Over the last 50 years we have seen enormous change. From tinkering with the fabric of space in Large Hadron Colliders, to cracking the human genome, we now 3D print our doodles at home and on our way to reverse engineer the human brain and create AI machines far smarter than us.
Parallel to these technological innovations is an undercurrent of global social change. Less apparent in isolation, when joining the dots together we can see patterns emerging in the big picture. It’s a definite power shift from institutionalised top-down control to a decentralised bottom-up collaboration between people in an increasingly connected world.
The more you look at these patterns the more you can see the recurrent themes – Personalisation, democratisation and the dissolution of control structures.
Here are signs showing how this social change is irreversibly changing the institutions as we know them:
1. Decentralising Education & ‘Unschooling’
Formal schooling and individual academic development are starting to open up and change. For quite a few years we have been seeing universities offering ‘distance learning’ programmes by correspondence then later through the internet.
Eventually organisations outside the traditionally recognised academic institutions, started off the trend in MOOCs (massive open online courses) such as the Khan Academy, Coursera or Udemy. These MOOC platforms offer courses both traditionally academic but also skill-building tutorials in programming, IT design and other subjects.
[GARD align=”left”]Another interesting trend is homeschooling or ‘unschooling’ which is almost turning into a global movement. Homeschooling is gaining a lot of interest in the U.S and outside as more and more parents are recognising that formal schooling has its big flaws and limitations. Main argument for homeschooling advocates is that schooling is still in the industrial revolution age. We ‘manufacture’ students with more or less the same ideas, box them and ship them to higher educational institutions such as universities through examination filtering. This is an interesting talk on the subject by Sir Ken Robinson.
2. Media Ownership: Power to the People
With the rise of the social media over internet connected mobile devices, we’ve seen a whole new revolution in how content is distributed and shared. Where once we were fed news stories by major networks through our tube in the living room, now stories are being captured by everyone on the go. Content became massively decentralised.
I still remember how footages of street protests in Tehran and eventually the riots of the Arab spring were being captured via mobile devices and instantly uploaded via Twitter by people who were actually there. These were moments and places where the news cameras and reporters could not have been.
Another revolution is happening in publishing. Where traditionally books could only be published through deals with publishers, both established and indie authors, are now turning their backs on publishers and are self-publishing their own work and distributing it digitally through ebook marketplaces like Amazon or iBookstore.
3. The Melting Economy and the Digital Revolution
The economy has seen major downturns in the recent years with increasing scepticism and dissatisfaction being felt by the general public. The credit crunch had fire started a widespread rage against the banks and other financial institutions. People became more conscious of how their lives were being controlled by the whims of the few.
The economic meltdowns and the growing dissatisfaction perhaps opened up the way for new forms of monetary units to emerge such as the Bitcoin. The Bitcoin is a decentralised virtual currency used to make peer-to-peer payments, notably with fees that are lower than the 2-3% typically charged by credit card processors. The Bitcoin might be seen as a symbolic attempt to stir away from institutional dependency and regulation although this has raised some concerns such as lack of consumer protection. Despite this, the U.S congressional hearing of November 2013 has called the Bitcoin a “legitimate” financial service.
Another trend emerging over the last two years or so is crowd funding. This has opened doors wide open for business startups to raise capital funds without needing to seek grants, bank loans or the thumbs up from venture capitalists. The most noteworthy crowd funding site is Kickstarter which managed to receive over one billion dollars from 5.7 million donors since 2009 to fund 135,000 projects.
4. The Future of Personalised Health
The way we are looking at health is also changing rapidly. Once again the shift is one of personalisation and the decentralisation of medical authority and knowledge.
Big leaps forward in genetics are opening up the way for highly targeted drugs that would match the genetical profile of the patient. These personalised drugs will very probably start being available in the next couple of years. In the meantime we are also seeing personalisation in health happening right now with health & fitness apps and devices tracking biometric data such as heart rate, blood pressure, sugar levels in the blood and also the monitoring of health performance through diet, stress and sleep data.
This surge in interest for monitoring personal biometric data has developed into a movement coined ‘The Quantified Self’ by Wired magazine editors Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf.
5. Resource Independence: Food & Energy
The production of food and energy is a growing concern as the earth’s population has surpassed the seven billion inhabitants. Limited resources means that our over-consumptive lifestyle together with the increasing population is becoming highly unsustainable.
[GARD align=”right”]Awareness about this global issue has been growing during the last few years and more people are realising that they cannot depend on the government or the institutions to solve the problem. We are now seeing more individuals and communities taking the initiative of turning to a self-sustainable way of living. From eco-houses, earthships, aquaponics down to backyard innovations in solving food, energy and waste management problems, we are seeing a big change in how people are becoming less reliant on help from the authorities while being more reliant on their own creative resources and communities.
6. Internet of Things & How it Will Change Everything we Know
If you think that the internet has changed a lot of things from the early nineties, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The so-called internet of things (IoT), also referred to as the internet of everything, is on its way home and it’s ahead of schedule.
In a nutshell it means that the internet will not just be about connecting media sources – documents, images, videos and voice – as it is now, but mashing all data coming from common objects such as your home appliances, door sensors, car engines, transport hubs and eventually anything imaginable.
We can only start to imagine what this will be like when it is scaled up exponentially in the years to come. All the billions of objects and our interactions with them will be collecting data that will be sliced and diced then re-hashed in a way that makes sense to our personal needs. The ‘web’ will follow us and anticipate us. This super-granular and personal information will literally reveal a new world to us. The information we will have at our finger tips is unfathomable and with information comes power or rather another shift in power from multi-billion dollar corporations, governments and institutions to the individual man or woman in the street.