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From vaping to drones, 8 tech trends we may look back on and cringe

You only need to look at the reaction a show like Friends gets from certain young people in 2018 to realize that attitudes shift over time. What was acceptable decades ago can seem decidedly less so when viewed through modern eyes. This doesn’t just apply to social attitudes, though. From baby formula to smoking on airplanes to insulating our homes with asbestos, there’s a whole lot of past trends which makes us shake our heads with disdain and say, “go home [insert decade], you’re drunk.”

What are the technologies today with the potential to trigger regret 30 years from now? Here are eight:

Vaping

Akn Can _enol/Getty Images

Let’s kick things off on a controversial note: is vaping going to turn out to be more dangerous than we currently think? While some research has reported that they are considerably safer than tobacco cigarettes, the fact remains that e-cigarettes are still new enough that we don’t conclusively know how they’ll affect our health in the long term.

One alarming study from researchers at the University of Connecticut claims that vaping using a device filled with nicotine-based liquid may cause just as much DNA damage as smoking regular cigarettes. Another study, led by researchers the University of Rochester Medical Center, suggests that some of the chemicals and liquids used to add flavoring may be a health risk.

Let’s hope this doesn’t turn out to be one of those health hazards we look back on with bemusement from the future, like those old 1949 ads about how doctors smoke Camels more than any other brand of cigarette!

Overuse of screens

Luis Enrique Carmona Perlaza/Getty Images

This is one of those areas where there simply haven’t yet been enough longitudinal studies to figure out the effects. Here in 2018, a growing number of people are worried about smartphone addiction, particularly among younger people.

Concerns include the fact that digital media use is decreasing the time we spend socializing with people face-to-face; that it interferes with sleep; and that the pervasiveness of social media is correlated with rising rates of depression.

Simple technophobia on the part of the older generation or something far more serious? We’d sure like to know.

Smart speakers

Amazon Echo
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Whether it’s the intelligent Google Home, the cute Amazon Echo Spot or the great-sounding Apple HomePod, we’re suckers for a good smart speaker. But will we turn out to have been the worst kind of suckers?

The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook highlighted just how many people have no idea about the way that certain tech giants harvest and monetize user data. As smart speakers continue to get smarter (a rumored Facebook speaker is alleged to include facial recognition tech), there’s a chance we’ll one day regret our willingness to bring “always listening” (and, potentially, “always watching”) devices into our homes.

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government forced people to install these devices. In 2018, we willingly buy them for ourselves!

Unrepairable devices

Bloomberg Creative Photos/Getty Images

There’s a scene in the excellent AMC series Mad Men in which the Draper family end a countryside picnic by simply shaking out their trash on the ground. It’s both shocking and archly funny because it shows absolutely no concern for the environment, and reminds us of how much our attitudes have changed in just a short space of time.

No doubt one day we’ll look back on e-waste in much the same way. Each year, up to 50 million metric tons of electronic waste are disposed of. Companies like Apple push their environmental credentials, but have no problem also making devices which can’t be easily repaired, based on a business model that pushes users to constantly upgrade their hardware.

Heck, they’re even willing to shell out money to fight “right to repair” bills. We can’t see that decision finding companies like this on the right side of history.

Cryptocurrencies

Image used with permission by copyright holder

No, bitcoin enthusiasts: we’re not suggesting that a decentralized peer-to-peer payment solution is a bad thing. While there’s a definite argument to be made about the short term risks of a cryptocurrency bubble, we absolutely think the technology will pay off (figuratively and literally) in the long term.

The part we totally worry the people of 2048 will frown upon, though? The fact that cryptocurrency operations consume bonkers amounts of electricity. According to one study, bitcoin alone is on pace to use upwards of 42TWh of electricity this year: more than countries like New Zealand and Hungary.

In terms of CO2 emissions, that’s the equivalent of 20 megatons – or approximately 1 million transatlantic flights. Not good news!

Artificial intelligence

S3studio/Getty Images

A.I., or so certain people are fond of saying, could be either our best or worst invention. There are numerous possible threats artificial intelligence may pose in the coming decades. These range from mass unemployment to the existential threat of superintelligence.

Even though we’re still nowhere near replicating true general intelligence inside a machine, creating robust regulatory and ethical frameworks for these areas is something we totally need to be considering. Our future selves will certainly thank us for it!

Destroying our high streets

Image used with permission by copyright holder

This one’s difficult. On the one hand, a high street that’s full of thriving local stores, instead of empty shop-fronts and payday loan sharks, is good for community spirit and making a neighborhood enjoyable to live in. On the other hand, who can resist a bargain offered by e-commerce companies like the almighty Amazon?

Add in drone delivery, subscription boxes, and the plethora of streaming services out there and it’s easy to fear what our high streets might look like 30 years from now. If we want the neighborhood of the future not to look like some post-apocalyptic wasteland you may want to act now!

Drones and flying cars

Ehang

They’re the dream of science fiction writers everywhere, but what’s the future going to look like if drones and flying cars (no pun intended) take off as expected?

While it’s hard not to get excited about the possibility of flying to work like a character in The Jetsons, it seems that there’s a whole lot which can go wrong in this domain as well. Dealing with bad pre-coffee drivers on the commute to work is bad enough when you’re on the ground; let alone hundreds of feet in the air.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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