What do you need your own room for?

Text from our program, Is there an expert in the room—aged 13-16?, with a view of the House of the Future, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson. DR1995:0042

What is life like in 2040?

Experts in the room aged 13-16 share a survey

During the summer of 2020, Is there an Expert in the Room Aged 13-16? brought together young experts on digital social life and shared physical space. They spent the summer talking about their experiences before and during the pandemic lockdowns. A central question was: how are the lockdowns of 2020 a preview of possible changes to the way we work, socialize, and relate to the environment? In this survey, the experts ask their future selves—and the future selves of anyone who is aged 13-16 in 2020: what is life like in 2040?

1. In 2040, how has our definition of “essential workers” shifted from what it was in 2020? Where do they live, where do they work, and how are they taken care of?

In 2020, “essential workers” included but were not limited to “first responders, healthcare workers, critical infrastructure workers, and workers who are essential to supply critical goods such as food and medicines” according to the Government of Canada. Today, the need for many of these services is completely different. The energy sector has eliminated a need for gas and petrol, therefore their sector’s essential workers now solely deal with renewable energy such as hydro and solar power. With our heightened virtual connection, many of the workers who needed to be in-person during COVID waves can now work from home (like the financial sector), and the transportation sector is almost entirely autonomous. In contrast, other kinds of workers have been recognized as holding in-person importance, for example, activist events are much more widespread.

Resources dedicated to essential workers have been rethought, and workers can choose whether they stay in government-provided towers that have built-in sanitizing and socializing functions or commute from home in self-driving transit cubicles. The demographics and treatment of essential workers have also shifted. In 2020, racialized workers were 21 percent of the total workforce in Canada, yet disproportionately overrepresented in sectors deemed essential. Since these workers often already faced income challenges, the creation of Universal Basic Income was a great start to ensuring a basic quality of life for them. Now, demographic shifts in the workplace have resulted in a much more equitable representation. Lastly, huge advances in healthcare have greatly reduced risks for essential workers, allowing them to attend work while staying safe.

-Ira, age 16, Toronto

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2. After 2020, we’ve had seasonal outbreaks of COVID-19 since the vaccines were never totally effective. Now each year there are a few months of lockdown. What do you do with this time? Where, how, and how much do you work?

People have adapted to the new reality of working from home during lockdown and then at their workplace during the non-lockdown season.

I am an air force pilot, so I am still flying my planes regardless of which season we are in because I am flying alone or with one partner. In my line of work, social distancing is easy to maintain. But, most people, especially those considered non-essential workers, have to work from home during lockdown and take care of their kids. People want to work in comfortable and peaceful settings, with good lighting and with a fast and unlimited network connection. Since they can’t travel during the lockdown season, people have invested in cottages so they can get away during the difficult times. Humans adapted, we have found ways to cope with this new reality and make the best out of it.

-Tsolina, age 14, Laval

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3. Looking back, 2020 was the year that life began to change faster. I used to    ask to be driven everywhere all the time   , but now that’s seen as environmentally irresponsible and I would be embarrassed to do it. And before 2020, I almost never    stayed at home as much as I have     but now it’s a part of my life almost every day.

My life has become more environmentally sustainable. Initially, this choice was forced by a set of changes because of lockdowns and restrictions. Over time these behaviours became more permanent and part of my daily choices. They became part of my conscious routine. I began to realize that our lives fall into a routine of habit. These habits are often because of convenience and lack of time. During lockdown we had the time to make changes and figure out aspects of our lives that could be made better for ourselves and the environment. I realized even in a suburban setting, walking or riding my bicycle is not only possible but also enjoyable. Suburbs were designed to be car-centric, and forced people into their cars for short trips. Typical suburbs are now thought of as cities, with alternative transportation infrastructure, making walking enjoyable and providing at least basic necessities close to people’s homes. They’re called “fifteen-minute communities.” Shop local is now the mantra, and it gained a great recognition back in 2020. When we shop local we support our neighbours and have greater control over where we live. Smaller stores also encouraged people to shop on foot or by bicycle. Main streets are encouraged.

2020 forced a slowdown in people’s lives. People reconnected and realized the smaller daily things that either went unnoticed or were ignored due to time constraints. Leaving the car at home was a simple thing to do. We went for walks and explored the local. We wondered, how did we choose to live where we lived? That was another good question that came from the lockdowns. We reconnected with our community and in doing so contributed to creating a more sustainable environment.

-Lauren, age 13, Oakville

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4. Today, in 2040, about 65% of the world population lives in cities. How are indoor and outdoor natural spaces a part of your life? Where do you find plants, and what are they used for?

Cities have expanded and become huge. Access to nature and natural areas has become increasingly rare. We try to make up for the loss of old forests by building terraces and roofs, but a sea of concrete and stone spreads as far as our eyes can see. These terraces can’t replace the green fields with their trees and streams. My memories of feeling grass in my hand, against my cheek, fade from my memory.

I used to live in the city. My school was in the city and my home was in the city. When I felt sad and tired of the pressure and gray concrete, the advertising and noise, I would take a streetcar for ten minutes and go to a park. I would lie down in the grass for a few minutes, sometimes for a few hours, and with the ground against my back, my anxiety would vanish. I fantasized about nature a lot. I can’t say whether it was my humanity or the urban environment in which I lived on a daily basis that made me want to get closer to it, but the grass had the effect of a session with a shrink.

Now, cities are huge. You have to take the train for a few hours to see nature. During the week, you never have time to go there and, on weekends, there are so many other things to do that you end up settling for what’s around: terraces and green plants. There are only one or two terraces per building, and even though some buildings have organized to share them, most are private and the apartments that have them are extremely expensive and popular. As for potted plants, I own a few. Five, to be precise. My favourite is a Chlorophytum comosum, one of those famous spider plants, which as far back as I can remember has always been in my possession. I tried to multiply it, but none of my cuttings took. I have to say that I don’t have a green thumb. My other plants are always dead before they’re half a year old. I always buy them, and they are expensive. Luckily, there’s usually a few month’s time between their deaths, so I have time to save. It’s a nice hobby, I buy soil, pots, some fertilizer, and I take care of them. It frees my mind, a bit like playing video games or watching TV.

-Bogdan, age 16, Geneva

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5. When you were teenagers, many cities were surrounded by large low-density suburbs. And now these suburbs are    filled with people and the noise pollution is at its highest   . What do you miss about how they were in 2020? In 2020 many people wanted to leave the cities to live in the suburbs, do they still want to do that in 2040?

I miss the calming aspect of the suburbs. When we travelled there in 2020, we never felt overwhelmed by the amount of people or how noisy it was. It was less stressful there than in the city, but now we can’t tell where it’s calmer. I miss the feeling of being calm and not worrying about all the cars and people around. I miss feeling like we don’t have to worry about all of our problems right now based on where we are at the moment, such as being in a small home surrounded by trees and far enough from the road that we can’t hear the cars. Many people wouldn’t take the decision to move to the suburbs now because they don’t have the same soothing effect that we felt back in 2020. Now it feels like we are in the city everywhere we go. No clear distinction can be made. Before, people went to the suburbs to get away from the noise and to have bigger properties. Of course, they had to give up, sometimes, being close to all of the resources present in the cities. Unfortunately, today, in 2040, it’s not worth going through the trouble of not being near a metro or a grocery store to live somewhere ever so slightly calmer.

-Noémie, age 14, Montréal

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6. When I want to feel hope or peacefulness in my surroundings in 2040, I go to the    Brooklyn Bridge   .

When I want to feel hope or peacefulness in my surroundings in 2040 I love to take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. I love to walk over the bridge because it reminds me of New York City’s vastness. I love to see the contrast of the different boroughs, the tall skyscrapers of Manhattan and the family homes of Brooklyn. Manhattan looks more and more empty every day now. It used to be a place full of life and people but ever since the second wave of COVID-19 everyone is afraid of being around other people. I remember when the city was still full of so many different people, but now all the office workers work from home and the students attend online classes. The only people out now are construction workers and the occasional citizens going on their one walk of the day. I love just sitting on the bridge overlooking the city remembering the “good old days.” The Brooklyn bridge holds so much history and will always be a reminder that life moves on.

-Amalia, age 13, New York City

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7. What do you miss about your social life from before 2020? What did being away from friends make you realize about them? Are our social lives better or worse than before?

During the pandemic of 2020 we all felt a strain on our lives in the ways they connected with others, and we all had to find ways to keep friendships going. Before, there were no worries about getting together with friends, just meeting up and hanging out. It became hard to see them after. I miss the simplicity of making plans in a day or two, not two weeks so that we can cover every possibility. We could go get food, visit indoor spaces, and braid each other’s hair. It’s the little things that mattered, not the times we couldn’t see each other at all, not the hikes in the woods instead of seeing a movie: it was every little moment we high-fived, shared a drink, threw our phones between our hammocks and laughed at the bad photos on them.

My friends mean a lot to me, and they did then. There were so many things we didn’t think we would miss, as other people have said again and again. But though we missed those things, we persisted. We talked over video calls, watched Netflix over them, played games. There were so many things we didn’t realize we could do from home, and we have continued to do them. One of my friends moved away in the middle of the pandemic. Another switched schools. A few years later, as we went to college and each began to walk our own path, we never lost our connection.

That is what stood out to me. We learned how to connect when we could not. Distance was no longer a factor, a different country is the same as a few blocks, when you can’t see anyone.

Before the pandemic, I had just found the group of friends that are still with me today, and I was working on getting more. But as the schools shut down and I began to have a lot more time alone, I realized my little group of friends was worth more than any of the other people I wished to know better.

Every social life has times of strife and times of happiness, but when everyone in the world had the same pressure to keep friends close, even though we may have been far, it became an art we all mastered, and never wavered in again.

-Hazel, age 14, St. Paul

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8. The pandemic of 2020 exposed deep inequalities in what were called “developed” countries, and in what were called “developing” countries. What were the most important policies from the crisis, and from the 2020s and 2030s, that are still shaping the world today?

Inequalities between communities became very apparent. People were suffering simply because they didn’t have healthcare or couldn’t afford treatment for the virus. Others suffered due to losing their jobs and many lost all of their sources of income. However, these issues are not exclusive to “second-” and “third-” world countries. In fact, these issues were the most prevalent in “first” world countries. Before the pandemic, there were many misconceptions that first world countries were the best at providing for their citizens and handling crises. However, we saw that many first world countries made just about every mistake possible in tackling covid-19. We learned many things from second and third world countries about how best to handle crises. In places like Kerala, they were one of the first to get a handle on COVID. They were able to do this because of their great sense of community and citizen participation. Many first-world countries, especially the US, were extremely individualistic and had little to no sense of community. This meant that citizens felt no moral obligation to do their part to contain the virus. Today, in 2040, we have learned from other countries’ communities and have found that working together is the best way to handle crises like this. We now have universal basic income, universal healthcare, and people are encouraged to work together instead of competing with each other. Governments invested more in communities and equality and giving equal opportunities to everyone. They have built up public housing and invested in public spaces, giving people more ways to connect with each other and create a sense of community.

-Laila, age 16, Omaha

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