Preparing for the 21st Century
By Glen Hiemstra, 1999
The last time a century turned, in 1900, only 13% of the American workforce had “jobs.” By 1977, 93% of the American workforce had jobs, which had come to mean working for an organization, doing specified work at a specified time each day, in exchange for a salary and health and retirement benefits. All of this gave the job holder “security.” Then the world changed.
Now, faster than all but a few imagine, a confluence of social, economic, but most of all technological forces are bringing a new world of work, in which each person is a “business of one.” Most people still work for organizations, but by the second decade of the 21st Century those who hold a stable job with salary and benefits will be the minority. Others will work in organizations, but in something that might be better labeled a “stint” than a “job.” A growing number will work as individuals. In fact the information revolution is liberating individuals as never before.
Three Key Changes
Three key changes, commerce on the net, genetic engineering, and becoming a business of one, will create opportunity and challenge for the individual worker in the next 10 years.
Commerce on the Net
Commerce on the net is driven by computing and telecommunications technology. The basic home computer in 2007 will have 4000 megabytes of RAM and 300,000 megabytes of storage. Into this box will come a big pipe capable of data transmission at 28 million bits a second. From the box pipes will go to many screens in the home, essentially wherever you had a screen or phone in 1997. Each screen will have a variety of pointing, clicking, speaking or typing devices, and all will be connected to the world-wide net. And that net will bring into your home an astonishing array of both learning and commercial opportunities, many of them in full two-way video toward the end of the 10 year horizon. For the first time in history anyone can sell into and buy from a global market. Individuals of imagination and ambition will join this cybereconomy and discover that the greatest source of wealth will be the ideas in your head rather than physical capital alone.
Genetic Engineering and Lifespan
The second change is that combination of factors leading to a rapidly increasing lifespan, with resulting implications for retirement. Retirement is based on the notion that after age 65 you will live the rest of your life in leisure on accumulated savings and benefits. But when this system was invented it was assumed that the average person would live only three to seven years after retirement. The human lifespan has nearly tripled in the last 200 years, from an average of 35 years to nearly 80 years. If you reach 65 and are healthy, you can anticipate living another 20 years. There are prospects that this could jump dramatically in the early 21st Century particularly due to genetic engineering. The implications are clear for the individual worker. Start redefining now how you will live after the age 65.
Business of One
The third change will be those technologies of goal setting, self management, and achieving balance which will become more and more critical in a world which leaves individuals far more responsible for themselves than people grew accustomed to in the 20th Century world of industry. When you are a “business of one” there is no time clock to tell you when to stop working, no human resource department to manage your benefits, and no manager to tell you it is time for advancement or change. There is only you. This change is liberating, but also unsettling and even frightening. Managing yourself in a world of uncertainty, opportunity, and rapid change will be the greatest challenge of the next 10 years.
Five Pillars of the 20th Century
How will society itself look different? Consider how we have organized life in the 20th century, using the following five “pillars.” Everyone will have a job. People will retire at 65. People will live in homes where they eat one meal a day, sleep and store their possessions, and commute to where they work. Large social problems will be solved by government. And families will be small, on the move, and relatively isolated from their extended families.
Back to the Future Home
We have already seen how the concept of jobs and of retirement are changing. Eventually they will look very different. So will the home. The 20th Century house is an aberration of what the home was for tens of thousands of years. Prior to this century the home was where you were born and died, where you were taken care of when sick, where most education and most entertainment took place. The home was where you worked, either in the “back 40” or in the shop downstairs. In the 21st century houses will go “back to the future” and rapidly become centers for work, learning, entertainment, and even health care. This will have implications for community planning as profound as did the 20th Century move to the suburbs.
End of Government Solutions
Prior to the 20th Century large social problems were left to families, churches, and local communities. In this century social problems got so large, and philosophies changed so that we increasingly turned to government to manage such problems. Now, as the century turns there seems to be a collective decision that government will not be the agent for solving such large social problems. But there is no consensus on who it will be if not government. Individuals? Families? Nonprofits? Each community? This is the issue to be worked out in the first quarter of the next century.
End of the Isolated Family
Finally, industrialization created the small, isolated family, based on one or two workers, on the move frequently, and generally isolated from their extended family. The opportunities which come with a cybereconomy, the challenges which accompany a shift from government responsibility for social issues and the tendency to an aging population suggest that we may see families again seek to knit together extended relationship networks. This will most often be extended families, but could involve other relationships as well.
When we look back from the perspective of the year 2050, we will see that the 21st Century differs from the 20th at least as much as the 20th Century did from the 19th.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.