So, what's it like in the year 2012 in the...
2012 in 50's-world, everyone in the US wears hats. Men wear suits, women wear dresses or cute pantsuits. T-shirts and jeans or sweats are something nobody older than a teenager would be caught wearing. There are a lot of uniforms. Everything is very clean and often metallic or gleaming.
The Cold War is of course going on, and China, the Soviet Union, indeed everything from East Germany to Vietnam is the Red World, a unified entity which includes some parts of Africa, including the Red Congo. (Cuba, on the other side, is Capitalist and more-or-less democratic, if corrupt). Everyone in the Red World dresses the same, drives the same standard car, and reports for interrogation four times a year. (Except for the Inner Committee. But to get to that position on must have taken the interrogation drugs dozens of times). Although a "standardized" Socialist culture is promoted, the Chinese are still Chinese, and the increasing tendency of the Chinese tail to wag the Russian dog has been noted and is causing internal stresses.
The US and Western Europe and Canada form a union at least as close as the OTL EC, and also have closely integrated militaries. Australasia, Japan, S. Korea and some other places are a bit more loosely tied to the imperial center in Washington. There is no such thing as an "inner city", social engineering and massive infrastructure investment means the African-American population has decent housing and jobs (although often in segregated districts), and indeed blacks are accepted in the highest ranks of society as long as they dress and act exactly like white people, of course! Gay people remain invisible, and for felony crimes truth drugs and brain scanners come out just as quickly as in the Red World. Society is rather militarized: there has already been one minor nuclear "skirmish" which required some resettlement of the Korean peninsula and the rebuilding of a couple WestBlock and Red World cities outside the area of the clash.
The tunnels go down miles and miles, and require atomic power to cool them down to livability. The possibility of nuclear winter is known, and massive hydroponic farms are being built beneath the Earth, while plans are drawn up for reprocessing the nations' forests into edible paste if other food sources are found to be inadequate. Many people already live underground, some quite deep underground.
People are also exploring space: nuclear-propelled spacecraft, Orion and other types, are criss-crossing the solar system, and there are so many charged particles in the earth's magnetic fields that communications satellites are huge and use vacuum tubes to compensate. (Vacuum tubes are used rather widely, indeed, due to their usefulness in the case of EM pulse disabling more advanced electronics.) Due to security concerns there is not much of an internet, but home computers are very powerful. Most energy comes from nuclear power, and fast-breeder reactors are plentiful. The common cold has been cured, but the bald still need to resort to implants.
There are several government news and information channels on cable, which carry all the news which is good for you. Public television channels tend to be cleaner than OTL: blue laws remain strong. The Pill was invented rather later than OTL, and feminism was slower in taking off, and it remained about jobs and legal rights and discrimination, and never got into sexual politics to any great extent: society remains more repressed, although at least TV doesn't show couples sleeping in widely spaced seperate beds. Rock and Roll still flourishes, but is rather different than anything in our world: for one thing, there are far fewer dirty words, and Gangsta Rap is unheard of, as is the hippie. (There was and remains a counterculture of sorts, but it sees nothing wrong with bathing and is generally not into granola or aromatic candles). Big Band music never became extinct, and is widely audible on the 3-V or radio.
India is poor, pacifist and neutral, while Japan's economic takeoff was less successful than OTL and it is relatively poorer and less developed, and more Americanized culturally. Latin America is firmly under the US thumb economically and politically, and is wealthier than in our world, if more junta-prone. The British Empire is not entirely departed from the earth, and still more-or-less controls some large parts of Africa, as does France. (South Africa, alas, had a messy Race War). The Middle East is generally republican and Leftist, and Israelis live deeper underground than any other nation.
In 2012, the US is a chaotic sort of place, society divided into multiple feuding sub-cultures, hard rockers, hippies, techno-geeks, squares and Jesus-botherers, techno-geeks and the mighty Nation of Islam (1/3 of black America), Afroculturalists and conservative Christian blacks, anarchists and the Men in Black. Hair is worn long (or quite short, for squares, militarists, and the Nation), clothing styles are wildly colorful (the "norm" has moved to the extent where an orange or purple suit is conservative) and architecture is often wildly outré. Things swung in the direction of the People with the fall of the Nixon dictatorship, but the pendulum has swung towards the right, and the Communes no longer control New York or Los Angeles, while self-governing areas such as San Francisco, the East Side Cooperative, or the many rural Micro-states are under increased pressure by a government dominated by an uneasy alliance between Squares, Conservatives, Militarists, God-Botherers, and Techno-Geeks. Women's Lib has made major gains, although sexism remains pretty much as strong as OTL (there is also more sex: AIDS never made it out of a small part of W. Africa).
Abroad, Red-Green MittelEuropa charts an independent course, no longer forced into alliance with the US for fear of the Soviets (People Power having brought the collapse of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe at last), while Red France has gone Anarchist. Thanks to the flood of French refugees since the Rising, decadent and colorful Britain currently holds the role of high-fashion leader as well as a leader in music, drama and sophisticated recreational pharmaceuticals.
The African Union nowadays has expanded to incorporate roughly half the population of sub-Saharan Africa, most recently swallowing South Africa. It is a rising power, corrupt and turbulent but also energetic and economically fast-growing, and is seen by some as a possible superpower of the 21st century. Communal Red China, with its sun-powered, self-contained industrial economy and network of Asian and African clients, is also a major influence, and is currently colonizing Earth orbit with cheap inflatable space habitats powered by sunlight and made livable with genetically engineered plants, making a bit of a mockery of the handful of huge, clunky US and Soviet space bases. The Occupied Zone of SE Asia, essentially a part of the US overseas, walled off from the rest of Asia, remains a hot potato the US is unable to get rid of, even President Jerry Brown being unable to find a formula for departure that would not put too many lives at risk: many suggest making it part of the US proper, but the Squares and other conservatives don't want 20 million new Cambodian and Vietnamese US citizens, even if they do tend to vote for the three right-wing parties.
Technology is advanced, especially in the field of biotech, which has allowed many to leave the cities and live off the land with the aid of self-growing habitats and weed-tough food plants (and Weed). Some Hippies don't pick flowers to put in their hair, they just grow them there. A sort of internet transmitted through radio frequencies is free, anarchic and trans-national.
Japan is economically prosperous and a major fashion trend-setter, and makes good non-animated movies. Mystical India is a strange place, where with the aid of a few drugs some very odd things may be seen, and sends out missionary gurus to all parts of the world. The Soviet Union survives, having withdrawn from Eastern Europe and turned into a Red-Brown nationalist oligarchy, and some fear that the conservative forces in the US and the Soviet Union may be thinking along the lines of an alliance against the various more progressive forces that continue to bubble and ferment world-wide
The world is troubled by violent revolutionary governments and Marxist extremists in the poorer parts of the globe, environmental problems, the Israeli conquest of much of the Middle East, and too many people frying their heads with drugs: on the other hand, the music is still good, both Mars and the sea-bottom are being colonized, and Flower Power is surprisingly well-disciplined.
2012: the clothes. My God, the clothes. That being said, once you have restrained the impulse to claw your eyes out, you may notice the bad air, unless you are lucky enough to be in one of those cities with an environment dome built over it. Things are chaotic, dirty, and grungy where they're not Day-Glo colored. Oil peak was passed a way back in this more crowded and industrialized world, lots of coal is being burned, the environment is a deep mess, and pollution is the norm: there are now "fashionable" gas masks. Solar, windfarm, and bio-fuels are all used, although for some odd reason not much is being done with nuclear power. Apparently there have been some really nasty nuclear-power disasters. Cars are all electric, and computerized.
As gas prices soar, the population moves back from the suburbs to the cities, which are growing rapidly. The government, dominated by Congress, Senate and bureaucracy rather than an increasingly marginalized Presidency, is corrupt and untrustworthy, and cameras and secret spy devices are everywhere.
And, of course, much of the US government is secretly in the pay of the fabulously wealthy Saudis (there's less oil left in the ground, and it's harder to extract, but the price rises more than compensate), who have united the conservative monarchies of the Arabian peninsula into a close Sunni alliance against the Iranians. They also have a secret nuclear arsenal of their own, obtained from corrupt Chinese officials at fabulous prices
Israel has established a Palestinian state by carving it out of Lebanon. The Middle East is still a mess, and the Iranian Revolution has swallowed Iraq. The Soviet Union corrupt, technocratic, increasingly a state of sealed and domed cities as the pollution still increases - is still around, leading a powerful third-world alliance of anti-US states, and has dealt with Eastern Europe by absorbing it directly into the USSR. Most of the parts of Africa not under the rule of totalitarian Red regimes have collapsed into chaos and warlordism as famine and drought ravage the land. India too has fragmented, while a radical China has turned to drugs and mind control techniques to control its huge and growing population, which is increasingly dependent on vat-grown goo for food as the Brown Cloud over China becomes increasingly permanent. Japan has had a revolution and turned socialist.
Synthetic foods are increasingly important in other countries, and ocean algae-farming is becoming a major business. There's a cure for cancer, but fusion power is still 20 years away. A joint Soviet-US mission reaches Mars in the 90s, but worsening relations have stymied follow-up plans. There are some big ol' space stations. The first clones, unknown to the public, are approaching adulthood. Several urban centers are now covered with climate control domes.
Various new religions have arisen, gaining many adherents. Psychics and crystal power and multiple reincarnations are mainstream enough as forms of belief that army chaplains are not just Jewish and Catholic and Protestant, but Children of the Cosmos and Disciples of Ramtha as well, and the US government employs psychics. Pyramid-shaped houses were a fad in the 1990s. Like the 60s-world, there is no AIDS and more casual sex, and it's kinkier. Much more pornography than OTL, here and abroad, legal gay marriage, weird family structures out of Heinlein, militant lesbian crime gangs (in school uniforms, yet, in Japan). Marihuana is legal in the US and most industrial countries. What with teeny electronics universally available and crowded cities, privacy is becoming rare.
Population growth has remained high, and there are over a billion and a half more people than OTL. Several cities in Asia have populations over 20 million, and the Zero Population Growth Movement is loud and influential. Although plenty of CO2 is going into the atmosphere, people aren't worried about global warming recent fluctuations in the solar constant and massive sunspot formation has led many leading scientists to conclude a new ice age is coming. Putting enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere may prevent further cooling, but it will also lead to acid rain and the acidification of the oceans, potentially leading to massive die-offs of plant and animal life. A theocratic movement in the US and an anarchist one in Europe have arisen to bring an end, by whatever means necessary, the forces that are slowly killing the planet.
Mirrorshades (with built-in computer displays) are plentiful and hairdos are elaborate. The climate is hotter and stormier, and the rain pours down on the grimy, towering Cities of Tomorrow.
After overthrowing Gorbachev, the Soviets turned back to their hard-line roots politically, but also took up a weird sort of State Capitalism, with government-backed Soviet mega-corporations now competing with those rooted in Japan and the US for global market share. Although Eastern Europe was lost, the Soviets still play games of political influence and subversion in the area, and are allied with the leftier bits of fragmented China, along with India (which turned hard-left after their atomic war with Pakistan) and the United Socialist States of Central America. The Corporate-dominated US is allied to Corporate-nation Japan as the leaders of the PacRim Association, the world's most powerful political association, competing with the Soviets and their Statist allies, the EuroFed, the Arab Union, and independent-minded mega-corporations. A decade after the Second Oil War, the Soviet and US-European forces have finally agreed to neutralize West Iran and put an end to the tense nose-to-nose situation that had existed previously.
The PacRim also includes some of the bits of China, South Korea, Australia, etc. The European economic union has expanded into Latin America, expansion to the east being hampered by Soviet maneuverings. Arab North Africa has unified under a nationalist-Islam movement, which makes the Israelis nervous, especially since a pro-unity party has come to power in Jordan. Africa has descended into chaos, and much of the area is run by warlords, mercenaries and Arab-backed Islamic movements, although atomic-weapons armed South Africa remains relatively stable through extreme repression and the use of pacifying drugs on the black population.
The night sky glitters with satellites, Soviet and US and EuroFed military "Star Wars" projects, mega-corporation commercial stations, spy satellites, and stuff nobody is sure who put it up. They are frequently replaced as they malfunction or are destroyed through properly deniable accidents: military fencing and testing of the enemy, corporate warfare, possibly hackers messing with the system. Europe and Japan are more "wired" than OTL: the World Wide Web is even larger and more complicated than in our world, and includes a variety of virtual reality access modes and entire secret parallel systems run by hacker associations and megacorporations, accessible only to those In the Know. The Soviets have their own hackers, and have infiltrated much of the vast network of cyberspace. Autonomous robots are more advanced, and are used in a number of military applications.
The Republicans are more libertarian than OTL, and are less arm-in-arm with the Religious right. Violent crime is worse than in our world, and many houses are now built like fortresses, while the armed guard industry has boomed and gated communities are even bigger than OTL. Most civilians in the US now carry guns or at least tasers or gas grenades. Interpol and other police agencies battle against the Network, the powerful international alliance of Italian, Columbian, Japanese, etc. crime lords.
The major states all have bases on the Moon, although Mars has not yet been reached (too expensive, both the Supreme Soviet and US corporate heads agree). There are a lot of space stations in orbit, many of them on-the-cheap Indian and Soviet models. (Explosive decompression deaths no longer make it onto the front page of newspapers). Japan is a lot wealthier than OTL, never having undergone an economic collapse of comparable scale, and dealing with the population deficit through massive imports of foreign "temp" labor (1/10 of Japan's population nowadays is foreign born, and some have been there for 15 years or more. Very few have actually become citizens, and they are often harassed by ultra-nationalist Japanese biker gangs. The Japanese restaurant scene is much more varied than OTL.
George W. Bush? Who?
2012. The weather grows more violent, storms and hurricanes multiply as global warming begins to bite. The walls of buildings gleam and shimmer with holographic images from nanoprojector paint, and people wear clothes that changes color and texture. It is a buzzing, energetic, frantic, even extreme time, and having recovered from the 2000 Slump brought about by the global plague of computer errors, the world is whizzing along faster and faster into an integrated, global, cybernetic, networked future. US politics are lurid, a form of performance art, in which the campaigns are now essentially simultaneous with the term of office, and a constant battle goes on through the ocean of media to dazzle, confuse, needle, annoy and otherwise poke in one direction or another the pin-ball of the voter. Even the violent militia terrorism that plagues several western states is another form of entertainment, unreal and incomprehensible to most. Information overload is guaranteed, with innumerable internet, cable, satellite and other channels, sites, information sources. Information gatherers and collators take mind-altering drugs to drink in information from dozens of sources simultaneously.
Nanotechnology is the new Big Thing, and mysterious stuff bubbles in giant assembler vats which TV spots promise will soon revolutionize the world. Already there is nano-cloth, nano-paint, and a variety of odd new materials: will nano soon build our cars, make our food, clean out our arteries? Stay tuned! AI may not have arrived yet, but computers can fool a Turing test, and a number of actors and pop stars are now entirely computer-generated. Immune rejection techniques have improved to the point where a lot of people are carrying animal organs around, and some wealthy oddballs have gone further (say, fur or horns).
A Palestinian state has been created in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and receives a steady stream of financial aid AKA bribe money to keep it peaceful. The hard-liners have mostly been broken, although assassinations by Palestinians of "collaborator" Palestinians making up the ruling party continue intermittently, along with assassinations by Jewish Israelis of the Israeli officials who forcibly evacuated the more indefensible settlements on the West bank. The rail and road connection between the Gaza strip and the West Bank is nice, fast, and runs in a ditch sided by 20-foot sheer retaining walls topped by barbed wire, which the Palestinians find oddly insulting. The Second Iranian Revolution has swept a democratic government into power, which to everyone's annoyance has made it clear that they still don't like the Jews.
Capitalism has won, and grows and swells monstrous, in India, in China, in a Europe integrating out to the Urals. Japan is recovering from its long slump as a new generation of entrepreneurs and inventors recreate the Japanese technology scene, and push the envelopes of computer intelligence, virtuality, and nanotech further than anywhere else. Russia is wealthier and less repressive than OTL, and is trying to join the European Economic Community. It has also swallowed Belorussia. The Chinese have started talks on autonomy for Tibet, although they warn that those maps showing a Tibet 1/3 the size of China will have to go.
The World Environmental Council, founded in the early 2000s, is an increasingly important institution as nations get serious about arresting global warming and ecological decay. Currently massive loans are being raised through international financial institutions to help large and rapidly growing nations move to cleaner power systems and less polluting industry, while the Russians have offered to set aside a big chunk of Siberia (whose inhabitants are few and with no internet presence) as a storage site for radioactive waste for a reasonable rent, of course!
There is a dark side, though. Terrorism Islamic, fundamentalist Christian, Deep Green, Militia, Krazy Kults is on the rise, as the nihilistic and the outraged find ways to network and develop their technique, although as yet there hasn't been a show-stopper on the scale of OTL 9/11. Saddam Hussein is still in Baghdad, and has survived the 4th attempt to overthrow him since the decade began. Africa remains a mess, and large parts of it have been taken over outright by the UN and international forces under UN auspices. Neo-Maoist and Anarchist revolutionary movements have cropped up in a number of nations where the governments have not done well in handling the new Global Economy, and climate instability is leading to increased food insecurity. Biotech workers are doing funny things with germs, and AIDS seems to be getting more contagious. The Taliban have spread to Central Asia, which is increasingly wracked by religious unrest.
An international consortium of nations led by the US has signed on to a long-term Zubrin-type effort to colonize Mars, and the first experimental automated fuel-making ships have been launched, soon to land on the Red Planet. The International Space station has gone through a burst of reconstruction and expansion, and the Chinese have send a man around the Moon. Fusion power is only 20 years away.