I was sitting on my deck in the sun this weekend, stroking my new unkempt beard, and thinking to myself…
“After all of this craziness passes, what is the change I want to see in the world
Then I thought, hey, there’s like, a couple of hundred smart people that read an email/blog I send out every 2 weeks, why don’t I ask them?
I know there’s a lot on people’s minds at the moment, and you should never feel pressured to be thinking about these questions. But if you have been, I’m curious what is on your mind. If you’d like to share, feel free to fill out this form here with your thoughts.
What led me to this question?
These past few weeks have been difficult for me and everyone close to me. People are sick, my friends are getting laid off, and I even have friends who are laying other people off.
My emotional range has never been wider. Sadness some days are countered by feelings of gratitude for my health and life circumstances other days. I think I’m feeling like this because I’m growing up, and recognizing that there is a lot of pain and suffering in the world. It’s one thing to intellectually believe that suffering exists, it’s another thing when people close to you start to lose their jobs or are in the hospital. Lots of fear. Lots of anxiety.
Something that helps me, is to channel my anxieties into thinking about something that I can do to help. Outside of my family and my health, I’ve been reflecting on the intersection between humanity and the role of technology on supporting the COVID-19 crisis. I’m imagining what our future could look like, considering tangible ways to get there, while evaluating tradeoffs.
Due to my background, interests, and life experiences, I’m curious about how the world of education and work will adapt once this is over. What happens when everybody works from home? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? These experiments are being run today and will fast forward historical progress – I’m wondering where this will take us.
This is how I’ve gotten to the question “what is the change we’d like to see in the world”. A mixture of anxiety, fear, and sadness today, with feelings of hopefulness for tomorrow.
Let’s look into the future and see where we may be headed.
The world in 2030
10 years later, the world has recovered from the effects of COVID-19, but a lot has changed. The impact on the economy has been worse than the Great Depression. Hundreds of thousands of people have died due to the virus. Millions of others have lost their jobs. The inequality gap has widened – people who were doing well before COVID recovered and are enjoying their fine dining and travel. People who were already struggling find it more difficult to put food on the table.
But a lot has changed for the better. Society has revisited what’s important to them. We’ve become less polarized because we recognize our shared humanity. We care more about science and education and don’t allow fake news or politicized information to spread. Telemedicine has enabled better health outcomes to those who live in rural areas. We can now use wearable like an Oura ring to track our vital signs to predict if we would be susceptible to disease. We collectively understand the impact of climate change and have shifted to producing renewable sources of energy. We have become less materialistic, as our days inside have reminded us that all that matters is the well-being of the people in our lives.
Working from home has become a new normal. Governments meet on Zoom, elections have shifted online, deals are being agreed to on video conference, negating the necessity for business travel. The fall in commuting has lowered emissions, pollution, and rush hour traffic while boosting happiness.
Office space has become less valuable, as COVID has taught us that we don’t need the office to be productive. This has lowered demand for commercial and residential real estate, decreasing rental prices.
Education has changed. With students able to access knowledge through a few clicks on their phones, the role of the educator has changed from a lecturer to a facilitator. Given our transition to learning online, we’ve been able to personalize education for students.
No longer is a teacher lecturing in the front of a classroom, delivering a message from herself to many students. In 2030, education and learning have shifted to a dialogue between the teacher and student, aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning. We can now better understand what type of content sticks to who and when a student learns the best and through what type of communication channel.
Regardless of where they live, this enables children from anywhere to have access to a world-class education.
This is the world a student like Kunal lives in. Kunal grew up in Tanzania, and whose parents immigrated from India in search of economic opportunity. Kunal grew up in a neighbourhood in the outskirts of Tanzania’s financial capital of Dar es Salaam. During elementary school, electricity was hard to come by. In the summer months, their family would be more surprised when they had light, than when they did not.
Learning was challenging because of this. Without electricity, Kunal had to study under long white candles seen in religious shrines. When he’d submit papers to his teachers, they’d be able to tell which kids came from households without light because of the candle wax stains on their assignments.
Kunal was young when he went through COVID, and Tanzania has changed a lot since his childhood. By 2030, our sources of energy have shifted from coal and fossil fuels to wind-generated or solar power; clean energy has fulfilled its promise, not just in the west but all over the world.
With this new form of power and energy, Kunal has access to new technology. Over the past few years, he has been using a new product, kind of like a Google Home, that assists him with his learning. The device’s name is Alex, but to make his Indian parents feel at ease, he names it Anura – the Hindi word meaning “a smart knowledgeable person”.
Anura understands Kunal’s learning style, is more in tune with what is happening inside his head, and can deliver content to him at the right time in the right way for him to retain information. Anura, like Google, can answer any questions that Kunal has.
Over time, knowing Kunal well over the years, Anura encourages him to learn about User Experience (UX) design. Anura knows Kunal is creative, a critical thinker and gets energy from doing creative work. Here, Anura teaches Kunal the foundation of what will be a lifelong skill.
Like in 2020, Kunal has the opportunity to engage with like-minded people through online communities. Although today, virtual communication feels more real. With virtual reality advancing, our online worlds have become eerily similar to the dream-like world of Ready Player One. Our remote meetings now have attendees in their digital avatars sitting right beside us, rather than staring back at us on our laptop screens.
In one of the online groups, Kunal works on a project with a girl from London named Sydney. Sydney is building a business to help influencers sell products to their followers, a new type of company created through the ’20s.
With a bit of experience under his belt, Kunal realizes he wants to work in the US and reaches out to a few CEOs asking for a job. In 2030, it is the norm for senior people to connect with younger people, as they know technology is changing rapidly, and their perspective is increasingly valuable. One of the CEOs accepts a call, enjoys it, and connects Kunal to a hiring manager and recruiter who can see if there’s a fit on the team.
He’s capable, smart, and willing to work hard. He has also developed a body of work through his UX experience that is impressive, and he gets the job.
In 2030 most people in the company are already remote, so Kunal has a little pod of people that are always online when he is. They live in London, Lagos, Delhi, and Singapore, and they can connect while their US counterparts are sleeping. While communicating, real-time translation now allows employees around the world to speak and write in their native languages.
Kunal has been able to create the world he wanted to live in. He’s able to work on interesting projects, be a creator, connect with people around the world, and provide economic opportunity to himself and his family. He’s done all this while staying home and growing up in his country of Tanzania. Isn’t this the globalized world we’re all looking to live in?
Back to 2020
Challenges arising from the spread of COVID-19 are already accelerating the use of new technologies as people go into lockdowns, millions are forced to work from home and digital connectivity takes even more of a hold on everyday habits. Universities are being forced to adopt technology as their classes can no longer be held in large lecture halls. Both our education and working cultures are shifting.
Technological progress that organizations were hoping to implement over a 5-10 year time horizon needed to happen, um, yesterday. These advances, and the speed at which they are happening, will make a profound shift in humanity’s use of technology. Whether it becomes a device like Anura, or whether Kunal can work for a reputable company remotely from his home in Tanzania, are open questions.
Does this world excite me? Absolutely. It is opening up opportunities for those who may not be able to afford education or be able to pick up their lives and move to a new country to find work.
Are there trade offs and disruptions that will be caused due to this new world? Absolutely. In the case of Kunal, and using devices like Anura, questions surrounding personal privacy need to be answered before our world starts to mimic an episode of Black Mirror. A business model, data privacy model, and ethical framework on how to use these technologies will need to be created in the next decade.
I think it’s time to start to discuss these ideas and trade offs we may have to make in order to see the future we want. Let’s start this discussion, and share the change you want to see in the world! Again, here’s the link to do that.
This was originally shared in my newsletter that I send out bi-weekly on what I’m learning and writing about in the topics of mindfulness, relationships, and technology.
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