Just 200 or so years ago, a widely unquestionable fact (in the Western world) was that women have smaller brains, it was a “scientific fact”, so they weren’t allowed to decide on the future as men and vote. Slavery also used to be perfectly fine not that long ago. More in the past and humans are massively knifing each other, blood on their hands, literally. We find it absurd from our today’s ethical standards. Riding on that rationale, it’s reasonable to ask ourselves: what will our grand-grand-children find the silliest about us?
Times, They Are Changing…
It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? We change over time, as species, civilization, and societies, and the whole history is that wavy series of consecutive transformations. In some abstract terms, we all get it, it’s logical – the change is constant – but I don’t think we really get it. Or at least how profound this underlying truth is, and how far-reaching and empowering consequences are when it’s taken as one of the first assumptions about the world.
I fell deep into this thinking spiral in 2012 when I attended year-long feminism studies. The program was composed of four mini-courses. The most interesting of them was the one on Love. Love is always THE theme, and this course approached it in a very interesting way. It was questioning it from the historical perspective, exploring how probably the most familiar thing in the world has been changing over time. It meant different things in different eras. Romantic love, for example, didn’t exist in the far past. In Ancient Greece, the ultimate love relationship was between two men, one older and one younger. Kinky! Marriage, a monogamous one, an association that pops up as the first association to most today, is the product of a specific historical environment. It’s not the institution that was here forever. Just like Love, all the other most important concepts don’t transcend history. Everything was different and will probably be different in the future, even the core things. It was a big discovery for me and it has inspired thinking about many different phenomena from that perspective.
Then I read this great book, written by one of the directors of the aforementioned studies and found out how, and why, the political role of women has been changing over time. I was definitely hooked on that approach to reality!
Few Constructs to Think About As a Start
Let’s take a look at a few things that seem eternal to most at first. They look as if they’re here forever whilst they are just constructs, things that will eventually notoriously change in the future.
Nations. The world is made of nations, they’re sovereign, run territories, and still act as primary elements of the World Order. National leaders decide the future of the world through institutions such as the UN and other international formations, and bilaterally. Nations have nukes. They control war and peace. Just a hundred years long jump into the past and four great empires implode after World War I.
The most interesting detail in this framework of nations I accidentally stumbled upon was the fact that the early French republic had a very silly issue to resolve: no unified, standardized, common language. France is one of the big nations, isn’t it? French are protecting their language whenever they can, airports being just one front of the battle for its great nation. The public education system, which did not exist before, we are talking about centuries ago, contributed essentially to the creation of Frenchness. This proud nation was such a mess from nationalist perspective early on.
Learning. I mean spread and acquisition of knowledge. Not so long ago, before the printing press, you could learn only by speaking to another human being. You couldn’t fly to another country, or take the bus or the rail, the travel industry almost did not exist, and the world was mostly static. Schools were not mandatory, people did not know how to read. Now you use Google, you don’t even have to click, you can speak, machines are starting to understand voice and the web is becoming much more than text. Is the future Matrix style, where you just decide to “install” a ton of knowledge or skills directly into your brain?
What’s OK and what isn’t. One of the most brilliants minds ever, the guy who started the field of artificial intelligence, and computer science, was queer. The same guy, named Alan Turing, the story goes, also contributed to victory in World War II outsmarting the enemy with his mathematical genius. That didn’t save him from his own government; he killed himself because of the hormonal therapy pressure he was forced to take but couldn’t handle. It’s nicely portrayed in The Imitation Game. That’s just slightly more than 50 years ago, in the United Kingdom, one of today’s most liberal and open societies. It was “forbidden” to be queer, there was a rule, a procedure even, to change it. Speaking of London, one of the books that got me thinking a lot about how shitty the world was is “Down and Out in Paris and London”, by George Orwell. You don’t have anywhere to sleep? No, you can’t even sit here. Keep walking… Underage kids working 18 hours a day, you can read Emil Zola. Human rights?
Time. It’s 2020 AD. AD, meaning after Christ, the most influential historical (and fictional at the same!) figure in history. Clearly, people were not understanding the concept of time in the same way before Jesus. Is our time accounting system in place the best one? Can we improve it? What if “hours” are a stupid way to measure time? Days seem logical though, do they follow the natural cycles and the sun?
Times, They Are Accelerating…
Times, it seems, are changing. It seems that they are also accelerating. And all of what we see today indicates that the 21st century is going to be the wildest of all the centuries so far. The pace of change is – accelerating.
The strongest force for the explosion of change, many historians would point out, is the Scientific Revolution which led to the Industrial Age and exponential wealth. Without machines and technological innovations, one person could solely produce with their time and resources.
People massively move to cities. They live longer and they start to dress differently. A century or two later, they are listening to weird computer sounds, taking pills, and dancing all night. On their way to the school or work, to the fancy designed office space instead of the factory, they stare at their pocket devices and exchange emotional and operational signals with other human beings on other continents, all in parallel.
In this century we are exploring space further, bioengineering our bodies, that longevity optimism has some truth to it, and we are building artificial agents and algorithms that are improving large parts of our lives. Machines have never been smarter. And there has never been more scientists – those who seek truths, as a profession, paid to question, explore and improve everything around us.
Everyone, even countries that aren’t that innovation savvy traditionally, understand the business – and political advantage – of innovations, hence the funding is skyrocketing as well. Everything accelerates as a consequence.
This illustration is also interesting:
Just a Few Candidates To Think About First
Let’s go back to our initial question. What will our grand-grand-children find the silliest about us?
I don’t have the answers and am not a prophet, and the point of this writing is just to inflame thinking and, hopefully, inspire some productive imagination. I’ll try to sketch a few examples focusing on a) things that I think about the most and b) things that have been transformed the most in the last few centuries or more. You can, and should, continue the list. What would you like to investigate?
It’s a Greek thing. There weren’t any democracies before, we were told at our political science studies, they were no free men, and definitely no free women. You add two greek words – demos + kratos – and you get a very interesting conceptual framework to think about how to organize and govern societies.
The first versions of it were not for all; far from it. Do you know how much of the general population – “free men” – meant in version 1.0 of democracy in Greece? Did you know that women were first granted the right to vote in New Zealand in 1897? Or that you couldn’t vote if you were not earning more than a certain threshold for a very long time? Did you know that some people of color de facto didn’t have the right to vote in the US, the home of democracy and its biggest and most vocal global advocate, just fifty or so years ago?
As population and generations change and digital technologies become even more imminent, we can expect radical changes in the way we govern ourselves. What if AI takes over? If you knew for sure that algorithm could be better than your mortal city fellow, would you decide it should be in charge? Would it be rational? What if democracy was just a bulshit matra, a totally ineffective way to organize ourselves collectively? Because it leads to World War 3 and human extinction? On the other hand, it’s total nonsense to just have a say (vote) just once in 4 years. While it was rational, complicated and costly to organize in the early days of representative democracy, times, they are changing. We have the necessary technologies as of this moment, or we will have them soon. Why not be more active, at least with issues you care about most and ones that directly affect you? We have those supercomputers in our pockets, why not make collective decisions in ways that are more rational?
Office and how we work
This one is easy because it’s already happening. Facebook: remote forever. Coinbase: remote forever. Twitter: remote forever. Covid-19 hit hard and the whole world went remote. Any knowledge work, it’s official, can be done online.
It’s about space and time constraints. If we take the location out of the equation, equality and opportunities spread worldwide. Companies can hire top talent from a much bigger, global pool. Individuals from all over the world can overcome their impossible small markets and work with the best in the world, or with those who are a much better fit. The overall consequence is that the whole world economy becomes much better optimized leading to better outcomes for society.
Let’s think about the office for a second.
First, be quiet. Don’t move. Others are trying to focus. And dress accordingly!
You wake up groggy a few hours before work because you can’t afford to live in the city center, put on your office clothes, walk to station number one, and then to the second one. Then another one. Then walk. Oh, finally!
The total of 2-3 hours of commute every day is both unnecessary and unreasonable. Plus, it’s not just a commute. Some preparation is always required, and when it’s done and you open the door of your house, you can’t just shift to a peaceful state of mind. Too much time is wasted. It’s silly.
I love to stand, walk and sometimes even lay in the bed while I work. After 5 remote years, I am still searching for the best personal productivity setting. I also love to walk and discuss. The hack was to kill the video when in meetings. You both better hear because your focus is the bigger and better focus if that’s your thing. Some people might be more productive in offices. Some aren’t.
Also, “9 to 5” might also be a stupid arrangement, flexible work is much more natural. Due to technology, everything can be flexible. I would argue, humane as well.
Fast forward 10, 20 or 30 years in the future.
Estonian experiments of “e-Residency” are a common thing. International cooperation and interoperability make digital flows lightning fast.
Traveling around the world should be much faster. You should be probably able to just hop across the ocean. Virtual experiences and advanced virtual tools might make the meetings in person obsolete. Bye-bye space restraints!
All of this is liberating. Globalization, as it should be. Legal will probably follow. A change is one essential aspect of life – work – drives so many changes, namely legal, migrations, architecture, equality… Did you know that spending more time in nature extends life? Would people move to Meditation? Asia? Would they prefer to spend 6 months at the seaside? Which countries will benefit the most?
Countries are even now adjusting their immigration policies to welcome digital nomads. You can get a self-employed or freelancing visa anywhere in Europe even now. The bureaucratic procedures to get them will be streamlined in the future. I assume the whole process could be done in minutes instead of heaving months of headaches. Blockchain global infrastructures in the background?
Jobs of the future are a whole another discussion. A very important one for policy-makers, builders and all of us, individually.
Let’s Embrace – and Nudge/Create – the Future
Some things, a lot of them, are given, and that’s Reality. However, as everything written above shows, the change is not just possible, it’s inevitable. That means that we can influence the future, as many of our brave ancestors already did. It’s just much easier for us today. Thousands of times easier.
Let’s take a look at one very interesting – and inspiring – personal revelation:
This perspective is highly empowering.
It’s OK and even recommended to think from long-term perspectives, to be brave and trust in a brighter future by trying to create it. All the changes start with lunatics and blurry dreams.
I will close this writing with one short post, to boost morale even further. Stripe founder, Patrick Collison, wrote this inspiring short article on magnificent projects that were built really fast.