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I'm writing a letter from the future to my dear friends, posing as the child they're about to have. The main aim of the letter is to be amusing, but also to give some perspective (you don't need to be a permanently perfect parent to give a human a great start in life)

I'm looking for ideas for things that might "feel wrong" about the letter, that make it feel more authentically from a different time, but without distracting from the message too much. Things fuelled by our predictions today about what will happen to language (and the world).

Given that I'm writing from ~2050 as a Brit, these are some ideas I've had:

  • using more phonetic spelling (handwriting will be less common, moves to using emojj and the Americanisation of English will likely reduce unexessary complications in spelling)
  • using plot to explain not giving too much future info, but leaving ambiguous references in ("Dr Tompkins suggested that I avoid mentioning any of my favourite moments from our history, as I might spoil them if you try to recreate them" kinda thing)
  • find some things being completed a couple of years from now and reference them as being well established

Are there any other plot devices or styles that might be worth looking into?

  • 2
    I don't think the spelling is likely to change. With spell checkers everywhere, is't getting harder and harder to make spelling errors. – Alexander Nov 15 '17 at 7:48
  • Spelling can change over longer periods though, lots of abbreviations or.simplifications have outgrown their originals — "fetus" from "foetus", "hiccup" from "hiccough" — many through the route of Americanisation then re-adapatation, – JP. Nov 16 '17 at 12:53
  • No matter what you do, the bootstrap paradox will kick in. Google it. – Mephistopheles Nov 16 '17 at 20:47
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2050 is not a bad place; I can provide a scientific perspective.

There is a whole theory in science about the lifecycle of innovations; see Thomas Kuhn and his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

The upshot is that typically it can take about 50 years from a discovery (or invention) of something new, to the widespread adoption and transformation of science and society because of that discovery (assuming it is of that magnitude). This applies to pretty much everything. The telephone, the TV, radio, antibiotics, the structure of DNA, aircraft and on and on. Obviously it may take decades longer than 50 years, but 50 is typical.

This provides a pretty good, if rough, guideline for fiction authors. In 2050, it is the things introduced pretty close to 2000 (maybe as early as 1980) that seemed like novelty stuff then, but will be fully exploited and pervasive in society, politics, etc. So the Internet was introduced around then: By 2050 we may have, for example, instantaneous universal voting. We had some basic robots, we may have autonomous robot servants. DNA editing and therapies may be so common your family doctor can provide for them.

The same goes for medicine, communications, transportation (self-driving everything including boats, planes, tractors, cars, trucks: Perhaps it will even be illegal to drive yourself). In shopping: Cashiers may no longer exist, if you want to buy something, walk into a store, pick it up, or a cart of it, and walk out. The store itself won't let you in without recognizing you; and you may have to walk into a man-trap to get in (a door that locks behind you, with another locked door in front of you that won't open unless the store's AI recognizes you: It calls the cops if it cannot).

Expand on what you know of technology in the world since 1980, and expand on it to the max.

I would avoid cultural innovations. Emojies will not be a thing forever. Any company worth less than billions may not be a thing anymore. There is a different cycle of abuse of technology that causes it to be replaced quickly. For example, voice mail may be something on the way out; it has been replaced by texting to phones. Cell phones have pretty much killed the old idea of land lines, and by 2050 I am not sure land lines will actually be a thing anymore. (most families I know don't have one, and one of my friends has a cell phone for every member of his family: Including his daughter when she was in kindergarten.)

Cash and checks and debit cards may be on the way out, because really only a credit card (most of them) can protect you from fraud and identity theft issues. Things like biometric identifications currently used only high security settings (banks, government intelligence) may be ubiquitous in 2050: You cannot get into that store without retinal and fingerprint identification, even for your kids and your baby if you carry one.

Do like that: Look at the problems we have today, especially those that have at least SOME solution in some context circa the year 2000. Maybe it was only for the very wealthy, or very important politicians, or used only by the military or intelligence services. Then presume those solutions become cheap and ubiquitous by 2050.

Culture and fashion are much less predictable, you can sort of make some of that up, but you might want to make your cultural innovations consistent with ongoing concerns of culture today.

Companies like Google, Microsoft, Intel, Proctor & Gamble, probably EXXON and many others will still be around. If they have billions. But exactly what they will be selling is unknown; EXXON may not be selling much oil, they may be selling green power solutions based on inventions and research they bought or funded.

Added: Cultural phenomena tend to last a much shorter time, even just a few years, but almost always less than a 'generation' (about 20 years). This is because of biological human nature: Around the age of puberty kids start to rebel against their masters: Parents, teachers, government, and they want to do things differently. When the kids of current Twitter and text and emoji enthusiasts reach puberty, those kids will want their own 'secret language' with some impenetrability to their parents. Because they want to keep their secrets from their parents too, they are developing a private life, and in some years a private intimate life with sex, irreverence, perhaps some law breaking and illicit substances, that they want to hide from Dad and Mom, no matter if Dad and Mom did the same.

The rebellion of the young against the old is constant and it constantly churns out cultural invention in art, in music, in fashion, in literature, in language and slang and even sexual practice ('hooking up' and 'friends with benfits' are cultural innovations). That is what makes culture difficult to predict even ten years in the future, because the young adult icons of the culture in ten years (entertainers, businessfolk, politics) are still in high school today or at least relatively unknown. Even they probably do not know what revolutionary talents, inventions and cultural contributions will make them celebrities in ten years, shaping the cultural landscape.

For writers, the lesson here is a large degree of freedom. To write about the cultural landscape in 2050, you only need a human-nature-plausible route to it, and widespread acceptance. For example, we see in some very polluted cities in China people wearing surgical masks to filter polluted air. It could easily be true in 2050 that stylish protective masks are worn by almost everybody, that head-to-toe clothing, including gloves, is very common, because you risk cancers if you expose any skin or eyes.

  • 1
    What a great answer, and fascinating. Amadeus have you written anything near-futuristic, and if so is it available to be read? – elrobis Nov 15 '17 at 17:25
3

It's a nice idea. How about mentioning current events as they could be seen from a historical perspective, or current public figures occupying unlikely roles? (Many years ago I wrote a short story that mentioned something US President Stallone had done "back in 2006" - I was worried at the time it might seem too far fetched...).

In this case, it will be good to pull out the letter in 2050 and laugh at how wrong it was. If it was something for wider publication I would suggest being careful about things like spelling and particularly emojis, which could turn out to be a fad, but considering the small audience this might be part of the appeal.

Writing in 2017 as a Brit, I was going to add a mention of the BBC TV show "Tomorrow's World" as a cautionary tale, but looking at the Wikipedia page it was right more often than I remembered.

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Just a few minor additions to the excellent answers already provided...

Have the future author complain about the process of "writing a letter". In 2017, we already dictate texts using speech recognition. By 2050, instant conversations over distance will be pervasive. If I want to talk to a friend on the other side of the world, I will probably just state their name and start talking. The relevance of current location will no longer apply.

Also, in the name of humor, do a little up-selling of your own brand...

"By the way, Dad. You asked me to remind the younger you to invest heavily in Uncle JP's crazy ideas. He is unimaginably rich now and you are always saying that you wish you had taken that partnership he offered back in the 20's."

  • This is an excellent idea :D – JP. Nov 16 '17 at 18:28

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