Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the future of offline world in our social affairs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
As we consider what life could be like at the half-way point of this Century, it is instructive to step back and view the flow of history. It is through an appreciation of how human affairs have changed, and what has driven those changes, that we can grasp what lies ahead. That we can begin to form answers to the questions at hand.
Questions such as: will the offline world matter in 2050? Will the teenage grandchildren of today's teenagers interact with the physical world as is currently the case? Will the limitations of our physical world be overcome by then? Will the digital realm be a greater source of influence than the temporal?
Prior to recent times, our lives were centred on the world of the atom rather than the world of the bit. It was solely in physical spaces that we built relationships, grew economies and exercised political influence. From the villages of the agricultural age to the cities of the industrial age, domestic, business and government activities were conducted exclusively through analogue means.
It is without question that we are in a period of transition. The balance is shifting from the physical to the digital. For although the online world is ubiquitous, we are still beholden to our physical world. Even though the domain names and the virtual properties they represent sell for millions, the power and opportunity that is afforded through the ownership of real-estate is even more significant. Even though a cadre of eminence grise wield the power of social media in commercial and political spheres, we still respond through our presence at the checkout or the ballot box. And even though the value of digital services is rising, our nations’ export earnings still tend to be dominated by that which can be carried in ships.
Given that the trees of tomorrow are todays seedlings, that the systems of tomorrow and the way things will be nascent today. What do we see around us? Today our social and retail transactions are dominated by ever-present digital transaction. And, as we grow more comfortable with its safety and ease, tomorrow digital transactions are more than likely to become ubiquitous in all other aspects of our lives such as our domestic, employment, health, romantic and spiritual affairs.
Today, most of us are generally free to live our lives free from statutory manipulation. But as we see administrations around the world learning to leverage digital tools to achieve social outcomes, opposing voices may well be reduced to obscurity. For even the phenomena such as the growing Tech-Lash or the various uprisings coordinated through social media will surely fade into impotence as the State develops and controls the digital-only narrative to maintain political control.
And so, in the time ahead, it is conceivable that our lives may well be centred on the world of the bit rather than the world of the atom. It is more than likely that it will solely be in virtual spaces that we build relationships, grow economies and exercise political influence. Where we are headed, transitioning from the cities of the current information age to megapolises of the coming intelligence age it is quite reasonable to assume that all domestic, business and government activities will be conducted exclusively through digital means.
From our vantage point from which we have surveyed the sweep of history, we can indeed be confident of one thing. That the life that the teenage grandchildren of today's teenagers experience will be vastly different to our current reality. We can be sure that the offline world won’t be as ascendant in our social affairs. Nor as influential in the ebbs and flows of economic decisions and transactions. And finally, neither as significant for those actors that gain and wield political power. The dominance of the offline world is set to wane.
© Paul Tero 2019