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Posts Tagged ‘future

“Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity”*…

From the cover of sci-fi magazine If, May 1960

Your correspondent is heading several time zones away, so (Roughly) Daily will be on hiatus for a week. Meantime…

Kelly Alexander on the very real way in which we are not only what we eat, but also what we imagine eating…

Despite the faux social science of trend reports, I have always been interested in the flavours that exert a hold on our collective hearts and minds. I’m especially intrigued by how the foods we seem to fetishise in the present – the artisanal, the local, the small-batch – are never the ones we seem to associate with the tantalising prospect of ‘the future’.

How do we know what will be delicious in the future? It depends on who ‘we’ are. For Baby Boomers who didn’t grow up on a diet of Dune-style scenarios of competing for resources on a depleted planet, it was TV dinners, angel whips and Tang – the instant powdered orange drink that became a hit after NASA included it on John Glenn’s Mercury spaceflight in 1962. That same year, The Jetsons – an animated show chronicling the life and times of a family in 2062 – premiered on US television. In one episode, mom Jane ‘makes’ breakfast for son Elroy using an iPad-like device. She orders ‘the usual’: milk, cereal (‘crunchy or silent?’ Jane asks Elroy, before pre-emptively selecting ‘silent’), bacon, and one soft-boiled egg, all of which is instantly beamed to the table…

For many students in my Food Studies courses at the University of North Carolina, the ‘future delicious’ conjures readymade meal ‘solutions’ that eliminate not just the need for cooks but the need for meals. This includes Soylent, the synthesised baby formula-like smoothies, or the food substitutes slugged by software engineers coding at their desks. It includes power bars and Red Bulls to provide energy and sustenance without the fuss of a dinner table (an antiquated ceremony that takes too long). Also, meal kits that allow buyers to play at cooking by mixing a few things that arrive pre-packaged, sorted and portioned; and Impossible Burgers, a product designed to mimic the visceral and textural experience of eating red meat – down to realistic drips of ‘blood’ (beet juice enhanced with genetically modified yeast), and named to remind us that no Baby Boomer thought such a product was even possible.

Such logic makes the feminist anthropologist Donna Haraway wary. It betrays, she writes, ‘a comic faith in technofixes’ that ‘will somehow come to the rescue of its naughty but very clever children.’ To Haraway’s point, the future delicious tends to value the technological component of its manufacture over the actual food substrate, sidestepping what the material culture expert Bernie Herman described to me as ‘the fraught and negotiated concept of delicious’…

More tastiness at: “What our fantasies about futuristic food say about us,” from @howamericaeats in @aeonmag.

See also: “The perfect meal in a pill?

How do science fiction authors imagine the food of the future? Works conceived between 1896 and 1973 addressed standardised consumers, alienated by a capitalist society in pursuit of profitability. Were these works prophecy or metaphor?

* Jonathan Safran Foer

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As we dig in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that Nathan’s Famous, on Coney Island, sold it’s one-millionth hot dog. The restaurant (which has, of course, grown into both a chain and a retail brand) had been founded by Nathan Handwerker in 1916.

Nathan, eating one of his own

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 6, 2022 at 1:00 am

“How Africa’s population evolves, and how the continent’s economies develop, will affect everything people near and far assume about their lives today”*…

In these tumultuous times, there’s a lot of competition for one’s attention: Russia and its aggression? China and it’s ever-more-assertive rise? The tensions within Europe? The divisions within the U.S.? Indeed, as Adam Tooze argues, there’s so much going on that there’s a risk we’ll miss the most fundamentally important long-term dynamic of all…

Once you realize it’s scale, there is no global trend as dramatic today as the revolution in Africa’s demography.

Asia’s return to the center of the world economy dominates the headlines. But in the grand sweep of history that is a rebalancing or restoration not a revolution. Until the 18th century, the Pacific and Indian Oceans were the heart of sophisticated economic activity. That balance was grossly distorted in the “centuries of humiliation” by the rise of the West. Now, thanks to Asian economic growth, the centers of economic activity and population are realigning.

The same cannot be said for Africa. Despite optimism in recent years, the relative lack of economic growth in Africa is well-known. Less well-appreciated is the extraordinary historical novelty of its demographic development.

In 1914 according to the best estimates, Africa’s entire population was 124 million and that includes North Africa. Today it is 1.34 billion. Compared to Africa’s roughly elevenfold increase in population, Asia’s population increased by “only” between 3 and 4 times – China’s merely tripled and India’s increased by 4.5 times. Furthermore, whereas Asia’s population is beginning to stabilize – led by that of India and China – Africa’s population will, barring disasters, reach 2.4 billion by 2050 and will go on growing.

Longer term projections are hazardous, but a world with somewhere between 9 and 11 billion total population and close to 4 billion people living in Africa is what current trends would lead one to expect. That means that by 2100 the African share of global population will likely be between 35 and 40 percent. And in 2100 the population of several African countries – Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and South Sudan – is likely still to be growing.

That is something new under the sun. It means that in sheer quantitative terms Africa’s story increasingly drives world history…

Read on for a thoughtful unpacking: “Youth Quake. Why African demography should matter to the world,” from @adam_tooze in his newsletter Chartbook— in part a consideration of Youth Quake, by @EdPaiceARI.

See also: “We need to take a closer look at entrepreneurship in Africa,” from @sham_jaff in @whlwnews.

Howard French (@hofrench)

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As we pay attention, we might send dedicated birthday greetings to Joe Slovo; he was born on this date in 1926. A South African citizen from a Jewish-Lithuanian family, Slovo was a delegate to the multiracial Congress of the People of June 1955 which drew up the Freedom Charter. He was imprisoned for six months in 1960, and emerged as a leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe the following year. He lived in exile from 1963 to 1990, conducting operations against the apartheid régime from the United Kingdom, Angola, Mozambique, and Zambia. In 1990 he returned to South Africa, and took part in the negotiations that ended apartheid. He is probably best known for proposing the “sunset clauses” covering the 5 years following a democratic election, including guarantees and concessions to all sides, and for his fierce non-racialist stance. After the elections of 1994, he became Minister for Housing in Nelson Mandela’s government, a post he held until his death from cancer in 1995.

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“For himself (and only for a short time) a man may postpone enlightenment in what he ought to know, but to renounce it for posterity is to injure and trample on the rights of mankind”*…

A (small) part of the mechanism of The Clock of the Long Now [source]

The 10,000-year clock is neither a ‘frightening’ ‘distraction,’ as its critics scorn, nor the ‘admirable objective’ its fans claim. It’s something else — a monument to long-term thinking that can unlock a deeper and more thoughtful spirit of interpretive patience. Vincent Ialenti considers The Clock of the Long Now

… Stonehenge was not (to our knowledge) created with the intent of drawing people to think about the far future. However, like the clock, it can also relay a few relatively coherent messages across time. Its monolithic slabs were designed to align with the summer solstice’s sunrise and the winter solstice’s sunset. The clock was likewise designed to synchronize each day at solar noon.

As a result, the architectures of both can exhibit, for future societies, evidence of deliberate human-astronomical calibration. These features could, when encountered by successive generations, foster an ongoing awareness of humanity’s enduring attunement to the heavens. This could serve as a transgenerational reminder that, in the deeper time horizons of the universe, all of us humans are, ultimately, contemporaries — living and dying by the same star.

Long Now’s atmosphere of unhinged creativity and unapologetic eco-pragmatism provided a near-constant drip of bold, stimulating, outside-the-box ideas. There is, to my knowledge, no better setting for pondering the planetary challenges of climate adaptation, nuclear weapons risk and sociopolitical division we will all need to face in the years ahead.

If [Clock designer Danny] Hillis’ clock is a monument to this, then surely it stands for something important. Yet to appreciate why, one must first commit to approaching all timebound commentaries on the clock — including this one — with a patient, non-tempocentric, interpretive ambivalence. Five thousand years from now, after all, it may well be captivating millions, just as Stonehenge does today. What’s certain is that neither its designers nor its critics will live to find out.

The Long Now Foundation (@longnow) and its monumental incitement to take the long view: “Keeping Time Into The Great Beyond,” from @vincent_ialenti in @NoemaMag.

* Immanuel Kant, An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?

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As we resolve to be good ancestors, we might spare a thought for another long-term thinker, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; he died on this date in 1955.  A Jesuit theologian, philosopher, geologist, and paleontologist, he conceived the idea of the Omega Point (a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving) and developed Vladimir Vernadsky‘s concept of noosphere.  Teilhard took part in the discovery of Peking Man, and wrote on the reconciliation of faith and evolutionary theory.  His thinking on both these fronts was censored during his lifetime by the Catholic Church (in particular for its implications for “original sin”); but in 2009, they lifted their ban.

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“Human history seems to me to be one long story of people sweeping down—or up, I suppose—replacing other people in the process”*…

Max Roser argues that, if we keep each other safe – and protect ourselves from the risks that nature and we ourselves pose – we are only at the beginning of human history…

… The development of powerful technology gives us the chance to survive for much longer than a typical mammalian species.

Our planet might remain habitable for roughly a billion years. If we survive as long as the Earth stays habitable, and based on the scenario above, this would be a future in which 125 quadrillion children will be born. A quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeros: 1,000,000,000,000,000.

A billion years is a thousand times longer than the million years depicted in this chart. Even very slow moving changes will entirely transform our planet over such a long stretch of time: a billion years is a timespan in which the world will go through several supercontinent cycles – the world’s continents will collide and drift apart repeatedly; new mountain ranges will form and then erode, the oceans we are familiar with will disappear and new ones open up…

… the future is big. If we keep each other safe the huge majority of humans who will ever live will live in the future.

And this requires us to be more careful and considerate than we currently are. Just as we look back to the heroes who achieved what we enjoy today, those who come after us will remember what we did for them. We will be the ancestors of a very large number of people. Let’s make sure we are good ancestors…

If we manage to avoid a large catastrophe, we are living at the early beginnings of human history: “The Future is Vast,” from @MaxCRoser @OurWorldInData.

* Alexander McCall Smith

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As we take the long view, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary,” was put in quarantine on North Brother Island, in New York City, where she was isolated until she died in 1938.  She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever… before which, she first inadvertently, then knowingly spread typhoid for years while working as a cook in the New York area.

Mallon had previously been identified as a carrier (in 1905) and quarantined for three years, after which she was set free on the condition she changed her occupation and embraced good hygiene habits. But after working a lower paying job as a laundress, Mary changed her last name to Brown and returned to cooking… and over the next five years the infectious cycle returned, until she was identified and put back into quarantine.

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“We are a species which is naturally moved by curiosity, the only one left of a group of species (the genus Homo) made up of a dozen equally curious species”*…

… and one thing that curiosity might lead us to wonder is where evolution might take humanity from here. As Nick Longrich points out…

Discussions of human evolution are usually backward looking, as if the greatest triumphs and challenges were in the distant past. But as technology and culture enter a period of accelerating change, our genes will too. Arguably, the most interesting parts of evolution aren’t life’s origins, dinosaurs, or Neanderthals, but what’s happening right now, our present – and our future.

He reasons to some fascinating possibilities…

Humanity is the unlikely result of 4 billion years of evolution.

From self-replicating molecules in Archean seas, to eyeless fish in the Cambrian deep, to mammals scurrying from dinosaurs in the dark, and then, finally, improbably, ourselves – evolution shaped us.

Organisms reproduced imperfectly. Mistakes made when copying genes sometimes made them better fit to their environments, so those genes tended to get passed on. More reproduction followed, and more mistakes, the process repeating over billions of generations. Finally, Homo sapiens appeared. But we aren’t the end of that story. Evolution won’t stop with us, and we might even be evolving faster than ever.

It’s hard to predict the future. The world will probably change in ways we can’t imagine. But we can make educated guesses. Paradoxically, the best way to predict the future is probably looking back at the past, and assuming past trends will continue going forward. This suggests some surprising things about our future…

Meet our future selves: “Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality, how will humans change in the next 10,000 years?“– @NickLongrich in @ConversationUS.

* Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

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As we ponder the possible, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Richard Dawkins; he was born on this date in 1947. An evolutionary biologist, he made a number of important contributions to the public understanding of evolution. In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he popularized the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In The Extended Phenotype (1982), he introduced the influential concept that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism’s body, but can stretch far into the environment. And in The Blind Watchmaker (1986), he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms; instead, he described evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker, in that reproduction, mutation, and selection are unguided by any designer.

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