There are a number of trends and forces that will manifest in the 2020s. These are all important and will be subjects of subsequent columns. Many of these trends reside within these four overarching dynamics of the decade:
- The Age of Climate Change
- The Age of Intelligence
- The Reinvention of Capitalism and Democracy
- A New Emerging Global Consciousness
The Age of Climate Change
This is the decade that we, humanity, will muster the collective will to actually do something about our climate catastrophe. It is clear to me that the major changes we need to undertake must happen by 2030, or civilization as we know it will cease to exist by the end of this century.
Since 2015, I have written a book about climate change, co-founded a global nonprofit to create crew consciousness, and co-authored a book outlining what humanity must do by 2030 to have a chance at saving civilization.
This last book, “Moving to a Finite Earth Economy – Crew Manual” is the answer to the question: “What must humanity do to successfully address our climate catastrophe?” Year by year through the decade, metrics are laid out so that the goals for 2030 are clear. In addition, we stipulated what must be done at every strata of humanity organization: global, nation states, states and provinces, cities, neighborhoods and individuals.
We must move from 2019’s 77% of all energy being supplied by fossil fuels to 30% or less by 2030. A task larger than any prior collective human effort. If we fail to do this in the 2020s, we will relegate future generations to a world that is too hot to support human life.
The Age of Climate Change means that the 2020s will determine the path of civilization for the rest of this century and beyond. Waiting until 2050 runs counter to all the data we are now receiving in numerous feedback loops from the planet.
The Age of Intelligence
After decades of fits and starts, technological intelligence really began to take off in this past decade. IBM’s Watson beat the two greatest Jeopardy human champions in 2011, AlphaGo (Google’s AI) defeated the world’s Go champion in a momentous competition in 2016, and since then the development of technological intelligence has advanced remarkably.
In the 2020s, this new form of intelligence will trigger massive changes across the board. It will replace a large percentage of repetitive jobs in developed countries. It will make continuing inroads into all of our consumer interactions. And it will integrate with humanity to form partnerships as we advance toward our next evolutionary stage.
Technological Intelligence will expand beyond discrete applications and enter our environments. 2010 to 2019 was the decade that we evolved from dumb to smart technologies. The 2020s will be the decade that we evolve from smart to intelligent environments. We will begin to live in intelligent built environments. A historic first. We will share intelligence with our man-made surroundings.
A companion to this explosive growth in the capability, speed and power of technological intelligence will be the final stage for neuroscience. For decades we have heard the refrain, “we learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than in all the time prior.” By 2030, humanity will have fully mapped the brain, the last health frontier to be fully explored. We will be introduced to the concept of “brain healthy”. Analogous to the phrase “heart healthy”, we will develop an entire knowledge base around “brain healthy” medical and well-being practices.
This will, in turn, affect the technological intelligence arena. Knowledge concerning how the brain truly works will accelerate new forms of computing that will exponentially increase its speed and power.
We will look back on the 2020s as the threshold decade when humanity advanced into the Age of Intelligence; and it will remain a dominant theme for the rest of the century.
The Reinvention of Capitalism and Democracy
The basic tenets of both Capitalism and Democracy were set forth in the last part of the 18th century. Adam Smith, the philosophical founder of Capitalism, died in 1792… before the Industrial Revolution. How could his philosophies remain current for more than 225 years without some reinvention or recalibration?
What we see as we enter the 2020s is “late-stage capitalism”, a caricature of capitalism. Extreme wealth inequality in the US today is as bad as it was in October 1929, that month that marked the start of the Great Depression. The middle class in the United States is shrinking and becoming part of the lower class. Unable to get ahead, unable to afford education, health care and minimal lifestyle features including a decent home and an annual vacation, the “American Dream” is no longer available to a large swath of the population. Upward mobility prevalent in the last century, is no longer a given in the US.
COVID-19 has shown us how unfair our current version of Capitalism is. People lose out to corporations. Corporations hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions to buy lawmakers, who then pass more legislation to further benefit corporations. In response to a growing awareness of this rigged system, businesses are starting to abandon business models that focus solely on shareholder value. Mostly lip service today, the evolution to an actual focus on stakeholders will occur in this decade. The well-being of employees, customers, suppliers and the ecosphere will be incorporated into balance sheets and P&L reports. Companies will increasingly value and account for the Common Good as new generations in the workforce, and large institutional investors, demand that they do so.
Democracy in its current form no longer seems to be for all participants. In the United States, there are constant efforts to suppress voter turnout and to drive already low participation levels even lower. The basic act that defines a democracy is the right for all citizens to vote. Globally there is no democracy that has not been corrupted by Capitalism. Democracy as a viable governance paradigm has been so corrupted that it is no longer of the people, by the people, or for the people. In the United States and elsewhere, the marriage of Capitalism and Democracy is a clear, unabashed Plutocracy. People see it, so it raises the potential for uprisings and rebellions.
As nation states around the world enter the 2020s, democracies are in crisis and there is a drift to authoritarian regimes. Democracies can be messy, so people want the easy solution of a strongman or a highly centralized dictatorship to help them feel that there’s some order in this uncertain world.
COVID-19 has pulled back the veil to show us that there are enormous inequities, no social safety nets for citizens, and that education and health care are flawed in their structures. In the United States, the pandemic has exposed the tired argument between big and small government for what it is. Government exists to protect citizens, whenever and wherever they need protection.
COVID-19 is a catalyst for the reinvention of both Capitalism and Democracy into a 21st century model. The 20th century models were left brained and technocratic. The 21st century models will be right brained and humanistic.
A New Emerging Global Consciousness
We have entered the global stage of human evolution. We have moved from local and place-based families, to tribes, to villages, to cities, to city states, to nation states, and now our only remaining boundary is planetary. The large issues humanity is facing are global in scope. Our climate, biodiversity loss, wealth inequality, immigration, and resource depletion crises are all planetary in scope and can only be dealt with effectively at the global level.
We have tripled the population in the last 70 years from 2.5 billion to almost 8 billion. It took us 150,000 years to get to one billion people in 1800, and 150 years to reach 2.5 billion. The number of humans has increased so dramatically and so quickly, that we are affecting each other in ways never before experienced.
We are ever more connected with more people having cell phones than have indoor plumbing or electricity. There is no longer any time, distance or place limiting human communication. We have created an ever growing, synaptic, pulsating, internet-based neurosphere that is a technological model for the coming collective consciousness. News, ideas, memes, and all forms of content travel at the speed of light via fiber optic cables and satellites around the world.
Technologically, computer interfaces have evolved from punch cards, to keyboards, to touch screens and now to audio commands. The next step is brainwave computer interface (formerly known as BMI, brain machine interface). By mid-decade a sizeable percentage, perhaps greater than 50%, of people in developed countries will be using brain waves to interface with their devices. Is it not logical to think that such practice may, by 2030, enable us to interact with each other via brainwaves?
We can see this migration to a new consciousness when we examine generations. The Baby Boomers (and to a lesser degree Gen-Xers) were/are individualistic… nurtured by a popular culture that extolled the lone hero who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. That is a self-centered and ego-centric world view. It is all about me. Millennials are clearly more collective. They invented the sharing economy. Access not ownership is important to them. Digital Natives are the first generation fully of this century and they are technologically anchored in a way that is immediate, connected and communal.
Interestingly, this new emerging global consciousness is bifurcated for the Millennials and Digital Natives. They are fully at home in both the physical reality and the screen reality. Boomers and Gen-Xers grew up in places with singular senses of self. The last two generations are the first to have to manage both realities. They view them as equal. This is one of the reasons that Boomers have an issue with a perception that the young ones are too addicted to their screens. They are attached and integrated into their screen realities. A healthy sense of self in the physical world now includes a healthy screen reality sense of self in an ever more connected world. The future is manifest in the way Digital Natives navigate between the two realities.
These big four dynamics will largely shape the 2020s. COVID-19 has brought all four into clearer focus. During the first two months of self-quarantining, our air and water cleared. Plants and animals quickly reclaimed the habitats left empty by people. When humans and their fossil fuel-powered consumption economies shut down, nature came back.
Electronic connectivity has enabled technological intelligence in hundred of labs around the world to analyze the genetics of the COVID-19 virus more quickly, and to produce potential treatments and vaccines much faster than humans working alone have been able to do in the past.
COVID-19 has shown us all how governments do and do not work. Strained health care and education systems exposed their brittleness and lack of resiliency. The poor, again, were left behind as the corporations and the wealthy were taken care of. The virus has shown the clear human failings of both Capitalism and Democracy.
A collective consciousness has developed around the world resulting from more than a billion people having the same experience of self-quarantine. Regardless of what the politicians say, the collective “WE” have made a declaration of interdependence. We empathize with the Italians singing from their balconies, and the New Yorkers who yell and bang pots at 7 every night to honor front line health workers. We are together.
We will need massive, collective efforts to navigate these four macro dynamics in the 2020s. COVID-19 has provided our training wheels.
[My first book on the 2020s was just published. Please go here to learn more: https://www.the2020sdecade.com/ Please sign up for one of my virtual book tour sessions to learn more]