In 1997 “Wired” anticipated an era of global prosperity…unless one of these 10 things happened

It’s a fascinating dive into the liberal optimism of the 1990s: Twenty-five years ago, the American magazine Wired, the organ of cyberculture, promised us… twenty-five years of prosperity. This July 1997 cover file, entitled “The Long Boom”, whose imposing smiley face has resurfaced on social networks in recent days, is signed by two futurologists and entrepreneurs, simultaneously authors of a book that takes up the same theses, “Great Growth” ( published in France by Robert-Laffont in 2000), bible of the “new economy”. “We are entering a period of unparalleled expansion. We are riding the nascent wave of twenty-five years of planetary growth.” then ensure Peter Schwartz, founder of the Global Business Network, and Peter Leyden, editor-in-chief of “Wired”.

“A Dirty Trend, A Contagious Idea Started Spreading In The United States In The 1980s”regret the authors. “America would fall into disrepair, the world would go to hell, our children would be destined to live less well than us.” But another story appears parallel in this post-wall context: that of a gigantic hope for innovation, driven by technological revolutions and the growing openness of the world’s countries to democracy and the market economy, destined to give birth. to a new world civilization. “If this is true, historians will regard our time as an extraordinary moment. They will describe the forty-year period from 1980 to 2020 as the key years of a remarkable transformation.”want to believe Schwartz and Leyden, who insist:

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“This is not a prediction, but a scenario, both positive and plausible. »

The authors emphasize the “five great technological waves” at work: the rise of personal computers, telecommunications, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and alternative energies, a cocktail that is supposed to propel the economy to new heights without changing the environment.

What if a new “golden age” was near?

And to draw a prospective chronological frieze of the years 2000 and 2010. The European Union to the East, the maddening growth in China, the completion of the sequencing of the human genome (“Wired” sees it in 2002, it happened finally in 2003), the appearance of “videophones” around 2005 (the first iPhone came out in 2007). But from the second half of the 2000s the story derails and the reader of summer 2022 can only show a straight smile: “Taiwan absorbed by mainland China”, “global growth of 6%”, “eliminating birth defects”. In the 2010s “gene therapy against cancer improves”, “human life expectancy reaches 120 years”and around 2020 “a world population stabilized at 11 billion” witnesses the “first steps of man on Mars”as the nation states, Italy first (because why not), begin to dissolve.

“The 10 Scenarios That Can Ruin Everything”

But let’s not accuse the two authors of blissful optimism. “The future could look completely different”they warn. The dossier also closes with a large menacing red insert titled “The 10 Scenarios That Can Ruin Everything”.

There they are :

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  1. “Tensions between China and the United States degenerate into a new Cold War, on the brink of open conflict”
  2. “New technologies disappoint. They bring neither the expected productivity gains nor major economic impulses”
  3. “Russia is turning into a mafia-run kleptocracy, or retreating into quasi-communist nationalism that threatens Europe”
  4. “Europe’s integration process is coming to a standstill. Eastern and Western Europe fail to maintain their reunification, and the mechanisms of the European Union itself collapse”
  5. “A major ecological crisis is causing global climate change that is particularly disruptive to food supplies, leading to sharp price increases and sporadic famines”
  6. “A huge increase in crime and terrorism is forcing the world to cringe in fear. People who are constantly afraid of dying in an explosion or being robbed don’t feel like reaching out and opening up.”
  7. “The exponential escalation of pollution is causing a dramatic increase in cancer cases, overwhelming the ill-prepared health system”
  8. “Energy prices are exploding. Middle East convulsions disrupt oil supplies and alternative energy sources do not materialize”
  9. “A spiraling epidemic – Spanish flu-like – is spreading like wildfire, killing up to 200 million people”
  10. “A social and cultural backlash stops progress in its tracks. People must choose to move forward. Maybe they decide not to…’

Let’s be optimistic to live old and healthy!

A reading that may seem strangely familiar to the reader of 2022, when Sino-US tensions were at an all-time high, Russia has invaded Ukraine and renewables can’t replace hydrocarbons, including a world struggling to recover from a pandemic that is increasing in number. killed more than 15 people. million people and is headed for an uncontrolled runaway climate amid the backlash of populist nationalism, severe water shortages, and food and migration crises.

“The most obvious flaw is the magazine’s belief that technology and the prosperous economy would erase social and economic inequality”said David Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University, in “Usbek and Rica” magazine in 2020. “Our idea was to expose a positive story”Peter Leyden recently defended himself for the German magazine “Die Zeit”.

“But we also wanted to say to the readers of that time: not everything goes perfectly. There will be many obstacles along the way: here are ten that we think will be the most problematic. »

A “Long Boom”, but not for everyone

Reminiscent of American writer William Gibson, figure of the cyberpunk movement who had drawn attention on Twitter in early June by sarcastically sharing the “10 scenarios” of “Wired”, Peter Leyden sweeps the criticism aside: “As a science fiction writer, he has a more negative view of what’s happening in the world. He can say that the ten somehow came true. But more importantly, these barriers have not stopped the digital revolution, globalization, the rise of China and all those other things. »

Pablo Servigne, a life as a collapseologist

“For some, the ‘Big Growth’ is a fact”also points, but with radically different conclusions, to the British magazine ‘New Statesman’, which devoted an article to the subject in early July. “As early as March 2009, US and UK equities experienced a 10-year bull cycle, the longest period of uninterrupted bull markets in history”. But not because technology has suddenly made everyone more productive: “Productivity growth declined over this period, while real wages stagnated. » If the financial elites have benefited from the “Long Boom”, it is not because of the triumph of free trade, technological innovation or green energy, but mainly because of the housing bubble and the generous monetary policies of the major central banks after the financial crash of 2008.

But even in the age of collapses and various apocalypse prophecies, Peter Leyden never gave up. His latest book, a series of articles written from the perspective of a Generation Z centenarian and titled “The Transformation”, imagines how the current generation solved all economic and environmental problems by 2100 – thanks to technological innovation, of course.

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