We are moving into a new economy in which growth will not necessarily yield jobs. What does this mean for our children and grandchildren? Will it bring suffering into the world, or liberation? What are some of the things we can know with some degree of certainty about this as yet unformed future?
- Jobs will be scarce.
- Money will be less abundant.
- Taxes will be high (to pay for debt and infrastructure -- not for high quality government services which the US will not be able to afford for the foreseeable future).
- Infrastructure will be repaired. (See Barry Ritholz's Washington Post article: Repairing Infrastructure Can Help Repair Economy)
- Lifetime employment will not exist even in government jobs.
- Food and natural resources might be costly.
- Privacy will evaporate.
- Connectivity will be ubiquitous.
- Information will be overwhelming.
- Wisdom will be wanting.
- Miniaturization: things will get smaller
- We will adapt because we always do and
- We will eventually flourish because that is core to our spirit.
If these insights are valid, then what are some of the emergent trends? What will it mean for our children and us? How will society adapt? Here are some of my midnight thoughts for what they're worth:
Firstly, most of us will downsize our lives significantly. Consider the emerging popularity of car sharing
what other assets can we share? Not only will we live in more compact homes, have less things and consume less, but we will WANT and ENJOY our downsized lives more. We will feel lighter, freer and richer.
Secondly we will value intangible things, experiences and activities. We will value time with our families, philanthropic activities, and educating or reeducating ourselves using the plethora of wonderful and free resources of knowledge available to us now. As a result, we will trade working hours and income for free time to pursue what really matters to us. We might prefer to work only four days a week or less, in return for lower income, but income that is more than enough to support our downsized lifestyles. When this evolves, work that used to be done by one person for a full salary will then be done by two people for half salaries!
At first we will certainly have less disposable income but more disposable time. Some people will use their disposable time to find entrepreneurial ways to add value and will develop little businesses of their own to add to their income. Others will prefer to use their extra time to pursue their passions.
There will be jobs for laborers repairing infrastructure (see Barry Ritholtz's Wahington Post article: Repairing Infrastructure Can Help Repair Economy
) and for highly qualified technicians, engineers and scientists who design, build and operate the machines that will do our work and free our time (see Steve Lohr's NYT article: More Jobs Predicted for Machines, not People
). But the people in the middle who used to do what machines now do, will reinvent the ways they can add value to the economy and to society. They will become innovative as they create new industries. Even schools and universities will reinvent themselves. As knowledge and information become more freely available educational institutions will find new ways to add value to their students' academic pursuits. Schools and universities as we know them today will be obsolete.
We will depend on technologies that intelligently filter information rather than those that collect and deliver it. Individuals who can convert information into wisdom and generic data into unique insight will have the edge.
We will need to create new boundaries and technology-fences to restore the privacy that we will discover we desperately need but no longer have. Most of us can't yet imagine what these fences and gateways will look like. Here is another new industry that can add value and create opportunities.
Like dawn that straddles the night and the day, we live at the intersection of a world that was and the world that will be. It is fascinating to reflect on the memories of yesterday as we ponder the unknowns of tomorrow.