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Dystopia 2040: A Peace Worse than War

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
February 26, 2009
McKinsey & Company


In the year 2040, there was a peace previously unknown in the world. Each and every nation was content; there were no wars. This peace was not the product of globalization or democratization or new and creative international institutions. In a curious way, one could say this peace had evolved indirectly from communications: from texting, from reality television, from 24/7 cable news, from on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand prestige newspapers, from the inevitable reactions to mounting terrorism, and, of course, from the finely cultivated language and logic of would-be and elected public servants.

Year after year, more and more people came to spell "you are" as "ur," and "to" as "2," and "piece" as "pc." And soon, few could spell at all and therefore few could actually read. Books with all those old words became relics and were consigned to "book museums," open to those few approved scholars permitted and able to peruse them.

This trend in communications and literacy took root first in the United States, but quickly circled the globe, all of which had become addicted to US culture. Of course, there could be no old-fashioned democracies in this world. To be truly democratic, a country needs citizens who can read and make informed judgments. But many years had passed since even the most interested citizens could track down real facts. Newspapers, magazines, and TV had abandoned the search for facts as unentertaining and too difficult. Anyway, who really knew what the facts were? Facts became opinions, and of course one opinion was just as right as another. It was all very difficult to sort out.

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