I read a funny, provocative column in the NY Times last week called “Future Cringe.” It posed the question: What are the things we do today that will seem embarrassing or otherwise regrettable to our future selves – the stuff that will make us cringe when we look back on how we lived our lives in the early 2020s?
History demonstrates how difficult it is to successfully predict the future. (My husband often quips, “When do I get my flying car? I was promised a flying car!”) Nevertheless, there is something deep in the human genome that delights in trying.
To that end, the Times had more than 30 people weigh in on the question above – hailing from academia, the arts, fashion, media, and business. Below, I will highlight some of their responses – and weigh in, myself.
Cord Jefferson, TV writer and essayist: “The world is so humiliating in so many ways these days, and its embarrassments only seem to multiply year after year. There’s a lot I could mention — Crocs is the easy one. Another one that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the idolatry of tech people. Blech!”
My take: Don’t be so sure about Crocs. Like a cat with nine lives, they have a mysterious – and proven – staying power. As for idolizing tech people? Everybody was just fine with it ‘til Elon Musk bought Twitter. My guess is that some hip, progressive wunderkind in a beanie will invent a cool new app and restore the “brand” to its pedestal.
Maria Avgitidis, matchmaker: “We will cringe at the thought of how we swiped away our soul mates.”
My take: I hope we will have enough soul left to cringe at that thought. I am forever grateful to have married before the invention of Tinder.
Michael Musto, columnist: “Gender-reveal parties will become totally obsolete when people realize that you won’t know the baby’s gender until quite some time later.”
My take: Clearly, opinions will vary on this one. I’ve long found it strange that the rise of gender reveal parties – which didn’t even exist when I had my baby two decades ago, though the technology certainly did – has been concurrent with the rise of gender fluidity as a cultural/political issue. Or maybe it’s not strange at all. Action, meet reaction?
My husband and I both cackled with glee over this next one, giving it our full endorsement . . .
Sarah Thyre, actress: “Using the word ‘journey’ to describe anything other than a perilous trek through Middle-earth to throw the One Ring of Power into a volcano. (Also: You must be a hobbit.)”
My take: More gleeful cackling.
Natasha Stagg, essayist, novelist: “I think we’re probably going to be embarrassed by the pandemic, every kind of reaction to it and the way it’s sort of defined our time. To me, it’s already sort of becoming an embarrassing topic, and you can feel people not wanting to talk about it, because it brings back these very recent memories of us behaving in a way that was not the way we’re behaving now.”
My take: Girl, yes! Whether you were an ever-masker or a never-masker, a many-vaxxer or an anti-vaxxer, pro-shutdown or anti-shutdown . . . Can we all just step back, take a deep breath, and admit – in hindsight – that we all lost our minds, at least a little bit? Come on. You know you want to! Self-reflection is difficult, but there is comfort in numbers.
Christina Oxenberg, writer, fashion designer: “Monarchy.”
My take: Maybe. In fact, it even seems likely. But if recent months and years are any indication, we are perfectly capable of cringing and obsessing simultaneously.
Mark Manson, author: “… testing people based on memorized information will become an awkward memory in a world full of artificial intelligence. The same way we look back on the ridiculousness of grading kids by the quality of their handwriting 100 years ago, we will look back at tests based on memorization as a colossal waste of time and talent.”
My take: Highly likely. Which kind of makes me regret all the hours I wasted in school. I had a feeling, even back then, that I would never need to know all the state capitals.
Crystal Moselle, filmmaker: “I’m embarrassed that we didn’t create a campaign for forgiveness earlier. I think there will probably be a wave of forgiveness, because of all the cancel culture. I think the next thing that’s going to happen is people actually wanting to forgive and giving people chances and opportunities for change. I think generally our planet needs that shift so badly — and so I think we’ll be embarrassed that we let cancel culture go on so long.”
My take: If you read my column regularly, you can probably guess that I love this idea and endorse it wholeheartedly. In fact, if I knew Crystal, I’d call her and tell her about a “campaign for forgiveness” that’s been around for a very long time, though it doesn’t get much press. Not good press, anyway. To learn more about this unique campaign, visit a local church.
Agnieszka Pilat, artist: “Selfies (and social media as we know it). Because our relationship to data and to privacy has to change drastically, I strongly believe that selfies on social media will be something we will look back at with embarrassment. Posting close-ups of our faces, our families with locations and time stamps, will seem terribly reckless. The amounts of information we give up for free because of our vanity will seem not only stupid but also tasteless.”
My take: Who can argue with this? I can only hang my head in shame. Convicted.
Bill Schulz, TV writer, journalist: “You know how the very idea of a phone conversation, regarding anything that can otherwise be texted, seems rude at this point? I think we’ll feel the same way about face-to-face conversations 20 years from now, whether it be a random interaction on the street or having dinner with actual friends. It will seem offensive to ‘future us’ if a person attempts actual verbal contact.”
My take: I truly hope Bill has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek here. I fear he does not.
Rachel Rabbit White, poet: “We’ve spent years caught on digital hamster wheels, spinning solipsistically in our most base states: angry, jealous, needing to be accepted. It’s almost cute, in a tragic way, the fact that we’ve been driven by such a human and vulnerable need — to be liked. Our continued embrace of the internet, after we realized it was making us spiritually decrepit, is embarrassing.”
My take: Preach, Rachel! And when you do, repeat that phrase “spiritually decrepit” over and over. It hurts, but we need to hear it.
Dino Stamatopoulos, comedian, writer: “The idea of cancel culture will be embarrassing. But I’m too scared of being canceled to say that.”
My take: And yet he did say it. Right there in the NY Times. Seems like cause for hope to me!
And now I will add my own prediction to the mix, which is really more like a wish:
I think that “future us” will cringe at the way we once treated each other over politics. I’ve read enough social science to be convinced that our respective places on the left/right spectrum are mostly a matter of temperament, largely innate – as much nature as nurture – and very hard to change. I look forward to the day when this last acceptable prejudice – acceptable hatred, to put it more bluntly – is no longer tolerated by society.
And I hope my husband gets his flying car.