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What should 22nd century California be like?
June 14, 2012 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a series of time travel novels. Since my first one is scheduled to be published in November, I've been debating what my next one should be. One idea I have is for a young woman in San Francisco or Los Angeles to find herself 100 years in the future (in 2110 or so), but I need some help imagining a realistic future.

I don't want 22nd century California to be a Twenty Minutes in the Future scenario, but I would also like this to be a realistic future, without flying cars or faster-than-light space travel. I also want to avoid making this future world like Blade Runner, since that has been done and done.

So, sc-fi loving MeFites: what do you think a realistic 22nd century California would look like? I welcome your ideas!
posted by suburbanbeatnik to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Assume communications and computing advances will far outstrip weapons, transportation and other "hard" technologies. Miniturization is more likely than wholesale change.

There's an old Star Trek where the former Captain, Captain Pike is in a wheelchair and can't speak. He can only talk by one of three lights, yes, no maybe. Compare that to Stephen Hawking being able to talk with that device. A tape recorder in that episode is the size of a laser printer.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:49 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

In the future, the biggest difference between being rich and being poor will be the number of advertisements you have no choice but to consume.
posted by The World Famous at 5:51 PM on June 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think bio-tech will be among the more notable advances, though I can't hazard a guess as to what particular technologies will become commonplace. 2110 won't be Gattaca, but I hope stem-cell tech, for example, will work out to treat diseases and injuries (maybe no more paralysis from spinal cord injuries and a cure for diabetes, etc.).
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:59 PM on June 14, 2012

Genomics: She will be able to choose the sex, height, eye color, resistance to diseases, etc. of her child. Further down the line she may be able to choose facial features, personality traits. If she is an Ayn Rand follower, she could have the "altruism gene" deleted--I always thought this would be a great idea for a sci-fi satire-tragicomedy.

Machine learning, or artificial "intelligence," will probably be amazing. Anything she needs to know she could just ask her PDA. She probably could have a BFF-bot, and therapist-bot on her PDA as well--boyfreind-bot may be pushing it.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:07 PM on June 14, 2012

Kim Stanley Robinson's "Three Californias" trilogy may be of interest to you.
posted by pmb at 6:13 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

the gap between rich and poor will be so great that everyone will believe that the poor are a separate subspecies of homo sapiens. slavery will be the norm again.
posted by facetious at 6:15 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You'll love this: Future Timeline. It's a constantly updated history of the future, making realistic predictions based on current events and trends. They have a strong "transhuman" bent, which is unnerving as it is interesting, and lots about impacts of continued carbon production. I could browse this site for hours.

Here's their current predictions for 2100-2149.
posted by nelleish at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2012 [22 favorites]

Don't forget about sea level rise. Both cities will look quite different because of it.
posted by rtha at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

>what do you think a realistic 22nd century California would look like?

Well taking the present and extrapolating it ahead...

-California will be mainly latino. Few white people. Spanish is the common language.

-Gas is $20 a gallon. But there are more cars on the road than ever.

-Smog and pollution are terrible (think Bejing but worse).

-Another few big earthquakes have hit. No money to reconstruct so lots of run down neighborhoods.

-Urban sprawl is excessive, with one continuous city from San Diego to San Francisco.

-Silicon valley is now bio-tech valley. Still no cure for cancer, but viruses can be engineered to enhance yourself cosmetically in any way possible.

-The traditional drugs have been decriminalized, but the bio-tech people have cooked up some new, real nasty ones that are far worse & distributed under the table. As such the traditional drugs are sold in state drug stores but are eschewed by the trendy.

-Crime is being fought by a militarized police force, with millions incarcerated in large megaprisons which are de facto walled off cities (think Escape from New York).

-Hollywood is now fully computerized. No real actors, just holographic vocaloid type celebrities.

-Most movies being made, are along the lines of current gore/shock videos you'd find on the internet. They are very popular.

-Money, money, money. People are obsessed with trying to stay above the poverty line however they can.

Hey, I should write my own novel...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:32 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Architecture has eschewed corners (all new structures flow like the contours of a seashell; it's impossible to bump into anything) and has given up almost all detail and colour. The future is a drab playpen of monochrome walls and matte glass. Of course nobody but your time-displaced protagonist sees it this way, as they all live in their own personally-skinned augmented realities, surrounded every second of the day by floating entoptic displays of subjective audio-visual hallucinations. Looking at the future urban environment without entoptic implants is like looking at the internet without turning your monitor on.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:44 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, global warming and its consequences seem like the surest bet --- so would San Fancisco and LA be there? Is California even inhabitable in the same way that it is now? That's one thing to think about. If whether gets more extreme, would earthquakes finally drop it in the ocean like a Warren Zevon song? And if that stuff happens does it change the meaning of California, land of the golden dream?

I mean, the apocalypse is a bit played, as a theme. But the effects of a huge shift in what areas are inhabitable and can grow food would be worth thinking about. Maybe San Francisco's a swamp and LA is Detroit and Fresno is now hepcat central.

Also you might want to think through some bigger consequences in order to frame this properly --- is the population of earth 20 billion or 2? (San Francisco as dense as Hong Kong?) if it the former, have we figured out a way to feed and clothe all those people? Nanotech?

For me, if I were to explore such a premise, I'd need to start with a central conceit -- like, if I'm interested in AI or its implications, that would lead me to create one kind of world, if I'm interested in resource constraint another. You can have smart robots in your wasteland and shaky power supplies in your matrix-verse, but which one of those trends I think will be dominant sculpts the contours of the world profoundly.
posted by Diablevert at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

You guys are awesome! All your suggestions are great.

Diablevert, I'll MeMail you the central conceit of the story if you're interested. Since it's so vague at this point, I'm uncomfortable posting it in public.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 7:23 PM on June 14, 2012

Some perspective: in 1962, at the beginning of the Seattle World's Fair, the local paper interviewed some 8 year olds about "what's gonna happen in the future?" One little girl, out of nowhere, said "We're going to have phones in our pockets." Now Dick Tracy had a bulky wristwatch/phone, but only in the comics. Why did she say that? Interviewed 50 years later, she couldn't even remember saying it. And here we are, with our lives changed immeasurably by our cellphones. My point being that trying to figure there from here .... not a straight line, extrapolating from what's going on now. An imaginative jump is more likely to be true, although possibly not as satisfying a narrative.

That said, climate change is pretty certainly going to do something; for instance, Bruce Sterling suggests Storm Zones where there are constant hurricanes. And many cities will be completely or partially flooded, although who knows whether that means abandonment or new ways of living?

My personal prediction involves the evolution of bacteria, and the far more rapid spread of bacteria and viruses in pandemics. We've only had antibiotics in my lifetime, and we're losing the race -- we already have bacteria that are resistant to everything we can develop. I'd bet we're going back to the days when women died of childbed fever or sepsis from a broken ankle (Winston Churchill's mother) or an infected tooth. Once more "cause of death" will include "died of mortification."
posted by kestralwing at 7:28 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

The bullet train between LA and San Francisco will be nearly complete! :-)

The USA has a single payer healthcare system. The war on drugs was won by the drugs (pot is legal). In general, progressive causes that seem historically inevitable (such as gay marriage) will be far in the past and as unthinkable as woman not having the vote is today.
As the march of progress marches on, the contentious issues of the day will be things that seem totally fringe today, like someone getting convicted of murder for killing an ape.

Regardless of that, environmental degradation and lots of people living densely will mean that there are more rules and higher penalties. At the same time, corporations will remain powerful.

Genetic age therapies will exist. You will age slower and gain an extra 50% to your lifespan. They won't be cheap, but starting to become less exotic and on the way to becoming a class marker like orthodontics today.
Plastic surgery will be cheaper and more effective.

Food will be very expensive (ocean acidification and overfished fisheries, less viable farmland due to a changing climate creating weather instability, disrupted monsoons, land competition from fuel crops and livestock-feed crops for the larger Chinese middle class, etc). If America is still a developed wealthy nation, it's people won't be too badly hit by this, but in some ways the American poor will be worse off than today (while in other ways better). However starvation will be a stronger component of poverty in poor nations, and food will be more political.

(All these things will be unremarkable, unmentioned, taken for granted. To the inhabitants there has never been another world.)

There is much less wealthy disparity between the USA and Mexico. Trade agreements and other cooperation with Canada make the USA and Canada feel a lot more like different states of the same country, but they maintain separate currencies, etc.

Malnourishment might become a class-marker, and this will shift beauty standards. Cheap food is generally fattening food, so the shift won't be to fat, but towards whatever is the domain of the wealthy.

Fossil fuel will be very expensive, electricity will be more expensive than today but a lot cheaper than fossil, and a lot more versatile than today. Very few things will require fossil fuels, mostly specialized applications. (Eg commercial airlines will be mostly electric fleets, and won't have the same price and speed advantage over high speed rail as today, but a lot of specialized military jets will use fossil fuels. Propellers may make a comeback. Cargo ships will use wind to augment their travel, but not 19th century sails, maybe giant kites up in the slipstream)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:41 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

New Orleans will be mostly gone - the Mississippi shifted, gutting its port industries, and as it withered with businesses moved on, and people with them, increasing numbers of increasingly ferocious storms made it increasingly difficult to keep out the floods.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:49 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fossil fuel will be very expensive

And a lot of "fossil fuel" will be synthetic fossil fuel (such as biofuels) - often a means of transporting/storing energy, rather than a source of energy.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:56 PM on June 14, 2012

Vat grown meats, cloned artificial organs, ubiquitous wearable computing with immense processing power.

Massive gaps between rich and poor, with the poor living without the benefit of all that technology. Think Mumbai, where beggars with leprosy live within a couple of blocks of high priced apartments.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:00 PM on June 14, 2012

Water conservation/recycling/reclamation will be a Big Thing, with climate change and those 'little' skirmishes over Colorado River access rights that happened in 2053...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:18 PM on June 14, 2012

A quick skim of this thread suggests to me that the current consensus is that the future will be Blade Runner crossed with Ghost in the Shell.

Which is another point. Don't forget to plunder existing examples of the genre for ideas.
posted by fearnothing at 10:49 PM on June 14, 2012

Don't worry, fearnothing-- I have no shame about stealing... I mean... borrowing from the best. I find all the Blade Runner references ironic because I really want to avoid that.

Oh well, I think it will be fine if I emphasize the heat and the sun, as opposed to the rain. I also don't want to make the future overly depressing and dystopian, because this is basically a SF romance and I don't to go overboard on the Crapsack World stuff.

posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:58 PM on June 14, 2012

And next time I will learn to close out my italics tags...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:59 PM on June 14, 2012

A shithole doesn't stink if you've never known anything else. These depressing things need not be depressing to inhabitants who lead joyful lives, unaware or uncaring that the stresses they face day to day are ones different to those faced by people a hundred years ago. It could be quite refreshing to have a realistic dystopic background that is barely noticed because the focus is on the love and life and joy that thrives, and the dystopic setting can occasionally intrude just far enough to make something happen that is necessary to move the plot along. I think I would find that quite compelling actually.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:34 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

One future-ish scenario that I personally found really compelling was the setting from the Deus Ex series. Bio-mechanical augmentations, etc. YMMV on the conspiracy side of things, that's largely independent from the technological world that the whole series inhabits.

Oh, and maybe try and just add one or two really core technologies to today's tech, and then really follow through with the consequences. I.e. don't be Batman with his shark-spray to fend off sharks, and technology 'y' to deal with 'z'. Rather, consider what are the full and complete implications of this technology. What is the full and complete ramifications of miniturized electronics? Cell phones, laptops, tablets etc all come down to high-powered and cheap microchips. Maybe pick another technology and do the same (hell, even something much less 'core' than microchips can have a lot of downstream impacts -- Google's driverless car is liable to put huge swaths of taxi drivers out of work, for instance).
posted by Arandia at 1:09 AM on June 15, 2012

The Varely Mars series has a good handle on it, I think - Rolling Thunder is one of them. Also Moving Mars (why Mars, I wonder) ... a more recent look at what the styles and society looks like.
posted by tilde at 6:18 AM on June 15, 2012

I think you want to focus on what you want your story to be about, find something related in current SF/LA/the world at large, then build your future from there.

For example, the DNA Lounge blog is an extensive blog that goes back years chronicaling the owner's constant fight with the City of San Francisco to simply keep a nightclub running. As you read it over the years you get the sense that the current police and other powers that be in the city would be happy eliminating all nightclubs. So what if the police won and this guy (and others) got shut down? What would be the 5-year effects? Then keep extrapolating whatever way you want. One future - the trend continues and SF 100 years from now is a dull loft-filled suburb in the West Coast mega-city. Or, you could have the police/city planners push too far so there is a full on artistic revolt, and SF of the future is a live performance mecca. Or any other way in between you want to take it. Police state with guerrilla performers that invent radical new technologies in the name of circumventing the police. 24/7 Burning Man culture. Giant national park inhabited only by 10,000 caretakers who are chosen by lottery. Partially submerged due to rising sea levels - the new Venice or giant water park?

TL;DR: decide what your story is about then decide what kind of future you need SF/LA to be to best tell the story. Then go back and decide how the future got that way.
posted by mikepop at 7:35 AM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think there is very little that isn't possible in 100 years. Think about the advances that have been made in the last 10 years, and computers are only going to get faster. Realistically, advances will be made quicker and quicker as processing power gets faster, since the computer will be able to do more and more of the inbetween steps that currently have to be figured out by a human being.

So, my thought is that in the future, rather than researching as we do now, people will be telling computers what they want the end result to be, and the computer will do all of the inbetween work to get to that result. There will likely be fewer researchers, and more computer techs spending their time making the computers smarter. I mean, why would you need a team of biologists when a computer has all of the biology knowledge ever amassed, can examine and study information on it's own, and create connections between every single piece of information it has in the blink of an eye. You would most likely have a small number of specialists helping to guide the computers along.

If you look at the trend with facebook and other programs which take your data and market to you, my guess is that in the future, your computer will tell you who your friends are. It will find people for you who it knows have similar interests, but in a way which is much more advanced, and will actually work. When you move into a new city, the computer will tell you who your new friends are, and there is a 99% chance that it will be exactly right.
posted by markblasco at 8:34 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

commercial airlines will be mostly electric fleets

Whaa....? I disagree. Electric airplanes are a novelty. The Lithium required for the batteries will all be mined out. Street traffic will be mostly bicycles and pedicabs, what fossil fuels remain will be reserved for the military, inter-continental travel will be possible only via coal-powered shipping and most trans-continental traffic will be by rail.
posted by Rash at 8:56 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

And because flight will be rare, civilian airports will be repurposed, the runways torn up and converted to agriculture use. The former United States and Canada will be balkanized into several new, smaller nations. and the central plains will be depopulated due to storm severity.
posted by Rash at 9:23 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rash, just last week there was an electric inter-continental flight that wasn't powered by batteries. It was the opposite of a cargo/commercial plane (very light, very little payload), but it's an issue of surface area for solar energy. Materials are constantly getting lighter, stronger, and cheaper, and if someone wants to build a plane with a truly massive surface area within the regular wingspan, there isn't much in theory to stop them. You're right though that planes are popular mostly because they're fast. Non-jets will have tough competition from bullet trains, so may end up on routes to cities that lack high-speed rail, while synthetic-fuel jets continue the main routes.

The future version of Google maps will be realtime from permanent aerial installations - and not just realtime, but stored like a TIVO, so you can rewind time, and follow people around their lives. (This is already starting to happen). Consequently, for this and many other reasons, privacy will be dead - people will have a very limited concept of it by our standards, but like us will feel that they have nearly enough, they will have radically different expectations about privacy. People will lead a fair amount of their lives for show. Just like how today where some parents define their child's lives and activities by what will look good on a college application, and other people have a polished version of their life on facebook where keeping up with the jones' is more about vacations and food rather than SUVs and house. The sphere of activities that you do partly for show and the extend to which how it looks on the record will be much larger, hopefully without taking on 1984 tones. But like in 1984, (and like today with college and facebook) there may be class differences in this.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:28 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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