In 2063, our children will live in a world that is different from the one we live in. There will be around nine billion people. That’s two billion more than there are today. Dire predictions about living in a world where food is so scarce that starvation is the norm for most people all over the world haven’t come true. In fact, according to Tristram Stuart’s TED talk, there is today enough food to feed everyone on planet earth. I don’t think we’re facing a global famine. I think that we’ll see people get better and better at growing and distributing food.
In the world of 2063, the mobility of populations and democratization of information will enable more and more people to live where they like. Today, I can talk to anyone with a computer and high speed internet connection for free, anywhere in the world. In 1995, I was in London, England for a class trip. I wanted to talk to my girlfriend and bought a British Telecom card for five pounds to do so. Unfortunately, her father was the only one home, so the five minutes I had were wasted by him telling me where she was. Today, a college student in the same position, could open his laptop, fire up Skype and if his girlfriend wasn’t home, he wouldn’t have wasted one cent on the procedure. In this world, time zones are more of a problem than cost.
I had a prospective client in Australia. We had to coordinate times, but it’s quite possible. Right now it’s 8:14 a.m. Thursday there and 4:14 p.m. on Wednesday here. Once you account for these problems, it’s easy to communicate.
Imagine a world where language isn’t a problem either. The Star Trek Universal Translator which can sample any new language and translate on the fly is still a ways off, but we have a finite number of languages on Earth and can tune our technology based on known factors. If I know I’ll be talking to someone in Europe, there’s only a few languages someone is likely to be speaking there. If I know I’m talking to someone in Germany, that number goes down. If I know they’re speaking German, it’s easy enough that some computer systems can do a decent job of translating now. If you start with the idea that the translation won’t be perfect, you can communicate fairly well.
This is actually an improvement over speaking to someone who is speaking your language as a second tongue. When I was in high school, a friend of mine had a German exchange student. He was telling us jokes that we didn’t quite get. The misunderstanding centered around the word “sharp.” Apparently the word for spicy in German is also the same as the word for sharp as in “in focus.” In German it was funny that someone might misunderstand and use pepper on their television to make the picture more sharp, but in English, the subtle meaning-shift between those two words meant that it didn’t make any sense why someone would think pepper would make a television picture sharp.
Even in the same language, but different dialects, word meanings can be problematic. Be careful if you ask for a rare cut of meat in Britain by referring to the amount of blood it has; you might be misunderstood. Likewise, an old fashioned but polite term for your bottom in the U.S. is a vulgar term for female anatomy in South Africa and Great Britain (I won’t tell you what it is).
As translation technologies improve, some of these problems with language will be overcome.
These two facts alone set up an interesting parallel to the first century world. Because populations were sent off to foreign lands in exile, the first century had Jewish outposts in cities all over the Roman world. I think that this new mobility and equality will set up a similar situation where there will be Christian populations in places that hasn’t had them in the past.
Maybe a group of executives will move to India to oversee production of something there. Maybe twenty-five programmers will move to China to work with people there. No matter what the reason, each of these populations might present an opportunity for the Church to establish a foothold in a place where only small churches existed previously. These larger, but still minority congregations, might be able to make inroads where smaller groups hadn’t been able to in the past.
With the advent of translation technologies, even temporarily relocated people can affect change by interacting in ways they couldn’t before. If you’re in Indonesia for six months, you can temporarily engage the culture instead of just treating that time like a vacation where you don’t meet new people.
There’s another technology that I see coming which could really affect world-wide communication. What if there was an android in each location you wanted to go. Instead of going to Japan, you go to a room where you look as if looking through a window at the environment as seen through the android’s eyes. What if you could interact as if you were there? A trip across the world takes seconds, not hours or days because you’re not sending your body, but just your attention.
On a personal note, this would be a great technology for beginning authors and speakers. I could spend my days speaking all over the world and because my cost wouldn’t be travel, but time, I could charge much less to do it.
This also means that missionaries could come to places that were hostile to the Gospel at no personal risk. They could speak and interact with people in any place at any time. Likewise, people from hostile areas could virtually come to less hostile areas and hear things they’d never heard before.
Imagine if people attended your church not only online, but almost in person. They can wander around, look where they like, participate, etc. It’s not exactly like being there, but it’s much closer than you can do now.
In this world, you can take an hour and visit the Eiffel Tower over your lunch break, having inspected a factory in Mexico in the morning before you go to Japan to speak to a group about business practices and go to your favorite church across the country.
Distances, time, and language aren’t the limitations they once were. Soon they’ll be no limitation at all. The Church needs to prepare for this world. Our children will certainly live in a multi-cultural world where the people they interact with didn’t move away from their homes decades ago, but are just on a walk around the global village. Now, we go out to eat and sample cuisine from around the world. Soon people will go “out” and sample cultures and entertainment from around the world in real time. In that world, the Church is just another thing to do with your time. We can’t depend on people going to the church because it’s the only choice. Then, it will be one of a million choices.