The future will be a different time and place, there’s no doubt, but tomorrow always begins today. Some geologists say we are now entering a new epoch, the anthropocene, a time in the earth’s history marked primarily by large-scale human impacts. These impacts, of course, are directly related to global population growth.
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We’re already past 7 billion and headed rapidly toward 9 billion. With all these people, it’s obvious there will be even more pressure on environments, societies, economies, and individuals. As resources become scarce, there will be more competition for those resources, and often conflict. One of the many unfortunate outcomes of conflict (and more generally the breakdown of traditional social and economic systems) is the displacement of populations from traditional homes, functional infrastructures and established communities.
The UNHCR estimated that at the end of 2012, there were over 28.8 million displaced persons in the world, and the numbers are on an upward trend. It’s not difficult to imagine, as some sci-fi writers have, a future where distinct and permanently nomadic refugee communities are a common feature of the global human geography. I think of Bruce Sterling’s novels, as one example, where resourceful nomadic tribes (like the “proles” in Distraction) appear in various forms, sometimes in the middle of the action, sometimes at the periphery.
The possible future reality and significance of a permanently nomadic population is demonstrated also by the fact that people are working on solutions and tools for present and future nomads. Often, the solutions aim to reduce displacement, but increasingly, solutions are being developed to help make nomadism work.
A particularly beautiful example is this structural fabric tent by architect and designer Abeer Seikaly. As Seiklay notes, humanity has a long history of alternating between settlement and movement, and with Seikaly’s background in Jordan and the Middle East, she’s certainly familiar with bedouin cultures who even today cling to a desert pastoral nomadism.
Although I don’t think they’re commercially available, these tents are stunning, and perfect for the modern long-term nomad — the concept includes sophisticated lightweight materials, a water management system, and a solar cell for power. It’s right out of a cyberpunk novel. Plus, these things fold up for quick and easy moving-on.
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There are more photos, details and a powerful design story on Seikaly’s site here, so check it out. It’s definitely worth reflecting on the possibility of a nomadic future and the potential of design and basic technologies to inform it.