My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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from the future looking backwards

A friend and i realized that there are numerous historical perspectives that we cannot imagine believing. The idea that people of color are a different species from white people. The idea that the world is flat. It just seems so foreign.

So i started to wonder what commonly held assumptions of today’s society will we look back on with absurdity? Any ideas?

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17 comments to from the future looking backwards

  • The idea that killing animals to eat them is at all rational (note: not a vegan/vegetarian myself).

    The idea that suffering and death gives life meaning.

    The idea that sexual orientation has anything to do with social character (i.e., that GBLQT are somehow not worthy of full social rights).

  • The differences between men and women. Sport won’t be segregated by gender any more. Sure there are differences, but are the differences enough? They aren’t always there. There are women who are taller and stronger than most men. Who knows, maybe there are ways in which they are consistently better athletes but up till now we have no way of knowing.

    My 7th grade science prof worked at an insane asylum and he said that they had to put two sets of leather restraints on the women because they could pull hard and persistently and rip one set, but the men couldn’t.

    The notion of race as having any meaning whatsoever at all will fade away. The race/ethnicity boxes on the census forms we have today will look totally absurd. Well, they might just be reworded to “country of origin in last 2 generations” or something.

    Using internal combustion engines, one per device. Or using them at all for that matter (~20% efficiency).

  • tony

    Why we give meds to relieve aliments instead of curing the disease…

    Same-sex marriage(laws vs. it)

    Chemo-therapy(let’s give people poison to kill their cells…)

    The crazy normalcy we live with called automobile accidents/deaths(no one really cares about preventing them-hurry.hurry..)

    Why fast-food restaurants weren’t outlawed-fat is as deadly as cigarettes.

    Yes, humans did(are) destroying the ecological balance and could’ve prevented a good share of it.

    All the products people use(supposedly “natural herbs, supplements”) to cure or prevent disease.

    Spam.Spam and more spam…

  • That animals are not sentient beings. That hunting them for sport in the wild was isn’t barbaric, let alone fencing them within a property so that old men can be assured of a tophy. That moral relativism was harmless. That everything should be permitted.

  • Matt

    The Hutu and Tutsi see themselves as two different racial groups with differences in skin color and body structure. Though, some Hutu turn in to Tutsi and vice-versa. http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Africa under “Politics”
    Animism was a common religion to the tribes of ancient North America, and is still around today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animism

    I believe that it only makes sense to say some beliefs become absurd over time if you narrow your scope to just one community. Historically, the plantation owners in the southern USA believed in the unequality of people based on skin color. Today, that belief is not PC in the US. However, there still exists the belief that whites are not equal to blacks in other places.
    On a larger scale; maybe beliefs don’t disappear globally, just locally. Technology can create new ways of distinguishing between groups of humans or between the beliefs that groups of people have.

    The Digital-divide, for example, is a fairly recent belief that separates those who know and use the internet/computers daily to live, and those who do not. Possibly, this belief could disappear from the USA, and still be found in other places.

  • That a blastula is anything more than a clump of cells?

  • 1. How we bring so much of our lives and livelihoods to bear on medically prolonging life at all costs, with no thought about what that “extra” time might be for.

    2. Our insistence that life be 100% risk-free.

    3. Our belief that computers are just special objects, and that deterministic, predictable outcomes from computing systems are preferable to adaptive, autonomous outcomes. In other words: that tools cannot (and should not?) also be animate.

  • d-n

    metanarratives: that we are able to speak with any level of precision about origin or eschaton. it’s turtles all the way down!

  • coal and oil as a major sources of energy

    growing somebody else’s hair follicles for your own

    normal people don’t listen to grindcore music

    civil disobedience is not for everyone in a democracy

  • rb

    that blogging is a valid form of discourse 🙂

  • Ana

    The idea that power relations are the only way in which people can be with each other.

  • The idea of knowing who someone is.

  • B

    Nations.

    Geographic economics measures how much a frontier slows commercial exchanges, and seems to find lowering barrier. Better monetary policy will encourage foreign exchange stability; WTO will increase business relations. International companies, non-governemental organisation, non-geographic projects will be able to structure non-nationality based lifes.

    European Union, thanks to the Erasmus program, will stand on a generation of bi-national families, or more: many around me cannot satisfy of only two passports. E-mail, IM, blogs or rather VoIP (make it voice of video) eases expatriation. The end of oil-based economy will not help the air travel—but we don’t need that many crossings around to feel an end to a nation-based world.

  • Both of your examples are of scientific discoveries that debunked popularly held opinions. If you really want to know which of today’s beliefs will fall by the wayside, I suggest you continue in that vein and consider ideas from today’s cutting edge science that haven’t yet made it into the mainstream.

    For example, the implication from quantum mechanics that the universe is uknowable and all we can talk about is probabilities that are influenced by the decisions we make. Or the implication from Kurt Godel’s Theory of Incompleteness that there are and always will be truths that cannot be proven.

  • willc2

    That the vast majority of secret information is important.

    That important secrets can be kept indefinitely.