Home for the Holidays in 2035

The idyllic scene of traditional Christmas dinner has been changed — some say desecrated — by distracting digital devices over the past decade. 
It can be hard to make new memories when the youngest family members are looking down and live-sharing their boredom; but when That Uncle has too much eggnog and starts talking about Donald Trump, it’s the parents who are glad they brought their phones.

So what about when those phones are worn as smart glasses — and That Uncle’s pair warns everyone when he’s had too much to drink?

That’s the kind of Christmas envisioned by Dr. Isabel Pedersen, Director of Decimal Lab and Canada Research Chair of Digital Life, Media, and Culture.

“Picture everything we are doing now, but in an evolved state,” she says.

Dr. Pedersen is a futurist, meaning she studies today’s emerging personal technologies and their potential social effects on our everyday lives in the coming decades. A foremost expert in her field, she comes as close to predicting the future of technology as anybody can — and even then, it’s hard work.

There is however one thing of which she seems very certain: within the next 20 years, eliminating digital distractions from Christmas dinner will be exhausting, if not impossible .

“There will be screens on our windows, mirrors, and walls,” she says. “As well as the ability for our technology to communicate with those surfaces and their embedded tech.”

This is called the “Internet of Things,” and early versions like the Nest Thermostat are already available. As the concept evolves, connectivity between consumer digital devices and everyday items like clothes and household appliances will bring a new level of technological integration. Picture fridges that tell you what’s in them, garments that monitor mood and health, and pillows that track your sleep patterns, all connected and accessible from anywhere in the house — or even the world.

“So instead of getting up to baste the turkey or looking up the cooking time, you would just use your coffee table to check the status of your smart oven,” explains Dr. Pedersen. She says that this kind of technology could actually enable social interaction instead of impeding it.

There is also the potential for this integration to blur the line between work and vacation days.

“Leisure time is already being completely transformed … and that concerns me” says Dr. Pedersen. The ability to constantly connect with one’s workplace in 2015 has some people effectively working from home through the holidays — imagining that concept in its 2035 “evolved state” is indeed anxiety-inducing.

All of this enhanced connection could also transform the way we share our holidays with each other.

“Millennials are already shown to value their friends over family more than previous generations,” says Dr. Pedersen. “As we’re able to develop connections with a wider range of people, it could diminish the affinity we have with our immediate family.”

This doesn’t mean the end of Christmas. It just means mean that celebrating through social media, like this year’s popular #ThanksgivingClapBack, is only going to become the norm and evolve as we develop faster, more integrated sharing.

The only device that could end Christmas dinner as we know it is Hologram technology, which could one day allow us to send holographic projections in place of ourselves. Though fascinating, today’s iterations are several hurdles away from their full potential, so Dr. Pedersen warns that 2035 would be a generous timeline.

She says that beyond 2035, any predictions are wild speculation. One need only witness the hover-board from Back To The Future II to understand what she means.

However, Dr. Pedersen is confident that by far the biggest difference at Christmas dinner 2035 will be the people there. Today’s younger generations will be so closely entwined with tech that it won’t be an argument of whether it’s allowed at the table — because it may actually be the table.

“This discomfort with technology, a lot of it comes from just not being familiar with it,” she explains, pointing out that the home television and the desktop computer elicited similar fears in previous decades.

“There was even a time when people complained about kids reading books too much,” she says. “Now it’s something we’re begging them to do.”

If you’re disappointed that Dr. Pedersen can’t paint you a Rockwell-esque scene of Christmas 2035, don’t be. She says not to blame any of these dangers on the tech itself — they are reliant on what she calls “corporate drivers of constant progress,” who would rather see tech boost productivity than family connection.

“Today’s children won’t know a world without screens,” she says. “It’s not happening. Now it’s about changing our technology so that it enables us, not taking away our technology.”

Dr. Isabel Pedersen is a Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media, and Culture. She is the director of Decimal Lab at the University of Ontario, where she also holds a position as an Associate Professor of Communication Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @isabel_pedersen.

By Liam Scott

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