With the coming generation, education will become more closely aligned with cultivating intuitive decision- making. By incorporating a wide range of sources of knowledge and perspectives, a more holistic approach to education will synthesize old traditions with new capabilities to instill a greater sense of integrity and possibility into public and private institutions.
Over the past thirty years, consumer lifestyle has gradually become oversized and unsustainable. In the next thirty years, popular lifestyle will be less about ego and more aligned with nature’s cycles to establish balanced ecosystems.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” — Arundhati Roy
Common everyday items, that quickly come in and out of our lives, can be realigned with more lasting principles. In many ways, some of the simplest changes are also the most widely effective. The question of “paper” or “plastic” for grocery bags is better replaced by the question of do you need to bring another bag into circulation at all, or can you simply reuse one? Same goes for straws. Paper has replaced plastic, but that still accounts for a lot of straws going to waste. Why are straws so important anyway? Many of the novelties of modern life have become unnecessary conveniences. In order to create more integrative systems of engagement, we can begin to make more conscious efforts to better use the abundance of resources we already have at hand.
The idea of a closed loop of goods has been around for some time. One example of mainstream sustainability that doesn’t require a huge shift in perspective is Patagonia’s Worn Wear. With this program for keeping perfectly-wearable used clothing in rotation, the clothing manufacturer is helping out the environment by stretching out the lifecycle of products that would normally be turned to trash sooner. As the company reasons on their website, “the best thing we can do for the planet is get more use out of stuff we already own, cutting down on consumption.”
“The more you know, the less you need.” — Yvon Chouinard
The world doesn’t really need any more sneakers. There’s actually enough of everything, if only the balance of distribution can reach greater alignment between supply and demand. As public discussion focuses more and more around the topic of sustainability, humans will increasingly find ways to redistribute and conserve resources to better integrate themselves within the natural world.
In another effort to diminish our collective trash, a recent joint venture between Italian healthcare group Angelini, and Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest diaper supplier, set out to investigate what to do with the end product of a $4 billion-a-year diaper market. These conglomerates have begun a potentially pivotal, new program that looks to recycle absorbent hygiene products like diapers, incontinence pads, and feminine hygiene products, with a plan to roll out in ten cities by 2030. For 2035–2050+, the company’s vision of products and packaging consists of 100% renewable or recycled materials. The products being developed from these recycled materials range from school desks to playgrounds to bottle tops. In addition, recycled cellulose can be turned into fabric or paper, while super-absorbent polymer has potential applications in gardening, or creating flood barriers.20
The more that companies and individuals prioritize reusing, recycling, and repurposing objects, the more that potential applications will evolve. The most significant change we have in mind is recycling and reinventing materials that are already in existence and transforming them into imaginative new forms. We believe that pursuing this approach will lead to a larger, sustainable tradition of more conscious, connected, and integrative systems.
Let go of our determined fixation on mechanical time and other rigidly self-referential systems detached from nature’s cycles. Let go of IQ. Let go of bias and prejudiced expectations.
Our most common units of measurement—time, money, and intelligence —are all in need of revision. The way that time is arranged and manipulated is mostly in the interests of economic factors. Money is made up by humans and disconnected from any principle of nature. Global markets are based on feelings, predictions, and an ever-changing flux of information. Is confidence in a debt-based market really our best option for determining wealth? Many important parts of life cannot be calculated and scheduled. The most significant moments in life often happen serendipitously. And, as has been said many times, the best things in life are free. So why are we still measuring value in monetary terms?
Researchers at MIT have proposed a redesign of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) called GDP‑B (the B is for benefit) to include consideration of value made by free digital goods and services. As professor Erik Brynjolfsson explains, upgrading GDP provides a “realistic idea of what creates value in society and what doesn’t. A lot of digital goods we’ll find are creating a ton of value…” The professor goes on to say, “It’s not that production and spending aren’t important, but they aren’t everything. To measure the economy you need a dashboard with different metrics. What we’re measuring are the benefits you get even when you spend nothing on the good.”21
It’s said that time is money. This adage certainly holds true within our current economic system. But where do we look for a more secure sense of measurement in the absence of centralized economic authorities? How long will big banks continue to control the flow of money? Blockchain showed the possibility for crypto-currencies to transform monetary exchange. The promise of blockchain’s incorruptibility unfortunately cracked.22 In setting up society for a fairer future, it feels wise to prepare for the inevitability of an economic system aligned with principles of sharing, nurturing, and impermanence.
The way we measure our intelligence is another part of society worthy of revision. Over the last decades, IQ has been used to validate racist, sexist, and otherwise biased classifications. A recent study by scientists disproved IQ as a measure of intelligence.23 They showed that intellectual ability occurs along three distinctive nerve circuits in the brain guiding interactions between short-term memory, reasoning, and verbal agility. In other words, there’s no singular indicator like IQ that can really account for a person’s intellectual ability across various categories. Our self-identities do not need to be confined into singular assessments. Intelligence is really a matter of one’s ability to interact with others in the world with grace, care, and effectiveness.
In his book, The Mismeasure of Man, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould showed how intelligence is not based on genetic inheritance. In taking stock of fairer measurements by which to assess how environmental conditions impact individuals, Gould gave focus to the idea of relative frequency. This concept describes how meaning in people’s lives increases the more that a particular action or exchange takes place. For example, think about how the more that people smile at one another in passing, the more palpably uplifting the net effect of those fleeting interactions between strangers becomes. You can feel the different energy that exists in a room when people are being kind to one another and how, conversely, different that energy is when people are angry at each other. Gould wrote about the high relative frequency of human decency he noticed between people in NYC in the weeks after 9/11.24 With great humility, Gould remarked in his book, Wonderful Life, an inspiring thought about humanity:
“Homo sapiens, I fear, is a ‘thing so small’ in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event well within the realm of contingency. Make of such a conclusion what you will. Some find it depressing; I have always regarded it as exhilarating, and a source of both freedom and consequent moral responsibility.” — Stephen Jay Gould
As Gould mentions, the chance at life that we all receive can be incredibly motivating. We are here for the purpose of living. While the interpretations of what it means to live are virtually endless, relationships that show respect for life will always contribute to an overall sense of meaningful participation.
Be mindful of how we speak to objects as much as one another. How we work together, share space, and even develop identity is increasingly influenced by how we interact with mechanical technologies.
“The digital revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Numbers that do things now rule the world. But who rules over the machines?” — George Dyson
“The new system listens to you, observes you, understands you, and gives you what it knows you want.” — Adam Curtis
In their best versions, technologies help humans become more empowered. In their worst versions, technologies are coercive, addictive, and oppressive. Our relationships with the machines we make are shaped by how we intend to incorporate those machines and technological abilities
into our lives. If the impetus is control, then power becomes abused. If the impetus is co-creation, then we can make anything we imagine.
The digital ability to transcend borders and limitations makes tech an ideal force for change. Yet, the popular notion of technology as a disruptive force needs to be realigned as a creative force for good. So don’t yell at your digital assistant. Don’t yell at any assistant. If you want something, ask for it nicely. Offer gratitude in return. Contribute to a culture of kindness. We can think of the machines we involve in our lives as extensions of ourselves, and act accordingly.
When it comes to the role of technology in our lives, we have to continually ask ourselves: Is the technology we’re using helpful or harmful? The more we come to rely on our phones to be our cameras, grocery delivery service, remote home thermostats, matchmakers, or sleep monitors, the more our attention is absorbed by these devices and the more we become exposed to the potential for influence and exploitation.
We are not well served by technology becoming a synthetic replacement for natural systems like community. We have become painfully aware these last few years of how technology can exacerbate alienation and how that can lead to social networks becoming hotbeds for extremism.25 Radicalization notwithstanding, since the inception of smart phones, thirteen years of hyper engagement has led to a public health crisis of screen-based addiction. The current generation of young adults raised with phones in their faces since birth is also the generation featuring the most pronounced rates of anxiety and burnout. The current generation of teens experiencing addiction to the dopamine kick of phone activity, has been compared to teenagers in the 1960s who suffered a public health crisis of smoking-related addictions and illnesses.26 We must ensure that if children are going to receive recommendations for what they should have or utilize, that those products and services are helpful and healthy.
Technology is a tool, but when it controls us, then we become the tools. As users of technology, we must have agency to choose when and where we decide to use the tools of our trades. We need to not have the conditions of involvement dictated by the companies which create those technologies and profit from our use.
A new set of standards must evolve in which technology is not encouraged to create co-dependency for its adopters. The technologies we incorporate in our lives must ascribe to better ethical considerations. As we connect more of our everyday objects to each other and the Internet, we need to ensure that the flow of information streaming between us, the objects, and environment is in the best interests of humanity and the planet, and not the interests of one company or another. We believe that learning to better use certain technologies, like our phones, actually means using those technologies with more conscious intention.
The interactions we have with technologies that enable and empower us will continue to help us move toward a future of greater ability. Along the way, we must continually remember that the values we hold will continue to guide the way we interact and the experiences we have.
Ongoing climate crises continue to reaffirm how out of alignment we are with nature. A mix of human activities is making our habitats inhospitable.
As coastlines vanish, where will the 10% of the global population who live in these areas go?27 And how will we accommodate intensifying waves of displacement?
On a collective level, we need to prepare with empathy and practicality for a new wave of mass migration by putting appropriate systems in place to help environmental refugees before this crisis hits fever pitch. An uptick in environmental refugees is all but guaranteed within the coming years, even if we begin to rein in our emissions. This does not need to be a humanitarian crisis, however.
We need to change the pattern of how countries continue to fail to install systems to aid the current flow of refugees from humanitarian crises of war and genocide. The common refrain that makes receiving those in need so difficult has to do with securing borders. In this sense, the problem has to do with placing a priority on borders to begin with. The logical response to this conflict would suggest we de-emphasize the importance of borders in order to emphasize the importance of humanity in need.
Common decency would suggest that those fleeing from violence would be treated with humaneness and fairness. Unfortunately, these individuals are often criminalized rather than cared for, and deemed a threat to stability. Migrant “detention centers” are really not so distinct from concentration camps. In contrast, the open doors of sanctuary cities aim to soften this harsh and unwelcoming cultural climate. They vary, but sanctuary cities tend to practice some form of dissent against immigration enforcement, aiming to shelter people from the most punitive practices. This current political moment of anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia must be fought throughout the public sphere. We must defend, support, and care for human life, and replace fear of the other with love.
National borders are undergoing a contradictory shift. Although hardened by nationalism, conceptually they have been made more permeable. Information and communication now flows freely and instantaneously without any consideration for country borders.
This is especially true amongst the younger generation. Their identities are shaped by digital interactions as much as their physical surroundings. Many borders are largely arbitrary, drawn up long ago by colonial conquerors who had no regard for the social ties that connected the native inhabitants together. The enforcement of national borders is entirely incompatible with a humane response to both current and future flows of people.
A redefinition of borders can positively contribute to de-escalating hostilities. Borders can be eased to allow for common sense and decency. The way that kids who live on the Mexican side of the national border but go to school in Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona, have to wait hours in immigration line breathing the fumes from idling engines just to get home after class is an outrage to basic levels of respect.
In making maps to demarcate owned territory, humans ended up emphasizing the lines drawn between one another, while the definition of borders has historically shifted through force and power. Yet, nature doesn’t adhere to these borders. A wildfire rips across state lines, and floods erode the distinction between districts. We should look at borders as more of natural boundaries and less as rigid and fallible, human-made limits. Hopefully, that acknowledgement can help serve to decrease fear and place the power of compassion at our borders, and everywhere in between.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead