Things do not change, we change.
– Henry David Thoreau.
We are constantly told that change is the only constant. This is true, up to a point. Things evolve and we flatter ourselves if we think that anything remains static forever. No man ever steps into the same river twice for it is not the same river and he is not the same man – or something along those lines (Heraclitus, 500 BC). Having said this, one could argue that the really important things in life do in fact change very slowly or not at all and we constantly overestimate the importance of new inventions at the expense of older ones. Consequently, the things that do change are not important.
Here then are five things that I believe won’t change over the next half-century. If this list doesn’t float your boat, I suggest that you look at the seven deadly sins. These haven’t changed much in over two thousand years.
1. An interest in the future and a yearning for the past
People were interested in the future well before Nostradamus. Indeed, the desire to look around the corner or over the garden fence is almost hard wired into the human character. We are curious and what’s going to happen next, partly because we want to avoid risk and partly because we seek opportunity.This interest in the future will not change in the future. In fact I’d predict that the level of interest in future studies will increase as change and uncertainty reach epidemic proportions. So is there a future in becoming a futurist? The answer (I’d predict) is yes, at least for a while. Machines are becoming competent at making numerical forecasts, but we still need humans to ask the questions and interpret what the numbers really mean. In an era of uncertainty we will need prophets, even false ones.
A desire for recognition and respect
People have always craved happiness, recognition and respect. At the extreme this means a yearning for status and power, which in turn fuels a desire for symbols of success. None of this will change in the future, although I would expect that the types of power people crave and the objects people aspire to own and be seen to own will change. For example, children (especially lots of children) may become a status symbol in some cultures with a twin baby buggy having the same social cachet as that of a two-seater Ferrari today. Equally, not owning a watch or a mobile phone may signify wealth in a stealth kind or way – or at least signal that you don’t need to work, which may be much the same thing. Whatever the symbols, the aspiration for recognition and respect isn’t going away.
The need for physical objects, encounters and experiences
We are a social species and the majority of people need physical contact with other people. This will not change in the future, although more of us will live and work alone. Indeed, the more that life speeds up and becomes virtual the more people will crave the opposite – physical interactions with human beings. People who live alone will crave the sensation of being held and touched, but so too will people in relationships. It will be a similar story with physical objects. The more that products and services become virtual the more that people will crave real physical spaces. Equally, the more that high technology becomes ubiquitous the more that people will crave for the old ways of doing things, especially if the rest of their lives are dominated by the insubstantial, the intangible and the impermanent. Hence arts and crafts and making things with your hands (e.g. gardening or bread baking) will flourish in the future.
4. Anxiety, fear and insecurity
When the telephone was demonstrated in 1876, some people thought that the devil was somehow on the line. The reaction to the automobile, the telegraph and even movies created a similar reaction amongst some people. Thus our current fears about the internet or virtual worlds have an historical precedent and it will be no different in the future. We will continue to invent things that make us uneasy and be unsettled and worried about the speed of change. We will therefore want to go backwards in time (or forwards into the future) because historic visions of the past and future will somehow feel safer and more certain. I expect anxiety will accelerate and deepen too, in the sense that future fears will be networked globally. The only solution, ironically, to this insecurity will be our enduring sense of hope and our ability to change.
5. A search for meaning
According to Abraham Maslow’s paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, once an individual’s basic biological needs (food, water, sleep etc) have been met they seek to satisfy a number of progressively higher needs. These range from safety through love and belonging to status and self-esteem. At the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is actualisation. Over the last fifty years or so an increasing number of people have reached the peak of this pyramid and have started searching for meaning and this will continue over the next fifty.Implications? I’d expect an increase in spirituality and a search for experiences that transcend everyday life. So pilgrimages and rites of passage won’t go away either. I’d also expect that whilst some things will still need to be seen to be believed, we’ll see more people believing that things need to be believed to be seen.