“Never expect someone to understand change when their livelihood depends on not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair
We are on the threshold of the greatest opportunity of our lifetimes to create a more trusting culture for ourselves and our future generations.
Because money is based on scarcity but also integral to our lives, many take the monetary system for granted, including becoming money making machines as a way to survive.
The first Industrial Revolution had transformed labor productivity while the second had centrally mobilized unprecedented amounts of capital to build cities. Both were focused on building wealth with physical assets like (factory) buildings, transportation infrastructure and huge machineries and hailingsuper chickens as our heroic models in a perennial “winner takes all” competition.
Collectively, the last two Industrial Revolutions had nurtured a toxic “Age of Me” culture where “a person with money hires a person without for the lowest possible wage to make as much profit as possible for the one with money.”
Any wonder trust is broken?
The 2015 Oxfam report sums it best: “Instead of an economy that works for the prosperity of all, for future generations, and for the planet, we have instead created an economy for the one percent.”
In the “Age of Me” — investments, not labor, have been rewarded.
“One of the key trends underlying this huge concentration of wealth and incomes is the increasing return to capital versus labor,” the report says. “In almost all rich countries and in most developing countries, the share of national income going to workers has been falling … workers are capturing less and less of the gains from growth. In contrast, the owners of capital have seen their capital consistently grow (through interest payments, dividends, or retained profits) faster than the rate the economy has been growing. Tax avoidance by the owners of capital, and governments reducing taxes on capital gains have further added to these returns.”
Since only super chickens are valued, the “Age of Me” culture totally disregards the rest of us.
We have also become used to treating data/information we provide as “free.” As long as our economy isn’t information-centric and sectors like finance, transportation, manufacturing, energy, retail and healthcare are not particularly automated and integrated, this illusion of “free” can be maintained.
However, we’re now transitioning to the Knowledge era.
“Knowledge itself … turns out to be not only the source of the highest-quality power, but also the most important ingredient of force and wealth. Put differently, knowledge has gone from being an adjunct of money power and muscle power, to being their very essence. It is, in fact, the ultimate amplifier. This is the key to the powershift that lies ahead, and it explains why the battle for control of knowledge and the means of communication is heating up all over the world.” Alvin Toffler
To explain the “winner takes all” mentality which super reinforces the toxic “Age of Me” culture, let’s look at Uber.
With a war chest of about US$12 billion, Uber has been able to flood markets globally. The more Ubers there are, the more we are likely to use them. The faster they arrive to pick us up, the more we will forget about other modes of transportation. And the more we use them, the more data we give to Uber to tweak its algorithms to optimize fleet usage and traffic routes.
Thanks to venture capital, such tech platforms prepare for exponential global growth by spending huge amounts to clinch top market share today for future dominance. They lure us with convenience and free services. In return, we surrender our data and privacy. Their algorithms track us online and enable them to target us with ads and/or sell our data to third parties. They also generate revenue by selling advertising space.
As users and content providers, we are paid virtually nothing for our time or efforts. Since wealth is concentrated in the hands of the major platform companies, the economy as a whole suffers.
And that’s just the beginning.
As the music and video industries have shown, as more things are automated (e.g. self-driving cars, 3D printing and the internet of Things (ioT) connecting dumb objects), platforms incur zero marginal costs as more people use them. The more we use them, the more data we provide and the more these platform companies control where we turn our attention. Taking our data, they use it to amass wealth and power for themselves. Ultimately, a few will control all this big data and we will have virtual feudalism — an economy dominated by wealth at the top — and eventually, no wealth for anyone.
At some point, won’t this lead to a complete breakdown of our incumbent system?
Already, in just about every industry, digital technologies continue to enable such companies to pursue monopolies like never before.
So, are super chickens really forging a new economy? Or is it a rerun of the oldest sort of business: middlemen insinuating themselves between buyers and sellers? What today’s technology does is make it easier to amass increasingly desperate job seekers eager to take whatever work they can get as it is now getting much harder for most people to make a living.
Jeffrey Pfeffer writing for Fortune: “What’s missing from the current labor market is a sense of humanity — as contrasted with lots of emphasis on efficiency, costs, and productivity.”
“What we see today is just a continuation of a trend to treat people as human resources, as assets to be acquired and discarded according to the return for doing so.”
“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”R. Buckminster Fuller
According to the New Scientist in 2011, a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the world. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.
As our existence becomes even more dependent on a few monopolies, won’t they keep shifting more risks and more costs onto us, their “unpaid employees”? If you’re alarmed by how they use our personal information now, very soon — they can track us 24/7 online and off. Artificial intelligence (AI), ioT, renewal energies and robotics are all tools but based on business as usual, wouldn’t life as we know it be a very unhappy one for most of us?
The “Age of Me” trend as companies incorporate automation, robotics and artificial intelligence
Professionals have not been left out. What Uber did to disrupt the taxi industry, HourlyNerd is now doing to traditional management consulting firms like McKinsey & Co. and Boston Consulting Group.
If every single industry does this, won’t the future of work be one where human beings really go the way of horses? Is that why secret trade agreements like TPP, TTIP and TiSa lurk in the background?
Disrupting the “Age of Me” culture
Because the “Age of Me” culture values what was produced and the “Age of We” values the application of knowledge, the transition will be from a culture of hierarchical bureaucracy internally focused on production outputs to one of abundance focused on people and our wellbeing.
Yes, the possibility for a new Industrial Revolution has dawned — centered on networking everything including the world’s most valuable resources: nature and our inner beings. We are at the beginning of being connected to everyone and everything.
Will it spell the end of the “Age of Me” and the beginning of the “Age of We”? Or will it be more of the same but worse? Because the two cultures are as different as night and day, we need to unlearn to relearn.
“Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw
There is no quick fix but there are all sorts of ways of enabling people to do that by doing. To self discover our value as a human being and to collectively understand complex changes at a systemic level so we may create the “Age of We” culture of abundance together. Nonetheless:
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” Leo Tolstoy
“We don’t think we’d do well in the cell phone business.” Steve Jobs (2003)”
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olsen, Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (1977)
“But what is this [microchip] good for?” IBM Engineer (1968)
“Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Producer for 20th Century Fox (1946)
“Who the h*** wants to hear actors talk?” One of the Warner Brothers (1927)
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value.” Internal memo to the President of RCA (1921)
“Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant.” Canadian astronomer (1902)
“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” Thomas Edison (1889)
“Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize [the light bulb] as a conspicuous failure.” Chairman of the American Lighthouse Board (1880)
“[The telephone] is a great invention but who would want to use it?” U.S President Rutherford Hayes (1872)
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” Al Bartlett
In just 34 years, Danica May Camacho — the world’s 7th billionth baby, will celebrate 39 years. What will life be like in a world of 9B to 11B people? By then, about 80 percent of us maybe living in cities.
But first, let’s go back some twenty years (if you’re old enough). If someone had described the Internet then, would you understand? Amazon was founded in 1994 and eBay, the following year. In 1993, when Time magazine did a cover story about how the future of technology would involve people sharing information, they had vaguely presented the World Wide Web as a cable TV with at least 500 channels.
Today, we Facebook our lives, upload location updates, Google for information, PDF documents, Skype to chat, YouTube videos, and turn to the wisdom of the crowd (strangers) for many aspects of our lives.
Over the past 10 years, the rate of adoption of new technologies (invisible to most of us) has also accelerated exponentially.
When plugging a device into the network is a ‘no-brainer’, the entire system ‘flips’ fast to make connectivity ubiquitous and highly scalable.
Can we and the planet keep up with it all? Especially if what works today, may not work tomorrow.
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker
Born in the 1980’s and later, Millennials will approach midlife in 2050. Today, they are just entering the workforce. Rising youth unemployment is one of our greatest challenges. Increasingly, youth unemployment is considered ‘an international time bomb’. According to the 2015 International Labor Organisation (ILO) report, the worldwide unemployment rate among 15 to 24-year-olds of 13 percent, or 74 million youths, is set to rise. Because of a flawed system of assessing unemployment, William Reese, the CEO of the International Youth Foundation, thinks the real numbers are probably six or seven times that.
Across the world, urban youth are now more similar. They like the same music, have iPads, laptops and smartphones, play the same games, speak the same language and are accustomed to living in a world of vast transparency — tweeting, texting and emailing one another in a fast and nonstop exchange of information and opinions.
Added to that, baby boomers are retiring. The same people born after World War II who had spurred ‘massive growth’ over the past 60 plus years. Never before, have there been more young and old people.
With this comes a seismic shift. The times are just very different.
In this new reality, the Internet has given people their voice. A very loud one because too many companies have lost sight of the fundamentals — of whether their product is good for customers and the planet.
As humanity wrestles with these 21st century dynamics, society’s needs are huge. Imagine what 9B to 11B people will do if they do not have basic necessities like food, housing, healthcare, help for the aging, less environmental damage and other unmet needs.
Wasn’t Arab Spring the result of unemployed youth worried about their present and future?
In the coming years, as technological progress reshapes the world we inhabit, will it be the end of the “Age of Me” culture? If so, opportunities and benefits for individuals, businesses and society at large can be immense.
“The truth is that there is as yet no credible, socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario of continually growing incomes for a world of nine billion people.” Tim Jackson
Today, most people in urban cities no longer create and companies supply everything we need for a price they set.
Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, billions of people (much more by 2050) have become even more interconnected and interdependent. By 2050, about 80 percent of us maybe urbanites.
Based on incumbent demand and supply theories, can most of us afford basic necessities? Since automation and robotics will probably replace most jobs, it’s no longer about numbers. It is a narrative about lives. Of the over 7 billion who will need food, shelter, energy, healthcare. More than being mere money making machines, we all have dreams, hopes and aspirations. We want good opportunities for jobs and education. Rights and freedoms. The freedom to be ourselves. The freedom to raise our children in peace and security.
To address today’s drought of meaningful human connections as technologies disrupt old school industries, can we succeed in co creating a more trusting “Age of We” culture?
Will we be able to make this transition? To unlearn to relearn a new way of thinking, doing and sharing?