For just about all my life, the dominant stories were pretty simple. Work hard, study hard, obey the rules and you will succeed. It was of course always somebody else’s definition of success and it has defined our society for several generations.
But not now, There are plenty of people who work hard and study hard, but that old definition of success (a job, a regular income, security, respect) have become elusive. We have a young generation in work, and another whose education is being disrupted about to enter the world of work for whom the mantra triggers contempt. NeoClassical economics has run its course. It is dead, but still twitching. Success now is far more than ever a consequence of background, geography, personal connection and sheer luck.
The story of our economy has been hugely undermined, as the road ahead becomes littered with the carcases of previously sacred cows, and the system itself has been hugely gamed. When, according to Mariana Mazzucato, eighty percent of the fiscal stimulus to business ends up in the finance sector, we clearly have a problem. It feels a bit like being on a bus we can’t get off driven by someone with no driving license high on drugs of self importance.
All of us, and particularly the young, find ourselves where who we thought we were meant to be according to those who educated, trained and employed us find ourselves not needed in the roles we assumed we would fulfil. A combination of outsourcing, technology, and aggressive social policy have taken care of that.
So much for the bad news. Inside it is wrapped a real opportunity. As the old story has disintegrated, so a new one forms. This one is about us as who we can be, not some sort of industrial cog. It will take time, in all likelihood several generations, but with no going back, we have to ask ourselves, if not us, who and if not now, when?
No matter how smart the technology, it cannot:
- Connect with us like another person. We don’t fall in love through logic.
- Interact with us in ways that really matter. It can’t laugh, cry, hug, grieve or listen to us.
- Offer diversity. It might enable it with other humans, but it will not disrupt its own logic in a way a human can.
- Adapt like a human. Change the way it sees, thinks and imagines.
Technology will always have cracks in it. It’s down to us to use it to advantage, and adapt to harness it. Where we do want to resist, we cannot take it head on, but we can use geurrilla approaches. The current exercise with Gamestop shows what happens when a few committed people take on highly efficient technology. Those who overestimate the power of technology will always pay a price when an unforeseen event happens. The next few decades promise more of the unforeseen as complexity plays out.
We are being offered a way out of the domestication we have found ourselves in. It’s down to us.