Which Contemporary Habits Will Be Most Unthinkable 100 Years From Now?

Driving, sadness, and more

Graham Roumieu

Melinda Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Taking the pill. Once upon a time, the birth-control pill was a breakthrough. More than 50 years later, it’s out-of-date. No one wants to swallow a daily pill that can have side effects, and for many people in developing nations, this isn’t even an option. If men had to take the pill, there’s a good chance we’d have something better by now. Over the next century, a variety of contraceptives with improved features will become widely available to all women, making the pill obsolete.

Katie Roiphe, author, In Praise of Messy Lives

Sadness. Drug companies will have developed an over-the-counter, side-effect-free pill (or patch or lotion) that combats the feeling. People will swallow this pill casually, in the same way they take Advil, when they feel the first glimmers of melancholy. It will have no stigma and will be as common and unexamined as the Band‑Aids and Tylenol in every medicine cabinet.

Bill McKibben, author and environmental activist

People will be amazed that we went on burning fossil fuels long past the point when renewables were available and working. They won’t understand, dealing with the wreckage of climate change, our need for a slow, measured transition to keep the oil companies happy.

Dave Barry, columnist

Driving. Future humans will look at videos of cars whizzing along expressways at 70 miles an hour and be horrified. “Those deadly machines were operated by civilians?” they’ll say. “Including teenagers? That’s insane.” Future humans will get around in cars controlled by Google, which will also own the roads and much of the solar system.

Roxane Gay, essayist

Sending an e-mail asking whether it’s okay to send the recipient an e-mail. Hopefully by then we won’t be e-mailing at all, because we will have developed some sort of electronic interpersonal communication that doesn’t invite redundancy and inefficiency.

Rebecca Traister, senior editor, The New Republic

The practice of documenting every experience of pleasure or beauty—from the presentation of a juicy steak to a Beyoncé performance to a viewing of the Mona Lisa—with a cameraphone. This would ideally happen because of a mass realization that placing devices between ourselves and our lives dilutes the thrill of living—but more likely because we’ll all have cameras implanted in our eyeballs.

Michael Pollan, author and activist

Having a lawn.

Daniel Dennett, philosopher

Unsupervised homeschooling. When we come to recognize that willfully misinforming a child—or keeping a child illiterate, innumerate, and uninformed—is as evil as sexual abuse, we will forbid parents to treat their children as possessions whom they may indoctrinate as they please. They may teach their children any religious creed they like, but only if they also teach the uncontroversial facts about the world’s religions so their children can make an informed choice when they grow up.

Reader Responses

Mike Rosenthal, Clearwater, Fla.

Eating animals for their protein.

Mark Radwan, Merrimack, N.H.

Snail mail. Mailboxes will be used to build giant nesting colonies for birds. UPS and FedEx will buy post offices for pennies on the dollar. Unused stamps will be traded for nominal credit on Amazon.

Rebecca Silverman, Chicago, Ill.

Playing football. A century from now, we will wonder how we ever sent men to play a sport in which they would knowingly sustain so many concussions that they would develop chronic brain encephalopathy, depression, dementia, and other deadly mental ills.

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