When the BSA was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary back in 2010, Bill Steele, at the time the director of the National Eagle Scout Association, thought it would be interesting to not only look back at the organization’s previous 100 years, but to also look forward to what the next 100 years might look like.
He reached out to John Strickland, a member of the National Space Society board of directors, author of a couple of books that take a deep dive into the future of humanity, and a contributor to the BSA’s own Space Exploration merit badge pamphlet.
Like it was nothing, Strickland wrote an incredibly fascinating essay on how Scouting could fit into the world of the future.
When I reached out to Strickland to ask him for permission to reprint his essay on this blog, he agreed – as long as I’d let him update it to include advances in technology since he wrote his original thought piece.
Below is Strickland’s updated essay, and — spoiler alert — you’ll be glad to know that he sees Scouting continuing to be as valuable to youth in the future as it is now.
Scouting in 2123, by John K. Strickland
To understand what Scouting in 2123 might be like, we first have to try to imagine 2123 itself.
This is as hard as someone from 1750 — before the Industrial Revolution — visualizing 2023. If they saw someone using a handheld communication device to talk to someone in India, they would think it was magic. They would not truly understand what the person was doing. And they would simply not believe that the person was talking to someone in India.
The two things that may have the largest impact on peoples’ lives and thus on Scouting are: (1) the so-called Technological Singularity (the great technology speedup) and with it, (2) the probable attainment of control over human aging and disease via the use of artificial intelligence. The Singularity, if it occurs as predicted, would take place between about 2030 and 2050. This will not mean the end of death, since people will still die in accidents. But the rate of accidental death will also decrease due to amazing advances in emergency treatment, which are just starting to be visible to us today. Deaths from wars could continue to rise if political tensions are not eased and the destructive power available to individual persons increases. Some people alive today will probably still be alive in 2123.
The end of aging would mean a significant reduction in the number of children in the population, especially in some countries where the current majority of the population is very young. Each child would be very precious to the parents and to society and would receive a vastly better up-bringing than that of today. The human population on the Earth will probably have been stabilized, but the population off the Earth, such as in Mars settlements and in orbiting and rotating space colonies, would be expanding. So, there will be fewer Scouts in each country, but they will be smarter, healthier and in a much wider set of locations than now. A longer lifespan may come with means of enhancing a person’s memory and mental skills. Education may become a “repeat” episode in a person’s life, much more than today.
“Trips to almost any location”
The lengths of education in a person’s life and how education is accomplished may change and improve drastically, as more is learned about how we learn. This will have a significant effect on the structure of Scouting.
By 2123, most of our energy will probably be coming from giant space solar-powered satellites, arranged in a necklace around the Earth in the same orbit used by communication satellites; and from fusion power, if practical fusion has been achieved, which looks more likely now. Intermittent wind and solar energy may still provide a significant portion of our power.
There will be expanded natural zones to protect and preserve Earth life, and in some of those zones, animals like mammoths, which are now still extinct, will be a normal part of the ecosystem, having been re-created from actual mammoth DNA extracted from frozen hair and bone. Since transportation to all parts of the world will probably continue to get cheaper and easier, Scouts will be able to take field trips to almost any location and have it be as safe as going to a local park now.
There may be vaccinations against local diseases, or medical advances may have disease protection engineered into people’s bodies from birth. This would not protect them from being attacked by a wild animal, but new means of harmlessly chasing off attacking animals will probably be available to all Scouts and Scoutmasters. They will also be able to detect where the animals are before they get close to one by accident. You could imagine Scouts going on a field trip to the Arctic to get photos of a herd of mammoths and to get an accurate count of how many mammoths live there.
“Geological field trips in a vacuum environment”
New outdoor risks will exist. Scouts in Florida will have to be wary of giant snakes, as well as alligators, while Scouts fishing in many waterways will have to look out for jumping Asian carp and other invasive species, which by this time will have expanded their ranges about as far as they can.
After the Singularity, manufacturing of individual objects may get to be very inexpensive, so there may be a great re-birth in the building of objects and creation of art by hand. This would certainly tie into the Scouting framework. Handcrafts would range from boat building and architecture to handmade electronic objects and artwork using many different materials and methods.
Progress in space transportation has been very rapid since 2015. There have been lots of images in popular culture of kids wearing space suits and hiking around on the moon and other airless places. For this to happen, the suit itself will have to be very “intelligent” in order to protect the wearer from their own mistakes, since recovering and surviving from the accidental opening of a space suit seal in a vacuum environment would be difficult or impossible. We would no more have kids wearing space suits like the current ones than driving race cars. These take highly skilled and trained adults to safely use. Once such “smart” suits using “smart” materials are available, and have been demonstrated to be safe to parents, it is conceivable that Scouting activities like geological field trips in a vacuum environment like the moon’s surface could occur.
Human settlements off the Earth will exist where there is money to be made and where creating settlements is easy, in terms of the availability of energy and materials. Scouting at such settlements will focus more on the life and activities of the settlement. If terraforming of Mars is underway by then, Scouts may be active in monitoring the changes in the atmosphere and surface. Some Scouts could well discover the first new running stream of water on the surface of Mars in many millions of years as the temperature and air pressure rises, ice melts and more water vapor enters the atmosphere. By this time, only warm clothes and an oxygen helmet might be needed for outside activities.
Scouting on Mars
Mars settlements will probably evolve from government-sponsored scientific bases, with the people living at the base being able to produce more and more of the needs of the base as time goes on, with a real economy between settlements gradually evolving. Scouts will be learning all about what the local economy is about. If microorganisms were found deep under Mars by earlier explorers, there will be continuing interest in examining them, with Scouts certainly involved in the work. Some settlements may be built inside large domes with breathable oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres. Mars has almost 40% of Earth’s gravity, so games like baseball will need to have larger stadiums or fields to accommodate the lower gravity.
For Scouts living on orbiting space colonies, life and activities will be as different a life on Earth is from life on a Mars settlement. In these inside-out worlds, which can be made in many different shapes and sizes, down will be away from the center of rotation, and up will be toward the axis of rotation. There will probably be specialized resort habitats with climates from arctic to tropical, and habitats designed to preserve species which cannot be kept safely on Earth due to poaching. Although maintenance of settlements will be heavily automated, such structures will be very complex and Scouts from an early age will be learning about how to protect the colony they live on from damage and threats, such as impacting objects. Such colonies will have low-gravity and zero-gravity areas, where other kinds of sports and artistic displays will be possible. With low enough gravity, similar to that on the moon, flying with arm power using artificial wings attached to the arms (as has been depicted in science fiction stories for decades) may be possible.
Just like young people today, kids of Scouting age will be very active communicators. They will be communicating with kids all over the world and all over the inner solar system. For discussions between worlds, email videos will probably be the most popular form, since real-time discussions cannot easily take place over distances more than about 1 million miles. All of this communication will affect what the kids are interested in and how they approach their interests.
By 2123, it is possible that interstellar probes will be advancing toward promising earthlike extra-solar planets discovered many decades earlier. If the probes reach planets that could either support life or be terraformed to support life, it is likely that before the 22nd century is over, interstellar colonization ships would be getting ready to send people to those worlds. Life on such a ship would be very similar to that on an orbiting space colony, except that communication with other individual people could be very restricted and take years to exchange messages. Wideband, laser-based communication will be possible with any existing colony, settlement or other exploration ships. Huge amounts of information will be coming in every minute about what has happened in other locations several years ago. There will be a lot to keep up with, so being a Scout with a Scout’s attitude toward life should be just as rewarding in the distant future as it is today.