The Curse of the Long Boom


It seems like this list surfaces on social media every year or so. People stumble across the “Long Boom” story, notice the “scenario spoilers” sidebar, and break out in fits of nervous laughter. The list is just unbelievably cursed. 

Here’s a goofy little thought experiment: Imagine you are one of the story’s original coauthors (futurists Peter Leyden and Peter Schwartz). In 1997, you wrote an iconic WIRED magazine cover story predicting that the future was going to be remarkably bright and prosperous for everyone, everywhere. You included a sidebar with 10 reasons why it might not work out so well. And then basically all of those reasons (including, y’know, “Russia devolves into a kleptocracy,” and “an uncontrollable plague”) actually happened.

Would you:

(A) Make a joke of it. “Haha, sorry for the curse, everyone. My next prediction can only be spoiled by free ice cream and zero-point energy for all.”

(B) Write a critical retrospective discussing not just the spoiler sidebar, but everything else that was missing from the rose-colored-glasses scenario.

(C) Reinvent yourself as an Indiana Jones-style swashbuckling world traveler, seeking to unearth whatever Old Gods you apparently offended in 1997.

or (D) Write a follow-up essay, describe it as “the long boom squared,” and include another list of 10 spoilers that might ruin the future?!?

Because folks, I have bad news to report: Peter Leyden chose option D.

This time, he’s predicting that 2025-2050 will be a period of unparalleled progress and abundance—unless we run into spoilers like “liberal democracies fail,” “quasi civil war,” “nuclear bomb explodes,” “desperate oil states,” and “China hot war.”

So … yeah …

3. The Long Boom, Taken Seriously

All joking and bad omens aside, it’s worth grappling with the actual argument presented in the original “Long Boom” story. I assign this piece every semester to my History of the Digital Future class as a guiding example of the brash technological optimism that was part of Silicon Valley’s ideological core back then (and arguably still is today). The “scenario spoilers” sidebar barely comes up in the article itself. The authors do not dwell on these potential problems, evaluate their likelihood, or discuss what steps we ought to take in order to avoid them. The spoilers are presented in passing, as one might say “of course it might rain, and then we’ll have to move indoors” in an 11,000-word description of an upcoming picnic.

The piece argues that we (circa 1997) have reached an inflection point in world history. The Cold War is finally over, and the neoliberal economic order is ascendent. The authors insist that breakthroughs in science and technology are about to cure cancer and end poverty and world hunger. A new economics of abundance will improve life everywhere, engendering goodwill amidst our suddenly truly global civilization. (They also figure we’ll land on Mars by 2020, NBD.)


Author: showrunner