When I worked in advertising, predicting the future was part of my job. It was fun, because you got to go wild and look really clever. You adopted this lofty kind of language that sounded smarter and cooler than you did normally.
And by the time every single one of your predictions had been proved completely wrong, everyone had forgotten what you’d said anyway — it was years ago.
Predicting the future is almost impossible to do correctly because we look for the wrong things. We focus on what will change rather than what will remain the same. And while we try to forecast how technology, population growth, fashion or social trends will develop, we rarely stop to think about how they will interact with human nature.
My favourite future trends forecast is in a report on the beer market from 1986, which I found while researching my first book back around the turn of the millennium (when everyone was asking where the hell their silver jump suits and hover cars were).
This report said that computers were going to become increasingly common, and that by the mid-90s, in many industries, there would be a personal computer on every desk. Correct!
It pointed out that these personal computers would dramatically reduce the amount of time it took to do basic work tasks. Right again!
Following these trends to their conclusion, the report forecast that if work took less time to do, a three or four-day weekend would be the norm by the late ’90s.
As I read this — in the late ’90s — I was working mostly on computers, in a white-collar profession, just like the report had predicted. And my typical working week was between 60 and 80 hours. A one or even no-day weekend was the norm.
With tasks dramatically speeded up, we were all simply expected to do far more work. The arrival of mobile phones and laptops meant that we could catch up on work
messages in the back of a cab between meetings, or write that report on a train journey to a meeting further away.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t answered their mobile by the pool in sunny climes to hear a work colleague saying, “Oh, hi, sorry to bother you on holiday…” when they’re obviously not.
Technology that had the potential to liberate us from work has instead enslaved us, because that’s what we’re like. Bosses have always got as much out of their workers as they are legally allowed, and workers have always been fiercely competitive with each other.
That’s why, when you attempt to predict the future, you’re better focusing on what will remain the same rather than what will change.
With that in mind, predicting the future of the pub is easy. The pub is an idea that has been around for a thousand years, used by people in the same way over that time. When I researched my last book, Shakespeare’s Local, I found Chaucer using the pub in the same way a TV scriptwriter uses the Rovers Return or Queen Vic today.
I found a 17th century Earl propping up the bar, writing daft poems about hangovers and making fart jokes.
It’s in our nature that we want a place where we can go to relax and forget about the stresses of ‘labour-saving devices’ that make us ever busier. We always have, and always will, seek somewhere we can have a laugh, an adult playground in which we can take informal time out.
We’ve done this in pubs for a thousand years. It’s laughable to suggest that we might stop doing so in the next 10, or 20, or 100.
So yeah, craft beer will become increasingly common. The pub visit will become a rarer treat for many of us. Its role as a place between work and home will continue to evolve as punters increasingly bring elements of both into the bar, demanding plug points and free Wi-Fi.
Food will become more important, as will a proper range of soft drinks and low-alcohol beers. In terms of design and form, pubs will continue to evolve to reflect the
communities around them.
But these are all cosmetic changes. The core essence of the pub, the very idea of it and how it works, will go on, as it always has. When I’m aged 90, full of nanobots and implants to keep me going artificially, having the Publican’s Morning Advertiser delivered directly to scanners on the inside of my eyelids, I’ll still be at the bar in my silver jumpsuit, hoverboard under one arm, arguing about whether hops from the new colonies on Mars work better in cask or keg ales.