2024 — what on earth do you look like?
Will we still be reeling from this pandemic? Will be suffering at the hands of the next one? Will we be taking sides in a global civil war? How will our gamble on climate risk play out? Will we be arguing about mass migrations of climate refugees? Will I have had enough of the future and fucked off far away to my homestead in the mountains to tend my survival garden?
I am very curious about what the future holds.
In 2018, I wrote my first ever Medium article. It was a glimpse into the future, triggered by an email I’d sent: an appeal to politics to save us from ourselves. Now in 2021, three years older and — mid-lockdown— markedly less free, I return to that vision and start to paint a new one.
That email in 2018 was addressed to our political leader in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. I told her that as a nation we faced a cultural and technological issue where businesses were not adapting to give people what they desire in their working lives — autonomy, flexibility, and ownership in their work. As such, I believed Scotland faced a brain drain of talented, educated and ambitious people — I actually referred to it as an epidemic.
I delivered my call to action, which was about creating support systems to enable businesses to adapt. At the time, I didn’t really know what this even really meant, but never mind that. I confirmed this was the future that I was working towards.
The Scottish Government response was predictably disappointing. Yes, they pointed me to how seriously the Scottish Government take mental health (good stuff), and their 10 year Mental Health Strategy, designed to improve access to mental health services. Don’t get me wrong — mental health is critically important. But, seriously? The solution to the problem of subjecting human beings to emotionally toxic or harmful work environments and their subsequent breakdown / giving up is not mental health support — surely it should be ending the culture of toxic working environments in the first place?
This was my point to the Scottish Government. If we could help people be happy and satisfied in their personal and work lives, maybe we wouldn’t be facing this ginormous mental health epidemic. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have felt such a need to quit my job and r̶u̶n̶ ̶a̶w̶a̶y̶ ̶s̶c̶r̶e̶a̶m̶i̶n̶g̶ leave my country…?
Anyway, now it’s 2021, and we have more immediate problems on our plate, don’t we? I know I’m writing this from that slouched position of lockdown weariness. (But aren’t we all.)
The email that I wrote to Nicola Sturgeon — I actually wrote it from a beachfront cafe in Thailand, just a few months into my new career as a digital nomad. Cliched, I know. I’d taken the required reading for digital nomad lifestyle, the 4-Hour Work Week, very literally.
But since that email and that stint in paradise, I’ve returned to Scotland. And by some magical twist in fate, I’m working in the field of foresight. Somehow, I did not see that coming. But here I am. Working remotely for a Brazilian-based research institute, Envisioning. I write about the future, whatever that is.
And through this work, I was prompted to go back and revisit my 2018 predictions for the future. Those visions of freedom; a world where remote work, self-employment, and virtually freelancing around the globe would be the norm. I mean, I was picturing the so-called laptop lifestyle — in fact at the time, I was in hot pursuit of it. Looking back, it’s almost uncanny to have been served 2020, the year where almost the entire world learned to work remotely. NB, pandemic didn’t feature in my predictions either…
That was some foresight. I’d probably take it back if I could.
But time is ever-marching on. And with it, the game to picture what the future could look like.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
— Abraham Lincoln
So let’s play.
2024… What have you got for us?
Typically I start with impending doom and the coming apocalypse — but I recommend you avoid that, or move past it quickly, if you can. It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the big stuff, effectively immobilising yourself and stopping you from taking action. It can be overwhelming to think in these terms and at these scales. It can cause you to lose hope and become disillusioned and disengaged. The uncertainty, the unpredictability, the complexity — it is a lot to sit with.
So I urge you to hang in there.
There’s more to it.
This is why I like the field of foresight. It’s not black and white, dark and light. There are no answers, no facts, and no predictions. Foresight, in simple terms, is scanning the horizon to see what’s coming and exploring what we can do with it.
Leave the policy-making to the policy-makers. As citizens, we don’t have to predict the future, come up with answers, or solve the problems.
This is about letting go of what you can’t control, and playing with what you can.
Luckily for us, the world is full of incredible people doing incredible things. When we are out on the front line of the internet, clinging on to opinions and heatedly arguing with one another, it can be easy to forget that we aren’t experts. We are just humans, probably all of us freaking out about something.
From my vantage point now, I can see a whole range of scenarios based on how we are doing things. I can see ecological collapse, societal collapse, and, fingers crossed, economic collapse. Yeah, I’m a raging socialist desperately hoping for a new doughnut-shaped economy to save the planet… What ya gonna do about it.
But let’s put that aside. Instead, I can tell you about the 2024 I want to see.
I want to see a world where collaboration and cooperation take the place of competition and greed. Rather than self-advancement, we have societal-advancement. Nobody gets left behind, or disappears down a hole.
I want to see lessons learned in 2020 paying dividends in 2024. We work together, instead of in competition. We work remotely, from home, from wherever we work best. We understand what we really need, and what we really don’t. We get rid of things that didn’t serve us. We dial up the things that do. Commuting is gone, consciously designed workplaces are in. Maybe we travel to work, to conferences, to our clients. Maybe we can Zoom just as effectively.
I want to see value networks transcend wealth networks and corporate cultures. I want to see changes in hiring practices and even the concept of employment start to redress structural inequality. After a successful trial of Universal Basic Income (UBI) in Scotland, I want to see it rolled out elsewhere, being used to overcome social and economic inequalities and to combat technological unemployment. Contrary to what many fear, UBI does not produce a generation of subsidised lay-abouts. Rather, it can level the playing field and make it accessible to all. It can raise wages for lower and unpaid work, particularly for less-than-dreamy jobs, and provide a stable and secure livelihood.
I want to see us love what we do, and in 2024, I want to see us doing so much more of what we love.
Yes, mandatory temperature screening may still exist in public spaces. But overall it was preferable to mandatory vaccinations. Intrusive civilian monitoring is still controversial in 2024, but as we move towards consensus on morality, we begin to understand that this is less an intrusion on our freedom and more a collaboration for the greater good. We always had freedom, but we demanded it and sought it in the wrong places. So we gave up our petty calls for individual liberties. After all, it was only the people with questionable morals and something to hide who had something to fear.
However, in 2024 the world is still very divided, politically. It’s possible to navigate around it and remain in your silo, and for many this is how we keep the peace. But some are successfully breaking out of their echo chambers, and the establishment of anti-filter bubble algorithms are helping to diversify newsfeeds, world views and conversations around the dinner table.
So I want to see formal and informal diversity and inclusivity training as the norm. In 2024, I imagine those offering mediation, communication coaching and “Feelings Mentoring” are doing very well — as are their clients and their friends and families. Perhaps in 2024, education institutions are offering courses within social media platforms, making education much more accessible and affordable — and fun, once undergraduate degrees got gamified. I want to see a rise in virtual learning environments dismantling the old (white) boys’ club and galvanising and empowering citizens from all corners of the globe.
Is it all possible by 2024?
Well, now. That’s not really the way to look at it. After all, the goal of foresight is less about the destination and much more about the infinite directions you could go. It’s about exploring what is possible — after all, far more exists in possibility than in certainty.
And that’s what I signed up for.
In 2024, the collective change that I want to see revolves around connection — but emotional connection, rather than 5G, say. For us to be comfortable coming out from behind our masks, and from behind the anonymity that technology affords. I want to see us put our fears aside in order to meaningfully, mindfully, and truthfully connect with one another — collectively is how we will effect change faster, and more effectively. Everyone au fait with the Feelings Wheel? That would be pretty cool.
That’s what freedom is really about — for me, anyway. Let’s face it, working from some far-flung tropical paradise is fun, for a while. But if you’ve only ever run away from your problems, that’s not really freedom. There’s no freedom in fear. Freedom necessarily requires you to face yourself, face your demons — battle them and see it through to the other side. You can do that from anywhere.
Lastly, we’ve reached the ceiling in terms of what the earth can support, so I’d like to see real progress towards reigning in our resource use and consumption. I’d like to see us living and aspiring to succeed according to a more sustainable model not based on economic growth.
Not too much to ask, is it?
I’ll check back in here in a few years and see how we’re all doing.