1. Introduction
  2. Prophets of Doom
    1. Oil
    2. Networks
    3. Disasters
  3. Scenarios
    1. Worries
    2. Slow Connections
    3. Disturbances
    4. Urban Optimism
    5. Mega-Technology
    6. Eco-Technology
    7. Energy Issues
  4. Social Change
    1. Silent Change
    2. Predicting Change
    3. Drastic Change

I would be happy to receive any comments you might have on this draft version.

Social Changes: Drastic

One change that would alter the pattern of living in suburbia would be when people altered the collection of rights, privileges, and obligations that make up the "ownership" of land. In some other countries today ownership does not convey the same rights as in the United States; for instance in Sweden owners do not have the right to exclude from their land those who are hiking and camping and careful not to disturb the land. If the right of ownership had a stronger component of social obligation, suburban living would change. Such a legal mutation would be difficult in the United States. Yet network changes, ecological pressures, and shortages of resources could force people to take more account of common endeavors when deciding how to use their land and build or manage their homes. This would redefine suburbia in a less individualistic way. The significant changes might be less in the legalities of ownership than in attitudes and social norms.

Much more drastic changes are possible. Could we live technologically and maintain wide networks without advanced capitalist social structures? In Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging Ernest Callenbach explored alternative modes of social life with technology.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias series (The Wild Shore, Pacific Edge, The Gold Coast) describes different value systems and modes of life challenged by war and ecological problems. His Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) uses the settlers on Mars debating how much to alter the planet as a metaphor for disputes about ecological problems on earth. He describes the creation of a decentralized political system which gives the environment a voice in decisions. The constitution can be found in his The Martians.

Such changes could reach far. The cash market economy might be deeply constricted or replaced by other modes of exchange. Wage labor might be abolished and replaced by some kind of social service plus welfare state, or by feudal bondage. Families might become larger shared groups. Large countries might fragment into multiple small areas each of which had a different economic and political system. Then there are the kinds of changes that the cyberpunk authors wrote about, machine intelligence, cyberspace life, fragmented egos and personalities in new nets and relations.

In Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home, after unnamed ecological and geological disasters in the far past, California is inhabited by scattered groups with a variety of tribal structures and mythologies. They maintain connections and trade but stay separate. They have available a computer network that gives access to global information and technical advice, but most people ignore this and concentrate on local matters. Le Guin is exploring modes of life that use technology cautiously, and manage to combine tribal images and rituals with high levels of social self-consciousness and ecological awareness. Le Guin does this again in her presentation of the Hainish people in her story "A Man of the People" (in Four Ways to Forgiveness) where a technology capable of interstellar exploration exists within a tight social organization by clans, moieties, and other patterns familiar from anthropological studies of tribal life. Technology need not be lived as we live it.

Our visions of the future are always conditioned by the past; they are shadows thrown forward from what we see today. Larger changes will be unexpected. At the same time, there are continuities that are very solid. People still need to bathe, to eat, to reproduce and socialize, to raise children and to grow old. We are not likely to find near-term technological substitutes for any of those, such as uploading personalities into immortal computers. But the modes in which these everyday activities happen may change, altering the meaning of our perennial conditions and tasks.