It is difficult not to focus on the current worldwide crises of economy, pandemic, international politics, global abject poverty, brutal abuses of life and at the center of this swirling storm, artificial intelligence. Not to mention the Planet’s agenda, global warming and climate change.
In the future records of human history, the decades between 1980 and 2050 will be seen as the most tumultuous time in human history. Not that the impact of fire, wheels, electricity, automobiles and technology haven’t had memorable moments but they do not compare to the instantaneous, worldwide shift that the human race is witnessing today.
What is unique to this moment in history is lack of continuity; there is no perceived transition. Typically a change in a social or technical age is singular; everything else in society isn’t changing at the same time so there is an opportunity to plan and adjust. The automobile and the computer are examples in recent history that changed how society operated. But still there were department stores, highways, and general labor that needed only to adjust a little. Even the credit card didn’t change life much despite its significantly different approach to cash flow that certainly changed commerce.
An old metaphor for stepping into the unknown is the image of standing on a high cliff preparing to jump. But today, is it a cliff? Perhaps one stands at the foot of a cliff. Perhaps one suddenly will have the ground fall away. Who knows? Insight into tomorrow is limited.
Another metaphor to see into the future would be looking at one of those posts that tell which direction important landmarks are and how far away they are. Trouble is no one recognizes any of the destinations; the sign is useless and a bit scary. How does the world get from here to there?
The sense that the ground is falling away isn’t too far off the mark. Those department stores of the twentieth century are disappearing faster and faster and Covid-19 has expedited the process; fast food restaurants would rather a customer punch a few buttons for lunch rather than have a short conversation with another human who actually relates to what one says; smartphones have reduced human conversations, thereby eliminating the existential experience normally provided, replacing it with texting; for many income, expense, debt and investment are not hands-on sensations.
But it is more than daily habits. There are eight significantly populated islands that have only a decade or two before they vanish beneath the oceans. Cities on seafronts that represent one fourth of the world’s commerce will have to pick up their skirts and relocate or drastically reduce urban society.
Imagine that every nation in the world is a sailing vessel. Politics represents the power supply. All the vessels are old and worn; the power supply stops and starts and coughs, never providing the power surge required to master the wind and waves. Fuel consumption dedicated to progress leaks profusely. In this era of change with its hurricanes, tsunamis and wind storms, society has no choice but to feverishly rebuild or replace inadequate vessels. Rebuilding is delayed by bewildered citizens causing populism, authoritarianism, oligarchy and war; they cause confusion and delay. Who has a plan? No one, really. Some nations are lucky to be on an economic upswing for the moment but no nation can begin to describe their final destination or set a course to arrive or design the best sailing vessel to get there.
What is emerging very slowly, much slower than Earth’s seasons, is sustenance. Sustenance is like packing an extra sandwich in case things change. Sustenance means don’t be frivolous with what’s at hand – one may need it later. Sustenance means be careful not to cut one’s self in case one is a hemophiliac. When the reader thinks about it, the covid-19 drill is an exercise in sustenance – sort of like an internship for the future.
For legislators, sustenance is a new idea. In recent decades legislators have learned to be experts in consumption and hoarding which is different than sustenance. Today, especially in more liberal quarters, legislation talks about sustaining people’s lives and shoring up public support systems, sort of like putting plywood over windows before a hurricane. In the private sector, covid-19 has given the electorate a chance to practice charity and sustaining some semblance of continuity – well, some of them anyway.
So, it is a time when everyone must make absolutely sure to hire the best boat builders that can be had. Sailing into the future requires modern sailing techniques and flexible, buoyant craft. Vote with craftsmen in mind, not fixer uppers.