Cortney Stewart col sig

Cortney Stewart

SEEING BEYOND

We’re already into the second half of 2019. It seems unbelievable that we’re already planning and preparing for the holiday season and the start of 2020.

I remember when the thought of the year 2020 felt like a science fiction novel. We were all supposed to be living like the Jetsons. We’re not quite there yet, but flying cars are totally in the works for our brightest engineering minds and the rise of artificial intelligence makes Rosie the maid look more and more like reality. Our “internet of things” doesn’t make our food in the instant way that Judy and Elroy were able to collect their three square meals a day, but we’re getting closer. And we already have access to things that the Jetsons didn’t even dream of.

The future is, quite literally, now. But as we think through what it means to live in this increasingly connected and ever-changing social fabric, we must look at the new kinds of challenges we will be facing, and think through how we are going to address them before we’re in the middle of them, before they become major crises beyond our control.

For starters, we already use resources at a faster rate than we can replenish them. And that’s bad news for everyone. The kinds of resources that give us access to our most treasured devices — smartphones, smart TVs, tablets and laptops, not to mention all of our “Smart Home” gadgets — these resources, many of them renewable, still cannot keep up with the demand for the products they power. Right now, we use up the resources the Earth can regenerate in a one-year period by August. That means we operate the rest of each year in a deficit.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Dorian should bring our environmental issues to the forefront in terms of the changing severity of our weather patterns. But the demands we place on the planet are also causing issues with simple sustainability.

We also currently face historically high levels of disparity between the rich and poor. The social implications of an increasingly polarized society based on socio-economics spells trouble for all sorts of social issues — from education to criminal justice. It suggests further that consumer spending, a major anchor of the American economy, could be crippled as more people have less disposable income.

How we work together to bring more equality into our society is an essential question we must answer moving forward.

For most of human history, people have been searching for ways to live longer. We’ve met this obstacle with relative success. People are living longer now than in any other time in modern history. But now we face a new challenge: the largest elderly population in United States history at the height of an increasingly expensive health care system.

The number of working people cannot financially sustain the systems necessary for a retired population that has earned the social benefit of being taken care of well. What does this mean for the future? Cuts to funding that generally goes to service other important aspects of the American social fabric like education? Financial diversions from things like infrastructure and security?

And those questions don’t even scratch the surface of how we plan to take care of the next generation of retirees. With companies moving away from pensions and a job market in which a long-term worker is someone who works at the same place for five years, we’re facing a substantial challenge in how we adapt to this new reality for our elderly populations — both now and those who come after.

And these are really just the beginning. We face problems like antibiotic resistance in bacteria and the questions of what we will do with scientific progress like DNA editing and the ability to modify babies to have whatever characteristics we want them to have. We are looking at an uphill battle with the idea of “fake news” and who wields power of how we receive information and what kind of information we receive.

Issues of privacy, the regulation of artificial intelligence, ballooning student loan debt — we face a host of issues moving into this new decade.

It’s easy to live in the moment and not think about the future but we cannot turn a blind eye to these big questions of how we live and how that affects our society. Those in power at every level must be charged with pursuing answers. And for the rest of us, we must pay attention to how the choices we make impact the future.

Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at seeingbeyondccc@gmail.com.

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