Two years ago a movement was born – to declare March 1 each year as “Future Day.” We here at Futurist.com are primarily interested in helping people create, choose, shape their preferred future. The Future Day concept is a perfect opportunity to focus on that. A variety of celebrations and activities are planed literally around the world on just the second year of this effort. We will be dropping by a Seattle activity. Our Futurist.com colleague Ramez Naam will be joining a Future Day event in Turkey. Check the events out and see if there is something going on your area!
Happy New Year to all our Futurist.com visitors and fans.
Looking ahead, here are some thoughts to add to the endless lists of 2014 anticipations – if you like these things see Mark Anderson’s top ten for 2014, or Thomas Fry’s 33 for 2030, or David Brin’s speculations on the year ahead. Brin is an exception but most of these kinds of articles are lists of technologies and anticipated developments. I know these lists ‘sell papers’ as we used to say, and provide a certain kind of infotainment. But I don’t take them too seriously except as brain teasers. Check them out if you want.
Me? I expect the big stories of 2014 will include…
…a shift in politics to debating how and how much to increase Social Security in the United States. This meme broke through in 2013, and moved the Overton Window over by a surprising margin, away from “how to cut Social Security” and at least to ‘how to maintain it.” This shift in the political winds cannot come too soon as we face an impending retirement crisis and looming wave of elder poverty.
…a dawning realization that fracking, however successful in the next decade or two at tapping previously hard to get oil and gas, has not fundamentally changed the longer term (21st Century) energy picture in which conventional (and thus cheaper) oil has peaked, and thus we face a mostly more expensive future in energy. Cheap gas is the exception but the energy picture still demands that civilization prepare for the fossil fuel phase out to come. Negotiating this passage will literally determine whether modern civilization is maintained.
…a continuation in the downward curve in solar energy cost per watt generated, meaning that it becomes more likely that solar will become a dominant supplier of electricity sooner than later. The electrification of the transportation fleet will gain momentum in 2014.
…space exploration and exploitation will proceed more aggressively in 2014. The success of China on the moon, and the amazing drive of SpaceX and other private companies in space will make the next half-decade a likely dawn of the next era in space, the era that leads to truly occupying space.
…it is hard to know when or if a weather event will tip the balance of public concern toward a crash effort to mitigate, slow down, and prepare for global warming. The latest, and most dire, predictions suggest that this had better happen soon.
…finally, a global struggle with and about the deep issues of privacy versus security, continued drift to richer and poorer society, and the future of employment and work, will likely heighten in 2014. There is a reason, which is more than artistic or admiration of the actors, that the Hunger Games series has already placed its first two films in the top 20 grossing films of all time and is a world-wide phenomenon. There is a hunger for change that is rumbling. The fact that life imitates art in way that reeks of parody but is all too real just adds to the pressure. (In this case activists hanging a banner to protest a proposed pipeline were charged under an absurd terrorism statute – thus precisely proving the point of the banner.)
2014 will be a year of great opportunity and great challenges – not all that different than 2013 or, I suspect, 2015.
Let’s have a great year!
We had a sold-out show for the 3rd film in our Futurist.com science fiction series, this time for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, hosted by The Big Picture, Seattle. We had a great time, with lively discussion following the film on its opening weekend. Excellent movie, great audience.
When the original Hunger Games film came out in 2012, I had not been a reader of the Suzanne Collins series, and was therefore fascinated that this strange sounding story about a game to the death involving children and young people would be so popular, with more than 50 million copies sold. The original Hunger Games quickly became the biggest film of that year and the 14th all-time grossing film ever. Catching Fire just set the record for a film opening in November, and has opened globally more than twice as big as the original. We’ll see where it ends up.
So I read the trilogy, and like most people was absorbed into the world that Collins paints – a United States destroyed by apparent civil war, a new country of Panem in its place, a tiny percentage of the population ruling from its super advanced, super rich Capital, controlling the lives of those who toil away in poverty in 12 districts to provide the goods and services that the elite demand. 74 years before, a 13th district had led a rebellion against the ruling capital, only to be put down and wiped out. In penance each year a young girl and boy from each district is “reaped” to participate in The Hunger Games, where they fight to the death for the televised entertainment of the Capital and as a way to terrorize the Districts and keep them compliant. When Katniss Everdeen, played by Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers to take her young sister’s place in the games, thus begins the story arc of Katniss’ evolution from a young woman trying to keep her family alive to reluctant symbol of and finally a leader of a revolution. With compelling characters, wild settings, a touch of powerful futuristic technology, and deep conflict it is story telling at its best.
Having read the trilogy I purchased the Blu Ray of the original Hunger Games, and found myself quite moved by the story.
Then I watched the “extra features” including an interview with Donald Sutherland, who plays the diabolical president of Panem. I sat up when he said, in that interview, that he believes this film series (it will be four movies before it is complete) will be the most important movie series of the early 21st Century. Why? Because it is a powerful allegory of our time, taking our 1% and 99% division of rich and poor, along with the excesses of the militaristic surveillance state to absurd allegorical heights and holding them there for us to see. And then suggesting that one person of courage, joined with others, can make all the difference.
More specifically, Sutherland hopes that the movie series will help inspire a generation of youth to rise up. He put it this way in a recent interview with The Guardian.
Donald Sutherland wants to stir revolt. A real revolt. A youth-led uprising against injustice that will … usher in a kinder, better way. “I hope that they will take action because it’s getting drastic in this country.” Drone strikes. Corporate tax dodging. Racism. The Keystone oil pipeline. Denying food stamps to “starving Americans”. It’s all going to pot. “It’s not right. It’s not right.”
Millennials need awakening from slumber. “You know the young people of this society have not moved in the last 30 years.” With the exception of Occupy, a minority movement, passivity reigns. “They have been consumed with telephones.” The voice hardens. “Tweeting.”…
…today’s young are too fretful about finding jobs to change society, he laments. “I just think they’re not organized. It’s not something that’s happening in the universities, which is normally the breeding ground for that kind of activity.” Does he despair of the young? The famous drooping, pale blue eyes widen. “No, no, no. Otherwise there would be no point making this film. I have great hope and faith in them…
The Hunger Games, Sutherland suggests, is a coded commentary on inequality, power and hope. “It just puts things out in the light and lets you have a look at it. And if you take from it what I hope you will take from it, it will make you think a little more pungently about the political environment you live in and not be complacent.”
But the message is multi-generational and one that the people watching Catching Fire with us this week seemed to take to heart, even as they enjoyed heart-stopping action. In the discussion following Catching Fire, Science Fiction writer Brenda Cooper asked “Are we, in fact, the Capital?” It may be easy to identify with Katniss and to imagine yourself as a heroic member of the revolution, but what if we, in our comfort and complacency, are nearer to citizens of the Capital, turning a blind eye to suffering and oppression so long as enough affluence flows our way. An audience member commented on the comparison of the televised Hunger Games to our own “Terror-tainment” as he called it. The networks fill time with images of disaster and even horror, which the public eats up so long as it involves watching others in a struggle of life and death. We read about killing drone strikes and hear about the hatred they can engender in an entire village, and then we turn away. We hear about the surveillance state and hope we are not doing anything suspicious and leave it at that.
Noam Chomsky recently called us a “Terrified Country,” and that echoes a scene in Catching Fire, where the head game maker advises the president to televise the romantic engagement of the two hunger games winners, then beatings, then televise the wedding, then executions, and so on. All to keep the districts in uncertainty and fear and in that fear to keep them docile and producing goods and services.
Andrew Slack in the LA Times raises similar issues, when he asks whether the message of the movies can get lost in the marketing tie-ins. He pulls no punches when he writes,
At its core, “The Hunger Games” is about economic inequality. In the books, the country of Panem is a future version of the United States, after nuclear disaster wipes out most of the population. In Panem, the fraction of people living in the Capitol controls almost all of the wealth. In 12 outlying Districts, people work long hours in Capitol-approved industries at dangerous jobs with low pay. Starvation is a daily reality.
If the books are supposed to function as a cautionary tale against the real class divide in the U.S., we need not look far for evidence. The future of Panem is upon us: More than 20 million Americans can’t find full-time jobs, 22% of children live in poverty and middle-class wages have been largely stagnant since 1974. Meanwhile, corporate profits are at an all-time high.
If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the same can be said of systemic economic inequality. The pull of the American dream is still so strong that many believe the only reasonable explanation for poverty is that it’s poor people’s fault. We don’t blame the system — and in Panem, you don’t blame the Capitol.
Thus, the rhetoric of austerity does not touch the 1% who own 40% of our economy. Instead, the rest of us fight over which crucial (for us) but hardly costly program to cut: food stamps, health insurance, unemployment benefits, Head Start, domestic violence counseling, even education.
But there is hope for change. As I have often said, the astonishing concentration of wealth and power now under way cannot continue forever, because anything that gets so far out of balance eventually must fall over. Such as been the historical pattern. The question is whether this falling will involve revolution or simple political change. Probably the answer will be both.
Chomsky notes the brief but powerful impact that Occupy had, in his November 23, 2013 Salon interview that
It’s actually striking that there are Occupy offshoots all over the world. I’ve talked at Occupy movements in Sydney, Australia, and England, all over. Everywhere you go there’s something. And they link with other things that are happening, like the Indignados in Spain; the student actions in Chile, which are pretty remarkable; things in Greece, which are enormous; and even movements in the peripheral parts of Europe trying to struggle against the brutal austerity regimes, which are worse than here and which are just strangling the economies and destroying the European social contract. We look progressive in comparison with Europe.
Can movies wake us up, can movies wake up a generation? Actually I think they can help and I suspect that The HUnger Games and Katniss Everdeen will light a spark in the real world as well as on screen.
I had a chance to take in the Seattle premier of Hunger Games 2 – Catching Fire, last night at the Big Picture Theatre. I joined an excited crowd of mostly 20-somethings, and an even more excited group was in line for the 11 PM show as I left.
If you are here in Seattle, why not join us for the final installment of our 3 Science Fiction film series, a special 11:15 AM “Bagels & Bloody Mary’s” screening of Catching Fire. After the show we’ll have a special 20-minute conversation with me, science fiction writer Brenda Cooper, and Mallory Smith, Managing Editor of Futurist.com and also a film student and script writer. The screening is almost sold out in this charming and intimate theatre, but there are still a few seats left for $15, which gets you a seat, a Bloody Mary or Mimosa, bagels and cream cheese and a great experience. Buy your ticket here.
The film is getting excellent reviews, see here and here and here, and is the #1 pre-selling film of 2013, likely to surpass the first film Hunger Games which is #14 on the all-time best selling movies.
Next week we’ll tell you how it went and why this is an important film phenomenon. Hope to see you on Sunday.
[This recent blog that I wrote originally appeared in the Cornerstone OnDemand "Future of Work" blog section, as I responded to a recent study by Cornerstone on the future of the American Workplace. Re-printed here by permission.]
The Future of Work: How Talent Management is Powering the Knowledge Value Revolution
The cultural, technology and generational shifts taking place in today’s workplace highlight how critically important it is that traditional human resources management continue to move not only toward integrating talent management processes, but also the notion of making these processes – and the technology that facilitates them – more employee-centric. These are not necessarily new developments, as smart human resource operations have been redefining themselves in terms of talent management and talent development quite a bit over the past five years. But the future of work itself makes the identification, management and development of talent ever more primary to the success of companies and organizations.
Helping People Work Smarter
The Japanese writer Taichi Sakaiya was perhaps the first to name the economic era into which we have moved the “knowledge value revolution.â€ His thesis was simple, and is evident all around us now, every day. He proposed that the traditional elements that gave products and services value – the value of the materials and labor that went into the product or service – were shifting toward a single dominant element. That element is the value of the knowledge contained in a product or service. The best way to understand the idea is to consider the smartphone in your pocket or purse. You chose that phone most likely because you believed that it was made by smarter people using smarter processes, and that the particular smartphone enables you to access knowledge more easily thus making you smarter. You may even believe that just owning that specific phone makes you look smarter when you use it. All of this adds up to “knowledge value.â€
What does this mean for human resources? The ability of a company, organization or employee to succeed depends on their ability to acquire new knowledge on a continuous basis and apply that knowledge in an effective way. This insight demands that we think differently about talent management and talent management software. MTV’s “No Collar Workerâ€ survey reveals, for example, that 89 percent of Millennial employees – who will comprise 75 percent of all employees by 2025 – think that it is important to be constantly learning at their job. Some of this learning may look rather traditional, involving classroom training and education. But I expect this style of company education to continue to become a declining percentage of organizational learning as talent management software and tools enable learning to become more social, collaborative and on-demand. Embedding collaboration into corporate learning so that employees seamlessly learn while working and work while learning is as fundamental to the future than ever before, and now possible in ways that were not available until recently.
Beyond a Separate Class of Employees
The concepts of continuous or on-demand learning are critical to the future of work, and obviously the smart application of talent management software can make the difference in meeting this need. We often refer to “knowledge workersâ€ as though they are a separate class of employees, but what I am saying is that all work is becoming knowledge intensive. Thus future tools must provide real-time communication, quick and easy access to information on multiple devices from anywhere anytime, better collaboration through knowledge of who is available and where they are, and access to instant learning in small bites as the need arises.
Let’s play with some possibilities. The Cornerstone’s “The State of Workplace Productivity Reportâ€ notes that 58 percent of employees would be willing to use wearable technology if it helps them do their job. Imagine a bartender wearing augmented reality glasses, needing to learn a new drink recipe as an order is placed, and being able to do that simply by repeating the customer’s order out loud. Or imagine a repair technician in an auto shop or on the factory floor needing instant training on a new problem they have not faced personally before. Or imagine a lawyer wanting to brush up on case law or negotiation technique as they walk to a meeting. These kinds of scenarios are applicable to just about any job we can think of. Companies that combine access to learning software tools, cloud databases and access to the wider Internet – and that develop a culture of continuous learning – will gain an advantage in the development of their human talent.
The MTV survey also reveals that 80 percent of Millennials want regular feedback from their supervisors, 89 percent want their workplace to be social and fun, 50 percent would rather have no job than a job they hate, and that 50 percent also believe that “switching jobs helps you climb the corporate ladder faster.â€ Once again, smart talent management programs and software can contribute to meeting these needs of the future workforce. Providing a way to receive more regular feedback is a no-brainer. Using gamification to make the workplace more social, and also as a means of speeding up learning, should be a priority. As for creating jobs that people do not hate, enabling people to move between jobs (also referred to as talent mobility) is one proven strategy for helping with that. Continuous and on-demand learning systems will enable people to switch jobs more seamlessly without a massive drop off in knowledge and skills.
We live in a time when talent management tools, the nature of work, and the needs and desires of the future workforce are all converging in a way that enable us to reimagine the ways we hire, train, manage and engage employees. Those that take advantage of this convergence will win the future.