Our everyday lives used to be relatively easy to predict. Men would have the career that their father had (farmer, shoemaker, blacksmith) and women would raise children. We would live within 50 miles of our immediate family and this wouldn’t really change generation after generation. Teenagers knew what the broad strokes of their life would look like by looking at their parents and there would be very little movement from that picture.
Compare that to now. Today I work collaboratively with people from around the world. We can edit the same document, talk in real time over skype for almost a free cost, and have access to a world of information on our phones. My husband and I used to playfully argue over pop culture facts and now when we disagree it only takes him a second to say "Siri, how old is Martha Stewart?". I have had my genome sequenced and found out that I need more vitamin D and that my preferred method of exercise should be long distance running (I don't care what you say DNA test, I'm still not running a marathon.) As an individual, I have no way to predict what my life will look like in 20 years, let alone what life will look like for my children as they grow.
Dan Sullivan from The Strategic Coach has developed a model of societal transformation that helps us understand this time of exponential change and societal transformation that we are living through. Dan describes that society has always had 3 main stabilizers and accelerators. Traditionally, religious groups, government and families act as stabilizing force in society. Financial, scientific, and technological are accelerating forces in society.
• Political: Continual societal adjustments and improvements, without violence and destruction.
• Religious: Creating unifying moral and ethical frameworks for greater cooperation within groups.
• Family: Favoring genetically-linked individuals with exclusive support, advantages, and opportunities.
• Financial: Increased expansion of economic cooperation and competition across political borders.
• Scientific: Increased transforming of natural processes and forces into usefully predictable formulas.
• Technological: Endless combining of existing capabilities into unpredictably better capabilities.
Stabilizing forces are necessary because they give people something consistent to hold on to during rapid periods of change. Accelerating forces are necessary for progress and prevent us from getting to stagnant. A challenge for today is that our stabilizers are now unstable (religious terrorism, unpredictable government institutions, and geographically separated families) and our accelerators are moving at an exponential pace.
During times of extreme growth humans revert to what is most comfortable. Babies are the most visible example of this. When my son was small he went from sleeping through the night and being a generally happy little guy to waking up 3-4 times during the night and being a screaming mess when he was awake. My husband and I were exhausted and I asked my daycare provider what the heck was going on. She said that when babies are developing new skills, they revert to an earlier developmental stage before they take the leap. A few weeks later he began walking and started to sleep through the night again.
Adults have this same pattern. As we grapple with the changes that technological advances have brought to our workplaces and our economy, some people grab onto old ideas of racism and nationalism as a security blanket for growth that they don’t yet understand. It is easier to blame immigrants and people of color for job losses when you don’t understand how robotics and artificial intelligence are impacting your job security. We are holding on to old ideas because we don’t understand the future and because change, especially exponential change is hard.
We are living through a time where there is a sorting out between stabilizers and accelerators. Now is the time to re-enforce our stabilizing institutions so they can be our bedrock during this time of change. If we don’t support these institutions, people start to try to destroy or slow down the accelerators and we also start to try to destroy each other. Because people don’t like change, you can push people to a certain point of progress and then they will snap back to their comfort point.
A few suggestions to help us through this transition:
Hyperlocal politics bridge the gap-People want their government to be personal and immediate. Government has to understand the day to day needs of their constituents. Work to elect local candidates that share your values. Spend more time and energy on local changes that will impact your day to day life.
Be a part of a group with clear moral and ethical frameworks (religious or not) and hold our institutions accountable for shared moral frameworks. Take time as an individual to understand your own moral frameworks. Where did they come from? Why do you believe them? Do they still serve you?
Build close relationships with family (genetic or chosen) and constantly lift up and support that family.
We need to prepare our minds to manage exponentially changing times.