When Rip Van Winkle woke up from his legendary 20-year nap, he not only found his small yankee village full of strange people with strange names. He also found it was in an entirely different country: the American colonies had broken off from England during his sleep; he was a US citizen rather than a British subject.
A lot can happen in 20 years. Where will you be in 2020? In a town full of strange people with strange names? According to the experts, by 2020, the US population will have grown by another 45 million. Nearly half the country will be non-white, and people in many urban areas will be speaking a language other than English. Germany, so the predictions go, will be the center of a giant United States of Europe. And while the German population will not have grown all that much, it will be far more diverse. German, English, and Chinese may all be official languages taught in school.
Then there are the new technologies: by 2020, cash money will be completely obsolete. Instead you?ll have a universal »smart« card?your bank account, passport, ID, and social security record, all in one. Cashiers and receptionists? Long gone. Shops, theaters, airport check-ins will be automated or accessed on the ?net. Even big corporations, the crystal-ball readers tell us, will no longer have offices. Employees will work remotely?and when they want?via computers. The optimists believe all this will mean the end of the 9-to-5 job, more international harmony, higher standards of living?the world at your finger tips. The doomsayers fear that handing the world to the robots could mean the breakdown of contact between cultures, friends, even families.
But what do we really know? Who, 20 years ago, could have imagined that the Berlin Wall would be long gone and Germany peacefully reunified? Who could have predicted the rise of the Internet or the mapping of the human genome? In 1980, we were still in the Cold War, and people feared nuclear conflict. Yet today, most of the world is ruled by democracy or moving in a democratic direction. True, there are big challenges ahead. People are living longer. In 2020, we are going to support our parents and our grandparents several years more than today. Technology creates new kinds of terrorism and cyber-crime. More globalization also means more interaction between different?and sometimes opposed?cultures and values. We will need much more international experience and understanding to be successful in 2020.
But as the young Germans tell you here, it doesn?t matter what the experts say. It?s up to us to choose the direction we go. As long as we don?t fall asleep like ol? Rip Van Winkle, the world will be what WE make of it. Seize the moment.