try to find ways to incorporate that knowledge at the outset rather than as an afterthought. Think about who might be most ill affected by the systems you create before you create those systems. Think about who is the most ill served by the systems that exist and seek to create systems that benefit them, that benefit everyone. That undo the damage and redress the damage of the systems that have gone before you. And to remediate that damage, to benefit those people, to heal the damage, the oppressions that have been incurred up to that point, and make sure that they don’t happen to them or to anyone else ever again.
Hopefully 50 years from now, everything that I’m saying is second nature and you’ll just go, well, yeah, of course. But if not, I hope you’ll take the time to think about it. To realize that we’ve been struggling with it and to wonder whether you might still be struggling with it. And to take the opportunity to fix it.
Damien Patrick Williams // PhD student, Virginia Tech // Rude Bot Rises & The Witch Who Came From Mars
Dear person in 2070.
I realize that people in your year probably don’t have many warm feelings for those of us living through 2020. I promise it is not our favorite year either. I am sure the general attitude you have towards us is bewilderment. Why didn’t you change? Why didn’t you do anything with the science when it was so clear?
I’m not making excuses, but I can tell you I’ve been fighting to get people to care for decades already. I reuse stuff. I try to use less. And I’ve been vegan for almost 30 years now. I know you folks know how important that is. People are starting to see the benefits already. One thing I’ve tried to do consistently is think about folks in the future. That is why I read, write and study the art of speculation.
I tried activism for a couple decades. I tried the hard way. And I learned that people do not like to be told how to live their lives even when the sustainability of their grandchildren’s planet is at stake. So I’ve turned to science fiction. I like telling people about groundbreaking works of the genre that highlight our crisis from The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner in 1972 to Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin in the 80’s or to recent novels by Kim Stanley Robinson, for a couple of examples. I promise you, we science fiction writers were sounding the alarm. I have written my own and I can only speak for myself, but my hope has always been that we can make entertainment that will make the message go down easier.
I hope people will listen. But I also understand on a deeper level, if you are there to receive this letter, then people must have changed. 2020 has been a challenging year and my hope is you would know better than I would that the people of my time realize how easily they can lose everything. That the day to day life they considered a right is actually a privilege and start living with the people, animals and environment of the future in mind.
David Agranoff // author, The Vegan Revolution With Zombies // Where’s The Beef?
Dear 2070. You may be 50 years closer to the complete optimization of daily life, but you still stand to gain from a relationship with your past, specifically with the humble corporation by the name of Object Solutions. Divided by time we may be, but united we stand in the goal to streamline humanity into a seamless consumer experience. You may have more advanced technology, bigger data, but we still have that lucrative connection to the human soul. To that end, I slide my proposal across the tables of time. Objects Solutions invites you to a formal meeting at our headquarters, fifty years ago today.
With our guidance, you can have access to a society that’s still separable from artificial intelligence. These days, if you try hard enough, you can still get a human on the phone. You can still truly know yourself and connect with others with only minor guidance from an app. Personally, I have more close friends than I do smart devices. But that time is fading fast. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to capitalize. I’m not talking corporate merger. That could step on some butterflies, but let’s call it transaction on time travel. Object Solutions is poised to be the corporate steward for the future you wish you were.
I think you’ll find a lot of opportunities in this time period. 2020 is not too early, not too late.
Ernesto D. Morales // Object Solutions // Studio Malagon // Love On The Brain
If I were to send a message to someone 50 years in the future, I would ask them to learn the right lessons from history. I think it’s really natural to look to the past for guidance when we see uncertainty and oppression and violence all around us and we look for patterns, which is a good thing to do. But often times we will sort of fix ourselves onto a particular analogy. And I think that that will often blind us to the kinds of oppression and violence that are happening around us. It really narrows our view.
This really stuck with me this past summer and fall when I was watching the protests in Hong Kong unfold and escalate. And I talked to a lot of journalists, a lot of whom asked me more or less the same kind of question, which is: What happens now? And in particular: Is this going to be another Tiananmen Square massacre? And I found this question really frustrating because it felt like such a narrow view of what the limit and scope of China’s response could be.
And it was particularly frustrating because it then made it seem that if China did not send tanks into the streets of Hong Kong like they did on June 4th in 1989, that anything else was sort of a lesser than response. That it wasn’t as violent, it wasn’t as extreme as what had happened before. And beyond that, beyond making that as a metric of what the most violent response could be, it also blinded us to all of the different ways in which China’s response was already violent and already oppressive in a number of different ways that had no past corollary.
So what I mean by saying we should learn the right lessons from that history, I think we should remember that exact moments in the past never repeat themselves. And by presuming that they will, we blind ourselves to tragedies that unfold right before our eyes. By looking for perfect metaphors and analogies to the past we lose sight of how the many, many millions or millions and millions of guises, violence and oppression can take, and how it can transform and how it looks like something different, even if the same kind of oppression and violence is still happening. Because there’s a precedent violence all around us. And when we spend all of our time looking for something exactly the same as the past, we end up ignoring it or even legitimizing it right. Or arguing over the accuracy of our analogies.
It’s not that the past has nothing to teach us. It teaches us the multiple guises in which violence, oppression can happen and how we legitimize, explain away, downplay or wipe from memory as it is happening in real time. And this is the lesson we should remember. So in 50 years, don’t be asking, is this another X moment? Instead, ask how did the violence and oppression happen in the past and how was it legitimized, continued and explained away? And do we see echoes of that happening today? And what can we do about it?
Another message I would send to somebody 50 years in the future is just how much so many of us see injustice and violence around us and want to change it and have no idea how. I think about this a lot, because when I teach events as a history professor like World War 2 or the rape of Nanjing or colonialism. These kinds of really violent moments. We often talk about the collaborators, we often talk about the resistance, and we often talk about the people who keep their head down and either explain away or downplay or look the other way to violence and oppression in order of survival. And what I now realize is missing from these narratives are people who knew what was happening, who wanted to make a difference and just had no idea how and felt paralyzed looking at their own powerlessness. I feel that very viscerally now and in the past few years and for people in 50 years who look back on this time and look back on, you know, the second decade of the 21st century, I hope they’ll realize how many people felt paralyzed by powerlessness and really did want to make a difference and wanted justice.
Gina Tam // Assistant Professor, History, Trinity University // POWER: The Sleeping Lion
Hello, this is Janelle speaking to you from the past.
And I guess the first thing I want to say is sorry for what we are doing to set you up for some pretty bad situations probably in the future.
But along with that apology, maybe one thing that will help in some way, I just listened to a climate scientist of today crying because she knew how bad the situation was and wish he could do more. And I think there’s a lot of us like that.
And it may help to have that picture of humanity of our time, humanity of our past, as not being monolithic, as being a lot more nuanced and, you know, a lot smarter than sometimes we give the past credit for.
So I hope you in the future are also doing weird, smart, bizarre things that we in the past have not even possibly imagined. That is the beauty and the complexity of the history of humanity. So hello from one part of it to another part of it.
Janelle Shane // artificial intelligence wrangler // Our Father Who Art in Algorithm
To the humans in 2070, 50 years from now: No part of what’s happening for you now was inevitable. Technology may seem to play a large part in how your life is, how you got there. But a thing I’d like to remind you is ultimately how things are for us comes down to how good we are at sharing our world with other people. Right now in 2020, we are trying to reconcile how sharing a world with other people means that we need to retreat from that world and hunker down in smaller groups to keep everyone safe. In 2070, you may be finding other wrinkles too, sharing a world with others that we haven’t quite wrapped our heads around. Be kind. Be fair. Be honest, and think hard about how to share whatever world you’ve got with the other people you’re sharing it with and you’ll sort out the other stuff.
Janet Stemwedel // Ph. D. Professor and Chair Department of Philosophy, San Jose State University // BODIES: This Is Not A Test
Hi, Rose and Future People. My message for the future is an ecological one. To not forget that humankind is not separate from or even above the rest of nature, but as inextricably connected with it. And we need to remember that in the ways we interact with nature directly and indirectly in how we design, how we can see them extract and dispose of resources and even how we raise our children. I want my message specifically addressing parents of the future, of which I hope I am one with a quote from American environmentalist Paul Shepard.
“I believe that every child under ten has three ecological needs: architecturally complex play space shared with companions, a cumulative and increasingly diverse experience of non-human forms, animate and inanimate, whose taxonomic names and genetic relationships. They must learn and occasional and progressively more strenuous excursions into the wilderness, where they may, in a limited way, confront the non-human.”
Jared Dyer // Patron
I’m speaking to you from the spring of 2020 at the University of California, Los Angeles, where we have been teaching and doing research remotely all online on the Internet since early March because of a global pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus that has killed 162,525 people, as I record this message to you. Yesterday was again the worst day yet in Los Angeles, where 81 people died. As an environmental historian, I believe history should be useful for the present and the future. And I’d like to take this occasion to send one reminder to students in the future.
Fifty years from now, in the year 2070, remember this: shit happens. Or to put it more politely: contingency matters. Some might even say that contingency — that unpredicted stuff happens — is really the only domain left that historians are uniquely trained to try to understand, explain, tell stories about. Other disciplines are good at explaining enduring social structures, how they are reproduced, and the agency of individuals, groups and institutions. Take psychology, anthropology, sociology, political science, economics. They excel at producing explanatory models. The discipline of history uses some of these models. We pick up useful tools wherever we find them, depending on the task at hand. But we really specialize in what the models can’t explain. That shit happens. That history matters.
Let me share a metaphor and a story to illustrate the relationship between structure, reproduction, agency and contingency. Think of a classroom in a university. I hope you still have those in 2070. It is filled with seats equipped with a writing surface for taking notes. The seats all face a lectern at the front. That is structure. From the configuration of the classroom to the organization of the whole university. Now the students file in, sit down and take notes, as a professor stands at the front of the room and lectures. That is reproduction. Together we are all reproducing the structure of the university, year after year. And what about agency? You as a student have some agency. You chose to learn this subject, presumably to shape your own future. You could attend or skip class today. I as a professor, have some agency too. I can choose how to teach this course, but teach it I must to keep my job.
And then suddenly it is all over. On the last day of class, the classroom sits empty. No students, no teacher. A viral pandemic abetted by an inept government response led by a corrupt, idiosyncratic president has changed everything. That’s contingency. Shit happens, and that can change your future.
Jon Christensen // Assistant Professor, UCLA // California Dreaming
I’m a pastor by training, but right now I’m the full-time caregiver to my two girls. To Rebel and Roar: now that you are 54 and 52 respectively. First, I hope you’re well. I hope you are still able to laugh with your full bodies the way you did today. I hope you can go outside and smell the green of spring, the gold of summer, the burnished red or fall and the white of winter. I’m sorry for mistakes I’ve made and the assumptions I’ve held. Even as you teach me new ways of seeing the world keep teaching me and those around me, better ways of understanding what we have now. I look forward to seeing your face again. And I can’t wait to see what experiments you share at your table. I love you, mom.
Kathy Randall Bryant // Patron
My hope for all of you in twenty seventeen is that all of us in 2020 took a hard look at the massive, heartbreaking losses due to suicide and overdoses and made big systemic changes. I dream that you’re in a world where generously funded research and compassionate, scientifically informed policies pave the way to a healthier society, one that devotes resources to treatment and prevention. I hope that you’re listening to this at a time where you can talk freely about your emotions, your thoughts and your struggles with no stigma attached. And finally, I’m wishing you a future where you have all you need to pursue your passions, connect with others and have fun without the burden of mental illness.
Katie Gordon // clinical psychologist & host of Psychodrama // Farm To Tablet
Kelly Weinersmith: Hello, People of the future. This is people of the past. You may have reasons to believe we were not a very smart people in the past. First of all, how dare you? That’s a common stereotype. Second, it’s wrong. We’ll prove it by perfectly predicting life in the year 2070. In these days of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of people make irresponsible, even dangerous predictions about the future. This is because they propose all sorts of wild developments instead of simply extrapolating from current trends. In order to say nothing wrong we will only be extrapolating from the most up to date available data.
Zach Weinersmith: First trend: home bread production has roughly tripled in the past month. If we continue tripling over the next 600 months, we find bread creation per person will increase 216 million-fold. Loosely speaking, that puts us at 10 billion loaves of bread per person per year or approximately enough to coat the planet in bread to a height of 50 loaves by the year 2070. The good news is that hunger has been solved. The bad news is many people have probably choked to death in the sea of quote unquote, artisan style baked goods.
Kelly Weinersmith: Second trend: Liquor sales are up. As a first estimate we found an article saying that people in Dayton, Ohio, were observed carrying “armloads” of liquor coming out of the grocery store. Having been to Dayton, Ohio, we estimate that the average Daytonian only requires one fistful of liquor per grocery trip. We conclude that the new trend is a quintupling of liquor consumption every month. And we believe these results can be extrapolated to all humanity because Ohioans are incredibly, incredibly average. By the year 2070 we find a 100 trillion-fold increase in per capita consumption of spirits. If we assume population continues growing despite certain dietary trends, we find seven septillion gallons of liquor must be created per year. Enough to replace Earth’s oceans several million times. By the year 2070, Earth will be like Saturn’s moon Titan. Only instead of water, we will have one massive subsurface Long Island Iced Tea and the surface crust will literally actually be crust.
Zach Weinersmith: Third trend: to satisfy the monthly quintupling of toilet paper demand all plant life has been converted into gentle yet resilient three-ply squares. These are now soaked in ethanol and highly flammable. Once these catch fire, they will burn for a few years, only finally going out after they’ve completely exhausted Earth’s oxygen supply, which will not be replenished because no plants remain. And because the sky is now an impenetrable shroud of smoke.
Kelly Weinersmith: Will humans survive in a world deprived of sunlight and oxygen, with little contact with other living beings and with vast liquor consumption on a constant basis? I can say confidently from the year 2020 that we will. In fact, we will thrive.
Zach Weinersmith: Fourth trend: Adaptation. Given the quantity of people who are now home and who have exhausted the entire libraries of Amazon and Netflix. We expect a factor of 10 increase in baby making. That takes us to a worldwide fertility rate of 24 children per woman. This creates a population doubling time of about three years. The happy result is an enormous number of humans for natural selection to select against. Until we are whittled down to only those beings who can survive in a state of perpetual carb loading and inebriation. The sloshed will inherit the Earth.
Kelly Weinersmith: That is our prediction, drunken fish people of 2070. Please know that from our vantage here in the dark days of 2020, we never lost hope. Though we are said to have missed out on Utopia.
Kelly and Zach Weinersmith // parasitologist, Rice University & cartoonist, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, authors of Soonish // Easy Bake Organs
What I hope for the continent of Africa and my country, Ethiopia, is that 50 years from now we embrace both our identities, our languages and science and technology and develop our ability to create solutions to our own problems without leaving our cultural contexts and all the important customs traditions that make us who we are. So we have more than 2000 languages in the continent, at least in my country, 80 different ethnic groups speak 80 different languages. And that kind of diversity globally, no matter how developed you are, you can bring that back once it’s gone. So I hope that we can preserve who we are as we develop our technology, our scientific muscle, and really create sustainable solutions for our own descendants, essentially. And I hope that 50 years from now our grandkids will be the beneficiaries of actions taken today and that they will carry it forward for the centuries to follow.
Lina Ayenew // entrepreneur & author // POWER: The Sleeping Lion
Hello, people of 2070. I hope you exist, and if you do, I hope the entrenched opposition to the people trying to build a less cruel world have been overthrown or otherwise destroyed. I’m not hopeful there. In 2020 here, incredible tech is being developed all the time without regard for how it’s used and often only in the hands of the people who only see its potential in profit and exploitation. I sincerely hope that technology has instead decoupled your societal value from your productivity. But mostly I’m very sorry, truly sorry that we didn’t do more now.
Matt Lubchanksy // cartoonist // The Commute From Hell
This is my message to any minority who feels oppressed in 2070. I know that people might be telling you that there are more important things to worry about, that the environment is wreaking havoc on us, that there might be a new pandemic, that there are threats from nature all across the planet looming. But don’t let those people deter you from understanding that human problems are still problems that need to be solved and that whatever sufferings the rest of the population have are sufferings that you also experience and more.
Meredith Talusan // author of Fairest: A Memoir // Bye Bye Binary
The message I would like to send someone living 50 years from now is very simple: 42.
Michelle Hanlon // Center for Air and Space Law, Mississippi School of Law // CRIME: Moon Court
My message to the world in 50 years is one of hope and gratitude. Thank you for listening to scientists and taking the necessary actions to mitigate climate change. I’m so grateful that we can now rejoice in the benefits of our scientific research and hard work to make the world a habitable, more sustainable and cleaner place.
Morgan Gorris // scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory // EARTH: The Desert Creep
It’s 2070. I hope that covid-19 is only a story you heard from your grandparents. But I also hope you’re doing something very important, that was suddenly jeopardized in 2020 with the great pandemic, namely reading mindfully, including in print.
When the pandemic struck. Schools closed and suddenly all education from kindergarten to graduate classes went online. One consequence was that most academic reading went online as well. Libraries were inaccessible, so no print books from them. Because textbooks were often left behind in schools, college dormitories and faculty offices when everyone had to evacuate, teachers substituted web materials, articles or scanned book chapters that could be accessed digitally. Did the shift matter? After all, the words would be the same whether read in a print book or on a screen. But they’re not.
In 2020, a cascade of research had shown that we tend to read differently in the two media. Print invites more careful reading, more reflection, and, it turns out, more learning than words on a screen. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that people will apply their minds when reading print, but the chances are greater. Psychological experiments showed this finding time and again. Equally telling, when you asked students from middle school through college, they told you they concentrated better, learned more and remembered more with print.
My fear in 2020 was that with the pandemic, the wholesale move to digital reading born from necessity would become a sustained habit. And in the process, people of all ages would come to see digital as an equivalent substitute for every kind of reading, even texts made for mindfulness: texts that are long, complex or elegantly crafted. I feared readers would take the contents of books less seriously with the unfortunate consequence of less time for reflection, less internal debate with the author, less learning and less experiencing the power of carefully chosen language. Please tell me that my fears were groundless and that print and mindful reading still have an important place in your life and in your heart.
Naomi Baron // Professor, Linguistics, American University & author of Words on Screen The Fate of Reading in a Digital World // Tree Free
This is a really weird moment. We are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and life does not seem as it always has been. And the thing that I want to focus on is not exactly what I think the world will look like in 50 years or even how I think we got here. But as a historian, often the hardest thing to recapture when we’re chronicling the past is how people felt at a particular moment. Not the policies they made, not what got reported in the newspaper, but how people felt. And so I just want to talk about the way I feel right now, and the way I think a lot of other people are feeling about the moment that we’re in.
One thing that’s really special, I think, is that I believe there’s a real awareness that we are living through a historical transformation right now. That’s something that doesn’t happen that much in history. As we look back and understand that certain moments were turning points, one of the things that historians often wonder is: Did they know? Did they know they were living through a transformation? And it’s not all that often that it seems that people did know. So I’ll tell you right now, it does seem like we’re living through a history, a lot of things that there are a lot of things that have been turned totally upside down almost I would think of them as reversals.
Two of the aspects of life right now that we have so often been taught to think of as unquestionable goods have now become dangers and those are in real life community and exercise. If you think that every time there’s been really hard times and I live in New York City — I’m thinking about New York 9/11, for example, or honestly even the 2016 election of Donald Trump — two things that people have always been told to revert to are find your people, right. Give somebody a hug, go exercise, it will lift your mood.
Right now, being together with other people is dangerous and even exercising is it can be seen as that too. Gyms are all shut down. Going outside, if you’re anywhere near anybody else is really dangerous. So two of those real forms of solace have been yanked away from us. And those feel like total reversals because human contact and exercise have historically been so important to our sense of ourselves as humans and how we heal.
But then there are other things that are happening right now that feel like they’re under transformation, but are really just accelerations of things already happening. Very quickly all of our education moved online. As a college professor, I’m now recording lectures and putting them up. My T.A. is running discussion sections. I don’t see any of my students face to face except in individual conferences.
My children who are elementary schoolers are learning 100 percent online. That’s a big change. But it also feels like it might accelerate the de-funding of educational institutions, particularly public ones in our country. As you know, I’m sure policy makers who have always wanted to cut budgets for education now see, “oh, look, we could just do this online. Oh, look, not everybody has to be in a classroom.”
Very similar conversation going on around other public institutions now that a lot of public parks and beaches and libraries and community institutions are closing. I think it’s going to be a lot harder to open them, and that and that there will be those arguments which have been around for decades about cutting funding for all these kinds of places. In many ways, those people have an acceleration of their points because now, “hey, we’ve managed to live without libraries and parks and beaches. What do we need those publicly funded, tax supported community spaces for?”
And I guess lastly, I’ll say that right now, a big conversation we’ve been having for at least five to ten years in our country, but accelerated more recently, is about inequality. And I think not only is that conversation rightfully picking up speed as we head into another election year, but also this moment has only intensified so much inequality, which I think people are feeling in their everyday lives. The way that shelter at home means something dramatically different to people who have a lot of space at home, or people who have almost no space and are in situations with domestic violence, with overcrowding. I think that’s a really big issue. Technology access has kind of come to the fore as some kids don’t have enough technology to learn online, especially if they’re multiple kids at home.
As a historian, I hope that this serves as a kind of snapshot for people in the future to realize how at least one person was thinking about life in the present. Right now, a moment that seems definitely like we are living through history, but a historical moment that also seems like one where there are a lot of reversals and upendedness of things that we’ve always counted on, but also an acceleration of a lot of themes which have been with us.
So that’s all I got. I hope you are not sheltering in place in 50 years when that when well, when this information might come into light.
Natalia Petrzela // Associate Professor, History, The New School // The Exercise Pill
Here are some haikus to someone 50 years from now:
If you can hear this
There’s still hope for humankind
to maybe fix this mess
We dreamed of jetpacks
And flying cars
but the Internet’s better
I wonder what tech
Will be awesome yet mundane
50 years from now
Sandeep Ravindran // science journalist // Fungus Among Us
We are the Queer Futures Collective.
The Queer Futures Collective is a radically vulnerable and trans centered multi-media knowledge hub/activist laboratory, exploring the intersections of disability studies, feminist technoscience, queer arts, transformative pedagogies and spiritual activism in the practices of future making. Our platform exists to create communal knowledge about what is yet to come, while centering disabled queer trans folks, disrupting traditional ways of teaching and learning, and blurring the borders between nonacademic and academic knowledge.
As a collective, we have been writing and rewriting these scripts already. In November of 2019, we birthed the beginning of our project Crip Quantum Futurisms: Wisdom Mapping at/for the Ends of the World. This project is now available on our website. This project was built to emphasize the importance of archiving crip wisdom and creating webs of knowledge sourced from disabled folks months before we found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic. Originally, this project would help us organize crip wisdom to better prepare for future emergencies with disabled body minds at the forefront.
This April, we unveiled our publicizing of the project during the COVID-19 quarantine in presenting and engaging folks with our project crip reality spilled out voice after voice. We are being treated as disposable. No one is looking after us. No one is going to work to make this easier for us.
So what is our message for folks 50 years from now? Our goals as a collective stand for you all and 50 years from now, we hope that the universities have stopped profiting off pain and tokenization. We hope that knowledge is free and accessible. That institutions stealing ideas and enslaving their workforce are brought down, that no bodies are treated as disposable. That communal knowledge is recognized for the power that it has and that it is prioritized. We hope that trans folks, disabled folks, black, brown and indigenous folks, queer folks are at the center of the care movement, which they have and always will be, but are properly compensated and cared for. That they are given reparations for the suffering they have endured. That as a collective humanity understands the importance of these care networks and the importance of seeing ourselves as the body, mind, spirit. That we won’t be well unless our spirits are also well, that our work weeks are too long and we are paid too little, that our medical needs are constantly ignored and gas lit that everyday racism, transphobia, homophobia and xenophobia are too often ignored.
In 50 years, this ignorance will have been addressed. We will have care networks that nourish ourselves, our spirits and the earth, our most marginalized communities will be empowered. Children will be empowered. We are speaking this into existence because if we aren’t there in 50 years, we are dead. That is the importance of the work we are doing to create a better future. It isn’t optional and we need everyone to understand this.
Queer Futures Collective // BODIES: Switcheroo
I’m a writer and educator, a researcher, a baker, a sibling, a child, a chosen family member. I’m queer, trans and multiply disabled. I exist within what has been coined as “crip time,” slow time, painful time, care time. I have learned to live within a state of listening to my body mind after hating it for so long. My chronic pain and illnesses have filled me up with aches and loneliness, but have also taught me how to tend and care for others, to listen to their pains, to help make them laugh, to sit or lay in crip time together. These acts of listening, tending, are not easy, and yet many of us still reach out. We learn our strengths and what we need. We don’t always get it right, but we keep on trying. Sometimes we retract and isolate, sometimes this retracting is inward, and sometimes it can become a space to care for ourselves. Sometimes it can become loneliness. And sometimes we remember to ask for help.
We don’t always get it right, but we keep on trying.
And maybe that is because of hope. I hope that you are still trying too, even when you don’t get it right. I hope that you are still asking for what you need. I hope that you’re listening. In 50 years time, I likely won’t be here, but my words typed, spoken, hand-written, remembered will continue. So I won’t be able to talk to you face to face, but in the year 2020 none of us can anyway. We read, hear, and see all our messages across our various screens. I suppose what I would want to tell you is that we loved and cared and listened and supported each other.
We didn’t always get it right, but we kept trying.
Sav Schlauderaff // PhD student, Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Arizona // BODIES: Switcheroo
In fifty years I hope that time is held more gently,
Stop the rushing, stop the overwhelming noise,
Return to our gentle state.
In fifty years, have you come into your light?
Have you activated your soul?
Do we all realize our power to heal collectively?
In fifty years, the earth must come back into balance,
Our communities must give to each other,
And take less life from the land.
In fifty years, our prisons must be emptied,
Reparations must be made,
The most vulnerable must be venerated.
In fifty years, I hope to see a world anew.
Living in old age, a hardened soul and a softened heart.
Living in the gentle springtime breeze.
In fifty years, we can change so much.
And we must prepare for transformation with haste,
For it takes collective effort to see the power we hold.
In fifty years, we must be awakened to ourselves.
Shoshana Schlauderaff // creative director, Queer Futures Collective
I am a disabled, trans, Lebanesse-Venezuelan writer, artist, and activist—and I got fired from UCSC for my actions during our 2019-2020 wildcat strike. Cola4all emerged as a campaign demanding a Cost of Living Adjustment for all students across all UC’s. Now, #Cola4all is an autonomous movement of student-workers reimagining the University. We cultivate timespaces for/by black, indigenous, queer, trans, non-binary, disabled, non-christian, undocumented, refugees, immigrants, and/or working-lower class folks to rehearse the world(s) we knowfeel possible. We break settled neoliberal logics through concrete direct actions that change the material conditions of possibility defining our daily precarious existences. Today, we see what seemed to be invisible: The impossible was always an option. Questioning the very foundations of the institutions that oppress us: We have dared to hope. Transcending B/borderlands—Love, Care, and Kindness are the magic matters making our reality. In 50 years we would have made the world(s) we dream. We now know what to wish for: May We Revolt!
I wrote this poem for one of our first direct actions in December. That day we decided to make a collective altar to honor our ancestors. Then, I shared these words at The People’s Coalition general assembly. Finally, I read it at our FMST 20 class— the first day of “Strike University” with Professor Nick Mitchell.
There is magic around. Can you feel it—or is it just me? It is fuzzing between us, glowing among us, materialized through us, existing within us.
Can you feel it—or is it just me?
We are alchemists of change.
Look around. For real, look around…
It is important to pause, to remember these days. Write about them: breathe them. These days that are weirdly giving to many of us, so much pain and so much lucidity—all at once. Honor what we have pulled together. Honor the magic of your body, of your mind, of your spirit, of your heart: Did you know you were this wise? Isn’t it obvious that we chose each other before? Isn’t it evident that we have known each other many times, that we have changed worlds together already—that we are made of magic stuff? I feel in my heart I have looked into your eyes another time. I know your soul from before. Somewhere else: we have hugged each other somewhere else.
Look around, this is it. Our elders are with us, holding our hands. Our ancestors, the souls who take care of us, que nos cuidan with their love, who keep us alive, grounded en la tierra and in the sky: They are with us. Can you feel it—or is it just me? There is no~thing out of reach: and this is not a metaphor. We can expand ourselves across erased histories.
We are the ones: The One who imagine and make universes whenwhere stars sparkle with care, kindness, love, and solidarity for all deemed valueless by systems of dispossession, exploitation, and extermination.
Look around. We are the energy that nurtures any possible transformation. We time travel—transcending the im/possibilities of the present. We are the shapeshifters of the cosmos. We are alchemists of change.
Zia Puig // Ph.D. student, Feminist Studies, UC Santa Cruz // BODIES: Switcheroo
Here’s my message to people living 50 years from now: I’m really, really sorry. I’m sorry that there are probably hardly any insects or amphibians left and that you’ll probably never be able to see a coral reef. Those were really cool. It’s been 100 years since the first Earth Day and so many of the things that existed then likely don’t exist for, you know, lots of species, but also whole places, rivers, rainforests and those reefs. I’m seriously so sorry, but maybe those losses will also produce something. Maybe by 50 years from now we’ll have learned that every time we lose one of these things, we’re losing too.
And I especially hope that by then people will recognize the connection between human health and environmental health, and that for every ounce, every volume of air pollution that gets emitted, that makes climate change worse. It also makes someone less able to breathe. And that for every species that goes extinct or habitat that’s lost, new diseases will emerge. And there can be cascading consequences of each of these things that will impact all of us deeply. So I hope more than anything, 50 years from now, we understand the depth of those connections between what happens to the rest of the world and what happens to us.
Zoe Schlanger // journalist // Water Would Be Nice