South Park Predicts The Future
You killed the future! You bastards!
A recent South Park episode got me thinking about a potentially troubling version of the future. The South Park Post Covid Special aired a few days ago on Paramount Plus, whatever that is, and it featured the boys 40 years into the future, when the pandemic is finally coming to an end.
Everyone has been vaccinated (except for one person), poverty is everywhere, cars drive themselves, and the animated cartoon future in this make-believe place looks pretty bleak.
To say that this episode was prescient would be a bit of an overstatement for a political cartoon but, let's consider some of the current trends featured in the episode that will likely be with us in the real world for many decades to come.
First, the episode featured everyone working from home as freelancers or solopreneurs trying desperately to "get something going online." Stan is an online whiskey consultant, which is definitely a job I would apply for right now, and in the show, the gig economy is the new normal.
If you recall, at the start of the pandemic, many corporate offices sent their employees home to prevent the spread of Covid, effectively ending the fight with employees for years about working from home. No more face-to-face meetings, water cooler conversations, and awkward team-building retreats. Suddenly, the mother of necessity made all those old excuses for why employees couldn't work from home - moot.
With restrictions easing in many parts of the world most employees do not want to return to the workplace. They enjoy the flexible schedule, lack of commute, and overall freedom that work from home (WFH) provides. Astonishingly, employers have recently warmed up to the idea of WFH as a "new normal" and have started to downsize some of their real estate exposure to reduce expenses. And why not? Employees are just as productive from home, and employers can save money by reducing their overhead costs. Seems like a win-win.
However, the writers of South Park warn us not to get too comfortable with WFH because it may accelerate the current trend away from full-time employment and towards part-time and gig jobs instead.
When was the last time you applied for a full-time salaried job with a pension and an in-kind contribution to a retirement fund? These are relics of the past and have already been replaced by part-time work. Is the eventual sequel to WFH a "gig economy" where employees are contractors, paid by the hour, possibly by the second using Blockchain technology? Better brush up on those copywriting skills.
Another funny concept featured in the South Park episode was overcrowding and lack of housing for the elderly since they all live longer.
Today, most of our pandemic efforts have focused on protecting the elderly first, sometimes at the expense of a much younger generation.
I've always wondered how to justify distributing vaccines and other medical services to the elderly first during the Covid pandemic, when the most vulnerable segments of the population have always been, and always will be, children.
Why have we taken this approach? Are we sacrificing our kids’ future? Simply explore the ages and composition of decision-makers in government, and you will find that the vast majority are baby boomers. The last two US elections featured a bunch of 70-year-olds battling it out for arguably the most important job in the world. Is there no one younger qualified to run for this job? Why are 70-year-olds still working anyway? My father is 72 years old, and I barely want him to drive a car independently, never mind run a country.
I live in a city in which real estate is quite expensive. Many large, single-family detached homes are owned by empty-nester boomers who've been living there for decades and refuse to downsize. They have seen their homes appreciate 100x yet can't afford basic maintenance or even property taxes on their houses. In fact, our city council (made up of - you guessed it - boomers), in their infinite wisdom, decreed that if you are over the age of 65, you may defer your annual property taxes indefinitely until the future sale of the home.
The bottom line is when it comes to our health or financial policy, it seems clear that many of the rules favor the elderly. This trend will likely continue into the future when I am collecting my government pension. If it still exists by then.
What can we learn from South Park? Critical thinking, for starters, and creating awareness around some of the changes that might seem like a good idea right now but could create a problem for the next generation.