The ABCs of the future
Dr. Andreas M. Walker, futurologist and co-president of swissfuture, ventures some predictions for the future from A (as in Artificial Intelligence) to Z (as in Zest). Some of them are deadly serious but Walker is at the ready with just the right measure of humor and reflection.
Dr. Andreas M. Walker (48) is co-president of swissfuture, the Swiss Society for Future Studies. He studied history, geography and German in Basel and Zurich. His doctoral thesis dealt with methodologies used in futurology. After a career in banking, including at UBS, he founded the strategic consulting fi rm weiterdenken.ch. Walker is married and has four children.
Man has programmed machines to quickly, cheaply and reliably collect, store and analyze data and even take action based on the information. This has made our lives easier, safer and more prosperous. And it raises questions in three exciting areas of future ethics: 1.) Is the human brain merely a biological machine and will computers be superior to our biological computers in the future? 2.) Living in a time where human enhancement is possible do we want to upgrade our brains and nervous system with artificial intelligence? 3.) Which machines should be allowed to influence which aspects of our lives and who should be able to use them?
The future is not just a virtual fantasy – more than 80 percent of the housing and settlement landscape of Switzerland in 2030 has already been built today. There is hardly anything else in Switzerland that is as robust and characterized as long-term as the way we go about construction. That is why our building culture defines the most tangible and visible limits for the way we will work and live in the future. In Switzerland we rarely take something down once it is built. And if we do, it is only after many decades have passed. What space requirements will we have and what materials will we build with? How will we regulate transportation infrastructure, energy supply and waste disposal? Where will we locate schools, hospitals and prisons – and what will transpire inside these buildings? Building represents a great opportunity to meet the demands our lives today – and it is a responsible investment that will have a profound effect on the way we live in the future.
The future is life and that makes it dynamic. In a Switzerland where pluralistic values and individualism reign, everyone has the right to pursue their dreams for the future. In a tolerant and liberal culture rigid boundaries and laws are frowned upon. How do we pave the way for a common future – at the moment all we have is this one planet to work with – so that we can avoid slipping into anarchistic turmoil or a new form of over-regulated dictatorship? Planning for the future always entails creating order in an environment of competing desires. And it means structures must be created that allow future societies to embrace the value of freedom without slipping into despotism. Ancient religious writings from the Orient tell us that there was total chaos before the earth was born. Chaos can never be the goal when creating an educated middle-class society. That is why we use cybernetics to try and shape and control our world.
“Please do not feed the fears” – the fear of chaos and death and of losing everything is one of the most archaic fears of man. Earthquakes, pestilence and wars and many local variations thereof have shaped Europe’s collective memory. The generation of our grandparents and great-grandparents have experienced how quickly a lifetime of savings could be lost repeatedly within the span of less than 50 years in the Europe of the 20th Century. The emotional shock of a disaster impacts each and every one of us because it appeals to our existential drive. And it awakens our primal instinct for survival – at all costs. This makes it extremely easy to earn a lot of money with negative visions of the future. Today’s maledictions may no longer be accompanied by magic spells, but hocus pocus with numbers can also be rather effective. And in a Swiss culture dominated by rational thinking where taking precautionary measures and safeguarding everything is so important, nobody wants to be the one who turned a deaf ear to all the precisely calculated warnings made by experts. So we believe all too easily and all too quickly that things can only get worse in the future. Obviously we are not willing to learn anything from the philosopher Karl Jaspers: “Hopelessness is already anticipated defeat.”
We live in a liberal, multi-option society. Creating and preserving high levels of freedom are highly regarded virtues in our society. But life requires decisions. Investing requires decisions. Leading requires decisions. And decisions have to be evaluated: in advance in terms of whether they really have the potential to attain the defined goal, and afterwards, to determine whether the goal has actually been achieved. Ultimately, making decisions also means taking responsibility – if we know to whom accountability is owed. For instance, it may be to our customers, to business partners, to society at large – or maybe even to our children as the future generation. Maybe we should be talking about “grandchildren compatibility tests” as well as “environmental compatibility tests”. Do our decisions only serve to get the most out of the present? Or will our decisions also provide our grandchildren with a future of freedom?
Will the female Amazon warriors still defeat the male sex as laid out in Greek mythology? Women did not always share equal rights with men in Europe – and in some places even today it is not yet the case. Today there are more than 45 countries in the world where more girls than boys attend secondary schools. In 1980 roughly 9 percent of young women and about 13 percent of young men attained a general qualification for university entrance; currently some 17 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women have this qualification. Or to put it another way: 43 percent of the certificates granting access to higher education go to young men and 57 percent to young women. This will result in a further strengthening of women’s positions in politics, business and society. The invention of the contraceptive pill and the broad social recognition of the time-phase solution for the termination of pregnancy enabled women to plan their social and professional careers free of the fixed biological mother role. Typical male roles used to be characterized by physical strength so men were destined to be soldiers, hunters, farmers or construction workers. In the professional world physical labor has becomes less and less important and it will soon be completely delegated to machines and robots. Even the resolution of conflict with wars is increasingly taking place in the domain of machines, cyberspace and on the economic battlefield. In the political and economic world of the future, in the services, flexible customer focus, negotiating skills and language proficiency will increase in importance and power and tasks will be distributed differently than in a world of the past where the male’s brute strength and aggression were the crucial success factors.
“When is a man really a man?” So goes the chorus in a popular Herbert Grönemeyer song. If we are to believe certain trends, this question is no longer politically correct, and no longer relevant for the future. And that even though every father knows how important this question is for his sons. Gender mainstreaming is a political concept with several, partly contradictory thrusts. It is an attempt to fundamentally change the image of man and society. Advances in medicine, ethics and culture have created a situation where modern women are no longer bound to a biologically determined mother and wife role (biologically predefined “sex”-gender) but have a plethora of opportunities to choose and develop their roles in society and partnership themselves (culturally negotiable “gender”-gender). The “female shift” will be the driving force behind more major changes in our century. The controversial question is whether and what role biological factors in our own bodies should play at all – in a time of freedom, pluralism of values and nearly no limits to what is medically feasible. And in the event archaic physical relics cannot be overcome: Is that allowed to matter in social issues in the future? Should there be the feminine woman and the masculine man or simply a person without gender attribution? These questions are as before laden with scientific and cultural controversy because physique and external sexual characteristics have been joined by complex debates regarding hormone balance, neuroscience, reproduction issues and religion.
“Updating” and “upgrading” machines has become an everyday occurrence for us. While previous generations sought to compensate for their physical weakness with external aids such as glasses, ear trumpets or a walking stick, for today’s generation pacemakers, artificial joints or inserting an artificial lens into the eye to treat a cataract have become commonplace. Massive advances in medicine and material technology, particularly with regard to miniaturization, have made all this possible. The amount of investments and hopes placed in further advances can hardly be estimated. So far, so good – all of us want to live longer and have easier and better lives. But the question of our concept of mankind arises: Is there a biological limit to these technical advances and where should we draw the ethical line? What is the minimum amount of biomass a human must still have to not be classified as a cyborg or android? Should we be allowed to build the perfect robot and then give it a human brain implant? Since we have artificial intelligence do we still need human brains at all?
It is astonishing how widely accepted the notion has become that man will not survive the distant future – for all kinds of reasons like the Third World War, a nuclear catastrophe, climate change or a new infectious disease. In the post-human era there is speculation that insects will take on the role as the true pinnacle of creation. Maybe some people have simply been reading too much science fiction, but aren’t most aliens made to look like insects? This appearance doesn’t occur in European mythology even though insects are considered enemies in the agrarian society and they have been fought heavily with pesticides since the last century. And despite the fact that in a globalized world characterized by high levels of mobility, micro-organisms which are again much smaller than insects are almost invisible carriers of infectious diseases that can be fatal to humans.
Despite the effects of globalization on our consumer, business and leisure behaviour there are still very few Europeans who are able to tell the difference between the Japanese, Chinese and South Koreans – or to differentiate the various Asian cultures and religions, or the economies in these countries. At the same time the differences between Switzerland, Germany and Austria are huge for us and extremely important. The same goes for the differences between Switzerland and Sweden. And all economic and security predictions indicate one thing: Asia is growing immensely in importance. Whether the energy in this growth will be invested in the economy or in a struggle for the allocation of resources within Asia or in a civil war for political power in the enormous and very heterogeneous states of China and India are a description of just a few of the scenarios that can trigger a wide range of consequences for the world economy. For many the image of Japan is very stereotyped. Isn’t that little Japan just behind that huge China? We vaguely remember the success story of Kaizen in the 80s. The Nikkei stock index has since fallen to a quarter of its peak value. We are so influenced by our urban environment and the insatiable ambitions in our economy that many of us seek inner peace and relaxation in Zen exercises because we are unaware of the stories of the Christian Desert Fathers and mysticism. After all, we are striving to be spiritually open-minded and avoid being pious. We easily overlook a significant impact Japan is having on our youth and popular culture – in particular with computer games and manga. Here, a great change in how human nature is perceived is taking place that is foreign to us in the culture of Europe. People who frequent these virtual fantasy worlds consider hybrid creatures to be commonplace, whether it be a cross between human and animal, human and demon or human and robot. The question of what constitutes human identity and what distinguishes man from other creatures has been discussed in European philosophy and theology for thousands of years. Here we encounter novel, newly created identities in a self-evident manner. So it’s no surprise how openly and vigorously the Japanese society is dealing with human enhancement, artificial intelligence and robots as aids and companions for everyday life or domestic needs, whether it’s robots in the automotive industry, in nursing care for the elderly or even as a sex toy in human form. Perhaps we ought to pay more attention to Japan again because the country has been dealing with issues like urbanization and public transportation for decades – and it is a society in which fewer children are born and the elderly are living longer.
Since the Club of Rome released the report “The Limits to Growth” it has become widely accepted that the earth is a closed system that cannot grow indefinitely. And technical disasters have opened our eyes to the fact that undetected and underestimated risks can often be much more harrowing than the ones that seem apparent to us. For at least a generation now an attempt is being made to treat the world as a holistic system and to steer developments consciously. In doing so we have begun asking whether interventions in this system might have unintended consequences and trigger chain reactions causing damage that is more extensive than the benefits that were intended. Enormous efforts are being undertaken to collect data and explore correlations to estimate the direct and indirect consequences of any changes we make. The availability of inexpensive computing power and a world view characterized by technology and materialism repeatedly lets us believe that it might actually be possible to collect every bit of data and make and connect all the dots and visualize them correctly. Experts and politicians fall victim to the notion that a machine can actually be built that knows what is good for humanity, if is only fast enough and and can compute long and hard enough, thus replacing the fallible human helmsman. But what happens if in our free society where we appreciate pluralistic values we do not agree on who should be the helmsman? Or taking the “female shift” into consideration who should be the helmswoman? What if we don’t agree on a common destination? Or who should foot the bill for the passage into the future?
“Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability”, mainly to be found in the “50-plus” generation, describes a way of life that is becoming ever more important in Central Europe – as a customer and buyer segment of society as well as a political force. In a stage of life where one’s career zenith has usually already been reached and the major material demands have more or less been met and there is a drop in hormone-related aggression and excessive ambitions in the human values portfolio, LOHAS take a conscious interest in the ideas of health, responsibility, meaningfulness and sustainability. In a culture that enjoys longevity where retirement now can extend over 30 years, about the same amount of time as childhood, youth and adolescence added together, we have a lot of time as a member of the LOHAS group to ruminate about the meaning of life and what kind of legacy we want to leave behind for society and future generations. And so in this prosperous and secure society we come across an increased willingness to invest our savings both for financial returns and in purposeful endeavors, and consumption habits are becoming more purpose-driven than simply gratification of desires. In the old days the LOHAS motto would have been: Live a healthy life and do good. LOHAS are important sources of funding for research and development into new products and services, especially in the areas of health, mobility, new energies and global social justice. Ultimately, it amounts to a special form of philanthropy and patronage: LOHAS purchase products and services that price-wise are still not marketable to a wider consumer base because they want to support the underlying idea. By doing so LOHAS provide meaningful innovations an opportunity to enter the market -–in the hope that these innovations can improve the future of the whole world.
Although humans have always felt a deep need for home, they have always been wanderers and nomads – and that doesn’t look like it is about to change. Whether it’s commuters who are migrants twice a day, leisure migrants on weekends or on vacation, or an individual who does not wish to spend his life in the land of his past, but in another country that holds his future, or the mass migration many nations have experienced. The barbarian invasions once drove out the decadent Romans. Today, some fear that Africans and Asians are on the move and will displace the decadent Europeans. Change is inevitable – and stress levels will rise as will the need for negotiations – for those who have the luxury of staying in their homeland but are feeling provoked by the strangers showing up on their doorstep. And for those who leave the homeland of their parents, for whatever reason, in search of a new home for their own future. And for many people moving their bank account from a former Basel bank to Zurich is already a huge step.
Nanotechnology is one of the hot words for progress – for technical progress, for controversial and hotly debated technical progress. Advances in materials technology are one of the biggest drivers of progress in our society. They have brought us significant improvements in safety and comfort. But progress always means change and confrontation with the new. And progress also means moving away from nature towards a culture, based on the idea that in reality no one really wants to go “back to nature”. Sure if it means recreation in a serene, flourishing place teaming with butterflies – but really back to nature? Practically back to the Stone Age when we still wore clothes made of fur, used stones to make fires and cannibalism was not a taboo, but an expression of the value system at that time. Clearly no one is thinking in such extremes. Basically we are dealing with the fear of the new, the unnatural, of the man-made, and the risks and implications associated with them that we are not yet able to estimate from the mere decades of experience we have with them. One important aspect of technological progress is the ability to make things extremely small – up to the point that they become invisible. The Greek term “nãnos” means “dwarf”. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, making it about 2,000 times thinner than a human hair. As they are so small, these synthetically produced nanomaterials exhibit novel properties and functions. And since our societies have never been exposed to such tiny things, we can hardly imagine what they are capable of. Can we be sure these new synthetic materials are really safe for humans and the environment? The advances in nanotechnology offer tremendous new opportunities, especially in the fields of medicine, nutrition, waste and the environment. It is almost too good to be true as the generation of our grandparents had also hoped to expect such risk-free wonders from nuclear technology. The best way we can address all our fears associated with the new technologies that could change the world and our societies is by encouraging public debates that involve the scientific community, industry and society at large.
The future is an unknown. Leaders also tend to shy away from the unknown because it carries risks that are difficult to gauge. That is why so many attempts are made to predict future risks using rational methods. Irrational methods are used as well. Since time immemorial there has been a widespread belief that there are gods whose knowledge and actions are independent of time. Gods are some sort of time travellers. Or they at least possess knowledge in time matters. And there are people who believe that the gods share this knowledge with humans – through prophets, shamans and seers. Or through the famous oracle of Delphi. At least that’s what Greek kings like Alexander the Great, Croesus and Pyrrhus believed when they were procuring these services in Delphi.
In a society that is based on an economic view of the world, patents are of vital importance because patents grant the exclusive right to exploit an invention commercially or to permit or prevent others from doing so. In a world where the pursuit of innovation and improvements is one of the highest virtues, patents should ensure the underlying economic principles of these endeavors. The ones paying the research and development costs are entitled to a reasonable return. If we were farmers we would say: Only those who sow may also reap. The only one who is allowed to harvest the apples is the one who planted the tree. And these apples show us why this principle is now under threat: Many trees were planted by our predecessors. Why shouldn’t all future generations be allowed to reap the benefits? And pilferage is not considered theft; I am just taking my Sunday walk and just got so hungry and the shops are all so far away and there are still plenty of other apples on the tree. And the apple is hanging directly over the public path. And anyway ... So it seems, given the dynamics in the virtual space, it will hardly be possible to protect intellectual property. A piece of music, a film, a photograph, a business idea, a construction plan – cyberspace is a public space, so the global cyber community is naturally helping itself. It used to be called “publicly-owned property.” The owner of the patent is free to keep on owning it – but in cyberspace I want to be allowed to use it for free of course. What this understanding of ownership could mean for future generations falls into the category “doom saying” (see D) from the perspective of the liberal market economy.
Hunger has been one of the biggest problems facing humanity since time immemorial. The UN estimates that today more than 800 million people are suffering from hunger. Quorn is the foremost representative of industrially produced foods. It is a high-protein and low cholesterol mixture of compost fungus that is enriched with vitamins and minerals and processed into a vegetarian meat substitute. The Swiss have high standards for food. It must be healthy, natural, aesthetically pleasing and typical Swiss. Or maybe as exotic as we imagine our vacations to be. Obviously humans are not a biological machine that treats food as a purely functional way to refuel. Food has an important cultural and social significance, and sometimes even a religious component. Hunting and harvesting together, cooking and eating together are activities with central significance in our society – and they also have a nostalgic touch about them. “This tastes just like home” is probably one of the highest culinary accolades you can get in Switzerland. Still, in our generation fast food has secured an important place in our diet as long as it looks, smells and tastes like we think food should. Astronaut food is a little tough to swallow outside of space capsules or children’s birthday parties. However, several current developments will continue to have an influence on our eating habits. LOHAS (see L) may place a premium on natural, healthy and authentic food. Having a clear regional identification that underscores the exclusivity of a dish, almost lending it artisan qualities, is sure to make for fancy prices. But food it too important as a resource throughout the world for it to be based henceforth on our traditionalist ideas. For the sake of global social justice we may all start calculating transportation, energy, CO2 and the use of resources that are involved in the manufacturing processes of the food we eat – as this is already being discussed in schools today. Taking this into consideration, we can expect the acceptance of new materials and mixtures in our food will continue to increase for reasons of ethical responsibility and scarcity of funds – attitudes towards meat and fish scraps that we now feed to animals, or towards insects that are already part of peoples’ diets in Asia and Africa. That would actually be quite traditional because there was a time in Europe when a large part of the population mostly ate porridge and stew. The main thing is that our food must continue to look, smell and taste as we have come to expect it to - we at least need to preserve the smells of hamburgers, fish sticks and canned ravioli.
Resources: a term that sounds rather technical but really stands for all the things necessary for life. The original meaning of the term refers to the tapping of sources. And progress has always been accompanied by the tapping of new sources, or with a more efficient and effective use of resources. Technical progress has often come about from experiencing scarcity and confronting limitations and the willingness not just to address these boundaries with sacrifice and self-imposed restriction, but to go about overcoming these limitations. Both an individual’s personal biography as well as the history of human society is full of experiencing boundaries and how humans deal with these limits. Humans are capable of learning and are able to respond to new challenges with new solutions. This is why many a prediction hasn’t come true because new solutions were found. And now the next generation will have to find new ways and means to cope as never before have so many people coveted the same resources. There has never been a society like ours today that simply assumes they will have affordable resources at their disposal whenever they need them. Doing without is currently not a socially acceptable option. This explains why major efforts are being undertaken to keep looking for new ways and means to handle scarce resources. Global powers have come and gone throughout history. At the height of what probably seemed like sheer unlimited prosperity their willingness to deal with challenges abated. Instead, they fell into decadence and were overtaken by emerging powers. This is the way Europe has been addressing its fear of Islam and Asia for a generation now. And this isn’t the first time it has happened in world history. China is positioning itself strategically to be able to control future resources. It is doing this with direct activities in African countries that have the raw materials that are needed for leading-edge technology. By investing in transportation and infrastructure in their own country and now in Africa. By systematically buying up patents in the fields of environmental technologies and alternative energy. In Switzerland we have known for centuries that we have very little in the way of minerals that we can use as resources. And we are fully aware of the fact that we don’t possess enough military might to take foreign mineral resources by force. That’s why it has always been typically Swiss and will remain typically Swiss to acquire specialized skills as the country does in dealing with renewable natural resources, in the commercial trade and transportation of resources in difficult conditions and in the nurturing of relationships and of human capabilities as human resources.
One wonders if Hannß Carl von Carlowitz, a senior mining administrator from the Ore Mountains in the State of Saxony, ever thought his idea for “sustainability” would gain international recognition. The principle is rather simple: a father plants the trees, the son tends to them and the grandson chops them down. Actually it’s about an economic cultural struggle: I will forgo quick profits so that I can invest in the future today and my descendants will reap the rewards in the present of the future. Just like my father and forefathers invested in my present long ago. So where is the cultural struggle? It is in not thinking in terms of quarterly financial statements, but in terms of several generations. Doing this requires an ethic that does not try to extract everything out of the present, an ethic that will secure the future of our children and grandchildren.
There’s a joke that goes like this: An American, a British and a French general met in a tank to think over the next attack on the German army. Inside it was a very secluded – no one could listen to or interfere with the development of their strategy, not their enemy nor their subordinates, the media or politicians. In the tank they were in a small confinement together and they could smell each other’s sweat and the intensity of the joint thinking and discussion process allowed the men to form a bond and by extension form a common strategy. The American billionaire Charlie Munger said: “The only way to minimise risks is to think.” Where can managers find the space and the time as well as trusted individuals to think together for themselves?
Sodom and Gomorrah or heavenly Jerusalem? For thousands of years big cities have had an ambivalent character: For some they are places plagued with vice and crime while others hope that the big town will liberate them and bring them prosperity because they want to escape the confines of their villages and hope to establish new relationships. Already today more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The UN estimates that by 2050 over 70 percent of the world’s population will live in megacities that have more than 10 million inhabitants. And yet, industrialization in Europe lured millions of people into the urban centers as early as the 19th Century. How to build people-friendly metropolises will soon enough be one of the most pressing issues on the global agenda.
In a day and age characterized by the maximization of growth, wealth and consumption, people will not take well to the notion of sacrifice. Especially when a post-war generation associates experiencing hunger and deprivation with this term, something they want to avoid in the future at all costs. And when a post-religion generation has never accepted the concepts of fasting and mortification. Similarly, a society that condones the notion that rights can be enjoyed without doing anything to earn them or providing anything in return, and in a society that defines happiness as the maximum satisfaction of desires and needs, will not understand the concepts of service, duties and virtues. In our economic approach to the world we understand scarcity as a phenomenon that impacts pricing and has an effect on the creation of target customer segments and products with prices and levels of quality that reflect it. In a technological world we look at experiences like this as a challenge to drive innovation to increase efficiency or to find substitutes for materials and energy sources. But sacrifice? Never, when the term sacrifice means unfulfilled desires and unmet needs. Perhaps in a future concept of sacrifice it will primarily be a response to the phenomenon of the deadly sin of gluttony. This kind of sacrifice has been a central tenant in Protestant business ethics. This is not just an expression of prosperity and contentment, but of egotistical self-indulgence and reckless waste. Perhaps in the future it will be about conscious modesty and frugality so that others can share in the abundance? Perhaps in a future concept of sacrifice it will be about setting priorities in a new way to give social and mental aspects more weight in relation to material aspects?
It is impossible to take into account every eventuality in life because life, and especially the future, is full of surprises. In monopoly there are two well-known wildcards that can bring about unexpected events: “Advance to go - collect your bonus” and “Go to jail.” What changes in life do we wish to recognize and which ones can we truly influence? And where are our blind spots? Despite all the advance planning and hedging instruments we have developed ,our thoughts and actions must remain agile when indeed things turn out “differently”. And we need to know who we can ask for help when it does.
In Greek mythology there were three concepts for dealing with time: the day as the immediate present, “chronos” as chronological or sequential time and “Kairos”, the opportune time to make a decision from a religious-philosophical standpoint that, if left to lapse, could be detrimental and should therefore be seized. A fourth concept in dealing with time has been added since the advent of weapons of mass destruction and the confrontation with the destructive forces human technology can wield: the fear of day X or doomsday. The exact date is not yet known. And the doom-saying prophets (see D) never tire of warning us: The future is a risk. And life is life-threatening. We do not know when it will come, but it will come – the end of the world. As an enlightened, educated society we have discarded the notion of creation as the beginning of our world, but we entertain a large variety of rather concrete doomsday scenarios. Or at least imaginings that depict the extinction of humanity. Or calculations for calamitous man-made disasters that will fundamentally change our quality of life and the functioning of human society for the worse. Or the day on which the world economy will collapse. Or the euro zone will break apart. Or Islam will reign supreme over Europe after the “Russians are coming” scare didn’t materialize. Mankind knows that it can survive wars, pestilences, and earthquakes – but day X will change everything. D-Day meant both the death of many soldiers and the beginning of the liberation of Europe. The biblical notion of the Apocalypse meant both the Battle of Armageddon and the subsequent deliverance from sin, death and evil. Why is it that these days we always associate day X with a miserable future?
Generation Y is the current generation of young adults that was born after the babyboomers (roughly from 1945 to 1965) and generation X (late 1960s to early 1980s) and has only entered the workforce in recent years after enjoying a lengthy education including higher education and stints abroad. Back in the day by the time you were 30 you were considered to be a mature adult and often people of this age had already taken on family responsibilities. High levels of education, global mobility, access to the Internet and communication technologies, pluralistic values, individualism and living in a multi-option society are a matter of course for this generation. And since the everyday struggle for survival is no longer an issue and a high standard of living in terms of access to health care and material goods is a given, it seems this generation has the luxury of attending to the question of the meaning of life, to pursue a network of relationships voluntarily and to work in a team that emphasizes collegiality. A profession is not instrumentalized in a one-dimensional fashion as a “job” for earning money and making a career, rather this generation is seeking its “calling”. That’s a good thing because this generation is likely to live on this earth for more than another 50 years.
As a proverb from Lapland goes: “If the hunter loses hope, there will be no spoils.” Zest, optimism and hope are terms describing attitudes about the future that people living in the German-speaking part of Central Europe have a difficult time embracing. They are dismissed as being too emotional and not very serious. We prefer to consult instruments like the annual “Sorgenbarometer” survey of concerns or the “angst barometer” and it is a wide-spread social virtuee to make provisions for and take preventive measures against just about everything, regardless of the cost. American sociologists speak of the unique phenomenon of “German Angst” but there is hardly any self-critical reflection in this country on this attitude towards life and we barely differentiate between well-founded fear, anxiety and trepidation or between distress and worry for that matter. German experts are adept at explaining to us the important nuances in this collection of terms – but we do not really understand or apply these terms in the way we use our language and in the way we think about them here. As far as the education of our children and what motivates our young professionals is concerned, there is a core question we ought to be pondering: Do we want to experience the future at all? Or do we want to hold on to the present? Do we see the future as an opportunity for new approaches? Or does it pose a risk to our current positions and vested interests? It comes as no surprise then that the “Hope Barometer” survey conducted by swissfuture reveals we do not consider our managers, professional supervisors, politicians or even our pastors to be partners in hope. But just how do we want to be innovative and dynamic if we don’t demonstrate zest and confidence?
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