Individuals to matter less in 2000
Today’s family may fade away, like horse and buggy
By the year 2000, Americans may travel by ballistic missile, swallow a pill for a meal, wear tights and helmets like people in science fiction comic strips. Or they may not. There’s no way of telling, and perhaps it doesn’t make much difference.
What matters is the quality of life: What will it be like to live in the year 2000? No one can draw the complete picture, but members of the Commission on the Year 2000 took glimpses from special points of view.
Will people be able to learn and remember what they need to know in the complex world of 2000? Not without help, predicted psychologist George A Miller of Harvard University.
How will new biological techniques affect relations between the sexes? Perhaps by eliminating marriage and the family, suggested anthropologist Margaret Mead of New York’s Museum of Natural History.
What will earning a living be like for Americans? Easier, Herman Kahn and Anthony J Wiener of the Hudson Institute calculate. Maybe too easy.
Will there be any privacy left? Only if society takes steps to preserve it, warned law professor Harry Kalven, Jr of the University of Chicago.
So much to learn
George Miller has specialized in human memory and the way the mind processes information. There is an upper limit, he says, to the number of things a person can pay attention to at any one time. There is probably also a limit to the capacity of a person’s memory.
In the Year 2000, society will be more complex, as well as more crowded. Every individual will know more people, be exposed to more facts. A child will have to learn more things just to grow up; a citizen will need to know more to function in society.
As more and more technical competence is required to earn a living, each person will have to give over a larger proportion of his learning capacity to his occupation.
The gap between professionals and technicians on the one hand and unskilled labor on the other will grow. Already, Miller points out, there is unemployment in the unskilled group, and at the same time a shortage of people with advanced skills.
Increasingly, even competent people will have to be supported by information-gathering devices: digests of literature, libraries, computer memories and ingenious display systems. Finally, more and more jobs will simply become too much for one man to handle. The team will take over.
In many laboratories and in the technologically-advanced industries, this has already happened. Teams or task groups are formed to solve a specific problem and are then dissolved, and new groups come together to attack new problems. This approach will become increasingly common, not only in industry but in universities and government.
Miller poses the question: “How are these experts to be rewarded?” Who gets the credit? What will replace the sense of personal satisfaction, the individual reputation and fame that can be won by someone who accomplishes an important task? Can a task group become famous?
Even the expert’s pleasure in knowledge itself may be soured by his awareness that his specialized knowledge is valuable only as it serves the group’s purposes. Only strong motivation can push a person to the limit of his capacity, Miller says; a society increasingly dependent on an intellectual and technological elite will have to devise rewards to keep the anonymous genius at work.
Margaret Mead is an anthropologist who has concentrated on the different roles of the family and of the two sexes in various societies ever since the publication of her celebrated “Coming of Age in Samoa” in 1928. For the commission, she considered “the nature and quality of relations between men and women, and the decisiveness of sex as a determinant of social roles.”
The “contemporary American style,” Dr Mead wrote, has such characteristics as early marriage; early parenthood for all couples; a separate home for each parent-and-child family, with relatives — including grown children — generally excluded; increasing involvement of men in domestic duties and increasing job-holding by wives to support ever-higher standards of consumption.
If this pattern continues as the desired objective in the affluent countries, she predicted, there will be a significant result: It will become the objective in less-developed countries as well, and it will tend to counteract efforts to control population.
Sex may matter less
But the pattern may not persist. Partly in order to meet the population problem, the affluent societies may decide to take advantage of the current and developing biological revolution and to make full use of contraception, artificial insemination and even “extra-uterine gestation,” in which the test tube and incubator would take the place of natural pregnancy.
That would lead to an emphasis on small families, to many childless marriages and even to a situation in which child-bearing and child-rearing are restricted to a few specialized couples; “the rest of the population would be free to function — for the first time in history — as individuals.”
Then what? The sexes would be less differentiated. Boys and girls would be brought up and educated alike; men and women would have the same set of demands made on them. Temperament, talent and capabilities — not sex — would determine occupations and ways of life. Indeed, the “two-sex exclusive pair” (husband and wife) would no longer be the basic human relationship. People could live together in any combinations they like.
Perhaps the change would not be quite so radical. There might be efforts to maintain distinctions between primarily male and primarily female occupations, even though women are no longer mothers or housewives; couples might still live together as man and wife.
This might not last long, however. There would be rebellion against a “sex-typing” that ignores individual differences and is no longer supported by the age-old basis of sex-differentiation: the economic necessities of the home and the rearing of children.
All this, Dr. Mead points out, represents an enormous change, not only to social habits but also to the beliefs that underlie them. The new style of behaviour might prompt counter-revolutions that would limit sexual freedom, turn people back into the home and subordinate individual creativity to society’s need for “docile parents, workers and citizens.”
Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener probe the future primarily by extrapolation — studying trends and projecting them to the Year 2000 while making allowances for probable developments. Adding large doses of sociology, military, gamesmanship and psychology, they produced a major study, “Toward the Year 2000: Framework for Speculation,” that was published by the Macmillan Company in the fall. It included a look at the economic American in 2000.
Of a total population of 318 million, they think some 60 percent will be in the labor force, a slightly higher proportion than now. The rise will be due to an increase in the percentage of women who work, largely because part-time and intermittent jobs will be more available and attractive. Fewer men over 65 will be working (pension plans) and fewer boys of 18 and 19 (longer education).
Fewer Americans will be working in factories (manufacturing will account for a fifth of all non-farm jobs, compared with almost a third today). More will be working in stores, pared with a third today).
Less work, more pay
In all industries, wages will be up sharply. Average hourly gross earnings in manufacturing will be up from $2.61 (in 1965) to $11.50; in retail trade from $1.82 to $7.40; in agriculture from less than a dollar to $5.10.
People will work less — seven-hour days, five-day weeks, 10 holidays, four-week vacations — about 1,600 hour a year. The standard of living will nevertheless be between three and six times as high as now. The average personal income per family will be about $20000; 27 percent of all families will have incomes over $25000 a year.
These projections are for what Kahn and Wiener call a “standard society.” What if we go off the standard? Perhaps the increased incomes, reduced work week, earlier retirement, longer vacations, better public services, and a general decrease in tension as living gets easier and even the international situation cools down, will change people’s attitudes. There would be a new emphasis on leisure and recreation, and the “leisure-oriented society” would make its appearance. Fewer people would work — say 56 percent of the population. They would average about 21 hours a week, or 1100 hours a year (four-day weeks, 13-week vacations).
Provided individual productivity increases sharply over the next 32 years, the national output in a leisure society could still be three times today’s; incomes would remain high, and people who chose not to work could probably get help from family and friends; public services would keep a floor under living standards; the economic and social pressure to conform, to work, to make money might diminish. It would be a different kind of America.
Someone is listening
Some of the pressures that law professor Harry Kalven expects to assault our privacy in the year 20000 are already in evidence; others will come with new technology and social attitudes.
The most obvious danger is that the almost limitless refinement of eavesdropping and surveillance techniques may make it impossible ever to be sure that one is not being watched or overheard — by the government, by a business competitor, by an insurance company lawyer, or by a curious neighbor.
As people accumulate insurance, pension plans, medical plans, there will be a sharp increase in the amount of facts being collected about everyone. The computer’s vast memory capacity will facilitate the collection of unerasable records: kindergarten intelligence scores, high school deans’ reprimands, medical checkups, traffic violations, memberships, job evaluations. As Kalven says, “the society will have lost its benign capacity to forget.”
Changing standards may force increasing disclosure of the private lives of prominent people. The public taste for peeking as a form of amusement may spur new forms of entertainment like “Candid Camera.” Research in the social sciences will continue to lean on interviewing, personalilty testing, surreptitious observation and listening — and neat computerization of the findings.
To retain privacy
Finally, Kalven suggests, the decline of religious observance, of the family group and even of the habit of reading may deprive people of three traditional ways of being separate and private.
Are countermeasures possible? Psychologists and psychiatrists may have to devise therapy for loss of privacy. Lawyers and legislators will have to develop legal remedies, not only to curb eavesdropping, but to establish guidelines as to the limits of public interest. Perhaps public opinion can be made more sensitive to the values of being left alone — through a program of education for privacy, for example.
It may even be possible to develop new social devices that will insure some moments of privacy, such as some kind of secular version of a religious retreat. Things may be so bad in the Year 2000, Kalven suggests, that someone will make a fortune “merely by providing, on a monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis, a room of one’s own.”