By Damian Costello.
Society is fast approaching the biggest transformation in history. A combination of the digitisation of everything and a reimagining of capitalism will create a more evolved ‘Post-Consumerist’ society.
My work has seen me on the front line of such shifts as; the original dotcom bubble, the emergence of biopharmaceuticals, the development of the touchscreen and the impact of Generation Y on the workplace, but this time it is different. This time, we are facing the mother of all ‘once in a life’ time transformations.
The ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Transformation.
In 1997 in their seminal work on generations The Fourth Turning, the William Strauss and Neil Howe described a societal dynamic that ‘turned over’ every four generations or approximately every 80 years. They claim that after a predictable period of war and austerity, a new world order emerges. Little could they have imagined, back then as the dial up internet was just kicking off, the impact and influence that digital technologies would have on this historic transformation.
Strauss and Howe identified 80 year cycles in Anglo-American Society going back over 500 years. Each occurrence sees a proportion of the masses win concessions from the elites. In the 1780s the American War of Independence brought democracy to land owners at least. In the 1860s the American Civil War brought an end to the concept of slavery in polite society at least. In the 1940s, the aftermath of World War 2 saw the end of colonialism in Western Society. This sequence suggests that in the 2020s something global and fundamentally good is going to happen.
A lot has changed since 1997. Today we know now that the Internet of Things and its associated Cloud-based data handling will be the cornerstone of this new future. The digital technologies that currently record and monitor an analogue world will soon create and control, large tracts of the physical world in the same manner as the Internet controls music, books, newspapers, video and all the easily ‘digitise-able’ industries it encountered so far.
Why is this ‘once in a lifetime’ transition likely to be the biggest in history.
Historically society has organised itself into hierarchical pyramids, with an elite at the top and slaves or slaves to the system at the bottom. Up until the shift in the 1860s, inherited monarchies held sway. Some were tempered by a duty to their subjects and some by the lack of intelligence that entitlement permitted at the top. In the United States, in the mid-19th Century an elite emerged that was not tempered in any way. The latest iteration of this elite now presides over the biggest gap between rich and poor in history. If society is to improve in the 2020s, it will be because this injustice has been redressed.
Why might this happen and why would the pioneers of the digital society be so instrumental? If the Internet, and its even more potent progeny the Mobile Internet, has achieved one thing it is that the gap between the knowing and the ignorant has never been smaller. In a Post-Consumerist Society, the elites will no longer hold the monopoly on the ‘Knowledge is Power’ truism. The elites won’t go away in one cycle, they still control most of the capital in the system, but the days of society accepting their imposed doctrine without question and without viable alternatives are almost over.
Who do you want to be in this new world order? What do you hope to contribute? If you are a genuine contributor the system is likely to reward you more fairly that any system in history.