Challenges for the 21st Century
The challenges for the 21st Century we face are dramatic and without precedence in their scope and cumulative impact – the future is irretrievably uncertain. To build a better life for yourself, to be more successful, we need to be aware of these challenges. It is ever more important that you take charge of your life. It will be easy to be left behind.
From a daily perspective they will appear gradual and less noticeable, but look back at the extent of change you have experienced over the last ten, twenty, thirty years or more. For instance, smartphones are less than a decade old and the internet 20 odd years.
Yuval Noah Harari’s excellent book – 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is an essential read if you wish to understand the challenges of the 21st century more deeply about the significance of changes occurring around us. We live in a challenging era.
Some areas of exponential change include:
- Technology advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence and bio-engineering are only now beginning to enter the mainstream. Some of the potential impacts of these technologies which have been suggested include the creation of a “useless class” with no job potential as unskilled or semi-skilled labour is replaced through technology. Other predictions include the potential for the wealthy elite to dramatically extend their lifespans through bioengineering unavailable to the common man, thereby creating further class divisions.
- The fabric of our society and the relationships we have with others is undergoing a fundamental transformation under the influence of social media and the internet. You’ve seen the people in restaurants looking and engaging with their phones rather than each other. Information is the new driver of wealth, and we are all open to manipulation like never before.
- The world of commerce and finance will be completely changed with the inevitable application of blockchain technology. This will impact on all transactions, with consequent implications for all commercial activity. Will a more distributed transactional form replace the centralised structures of today? Or will the new elite find ways of garnering the power into a small collective as has happened with virtually every technological advancement since the agricultural revolution.
- The threat of climate change and our international responses must also create new realities. Energy as an economic driver will inevitably shift from oil to alternates, with a potential disruption of the centralised distribution model in favour of decentralised and shared networks.
- The belief in open market principles created globalisation and a shift from nationhood to continentalisation, leaving many countries behind (although the rise in populism, a la Trump & Brexit, may be signalling a reversal of this trend). Open market philosophies favour those at the centre and disadvantage those on the periphery. Will this continue?
- Information has become the major financial asset of our time and has created a new breed of billionaires who are rated as the wealthiest ever, even more so than the oil barons of the 20th century. Today, the world’s richest 1% own half of the entire planet’s wealth, and the world’s richest 100 people together own more than the poorest 4 billion. This is currently more likely to get worse rather than more equitable. The relative demise of the middle class and excessive wealth disparity seems to be taking us back to the feudal days. In the past this has led to revolution. The lack of confidence in the ruling elite is suggestive of further social disruption such as we are witnessing in France with the Yellow Jackets protests.
Against this backdrop of an uncertain jobs’ future, and social media which seems to have created an ever more personally competitive environment, it is even more important that we continue to grow and adapt as individuals.