Wednesday, 26 June 2013

No Sleep Till FUTURE

No Sleep Till Future : Makeshift Studios 2013
Five minutes into the future. Packed like angry bears in a barrel of wasps, we are on a subway train from King's Cross St Pancras to Vauxhall, London. Between a forest of bodies, I see a woman on a seat at the other side of the carriage locked into her own technological bubble.

The scene is pure cyberpunk. In a crowded carriage hurtling along beneath the streets of London she has her netbook open on her lap, her earphones clamped to the side of her head, watching and listening to the webinar of a work colleague from New York. In the palm of her hand she has her 4th generation smartphone face up, periodically receiving and replying to texts. The subway carriage her popped-up temporary office space.

Before we met her she had enjoyed a coffee at Starbucks on St Pancras International concourse, paying for her latte, and by default, her momentary office cubicle, with her smartphone via near field communications technology.

I call her W
orker 'A' - sounds like a vaguely sinister and dark portrayal of a character from a Franz Kafka story, or an obscure track from a Daft Punk album (for the record Daft Punk are Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo and Thomas Bangalter).

As she interacts, immediately and efficiently, with the world, I am deep in thought about how we are evolving and how this evolution, economically, socially and politically is driven by technological progress.

What I want to understand is how these evolutionary forces gathering speed will develop into 'the future' rushing toward us.

Travelling at high speed through the long dark tunnels toward our destinations is, I think, a pretty neat metaphor for looking ahead.

"Authority is questioned routinely" Bruce Tulgan, founder and chairman of Rainmaker Thinking inc, explains. "Research is quick and easy. Anyone can get published. We try to filter through the endless tidal wave of information coming at us from an infinite number of sources all day, everyday. Nothing remains cutting edge for very long. Meanwhile the pace of everything continues to accelerate. A year is long term, and five years is just a hallucination."

I love the irony in Tulgan's retro poke at the 1960's drug culture while charting the mind-blowing speed of our contemporaneous evolution.

Technology, in fact, has created, and is creating, a new working universe which is obliterating boundaries between work and leisure, changing where, when, how we work and the very nature of the jobs we will do or not do in the future.

Our world is altering, changing and morphing into something we cannot 100% predict, but already, as we know, the old certainties, traditional jobs and industries are being jettisoned. A new employment cosmos is beginning to take shape where pension rights, hours of work, and other benefits like holiday and sick pay are no longer a given.

The internet and the way we interconnect, consume and spend has underpinned decline in some quarters as demand has shifted. The music industry is a good example - who would have thought that HMV would have been brought to its knees by the humble laptop. People no longer browse the aisles of records stores checking out the latest vinyl albums and singles, but sit at home and download music for pennies as if their frontal lobotomies depended on it.

High street shops have similarly been deserted by consumers as they check out dress sizes in the cyber corridors of digital superstores.

"A few writers, such as Robert Reich and Jeremy Rifkin, have addressed the change, but the media and Wall Street and government agencies still look for 'recovery'", Dr Jan Hively tells me perplexed by the inability of the ruling set to keep up. "It's like the story of 'The Emperor without Clothes,' those who have been laid off by dying industries or lost business because of dwindling consumer capacity know that the canary has stopped singing*, but systems shaped by a jobs-based economy, such as education, have not yet acknowledged the change.  As a result, adjunct professors live in poverty while the union protects high paid university profs from having to teach evenings or weekends, when adult students are available for classes.  How can we encourage broad recognition about the need for managing the societal transition away from jobs?"

*Reference to 'the canary has stopped singing' relates to the one time practice of miners taking these birds into the mine with them.  If dangerous gases like methane or carbon monoxide were present, the canary would die - hence stop singing - and this would warn the miners they were in danger. 

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