An opportunity to think about how to handle today’s society for the next years

From the beginning of 2020, we have been thrown into a sort of parallel universe we may probably read in a book or watch in a movie. Stories about viruses increasingly infecting the world until a catastrophic outcome (such as “Resident Evil”, “I am legend”, “12 monkeys”), are not new. Fantasy, however, gradually looks like reality: more and more restrictive measures have given us a sample of how a world under a dictatorship might be, although for a good reason and temporarily.

First off, the coronavirus that started in China made us think we were immune just like when we see something happening far away from us (see the world famine), but soon we realized that the whole world is on the same level.

This pandemic has also reminded us of the past great epidemics such as the plague, the Spanish flu, and the Asian flu, until the latest SARS and Swine, for which anybody may be a victim.

However, if the latest epidemics didn’t involve us so much to upset our lives, we’re immediately comparing this to the ancient ones such as plague, because it’s something we can hardly face, and a quarantine seems the only solution to an incurable disease. Unfortunately, this is not sustainable for everyone because most people do an essential job.

So, the problems are two: one about health and the other about the economy. Two weights that share the same scale which if it tips toward one side, cause damage to the others and vice-versa.

It all started a controversy on how to survive, and how to have money, but also how not to get contaminated one each other when we work. On one hand, fear has reduced consumption because people hang out less at cafés and restaurants, on the other hand, instead, the forced closure triggers a desire to escape with the consequence of further damage, while, at the same time, when doing the shopping people panic-buy in the supermarkets. Therefore, we are in front of a scenario that overlooks the future, the same future we would have seen approximately 10 years from now, where jobs decrease, the people go to work only where it’s essential and the rest is done by technology. Many companies including schools have switched to remote working, but we already should have gotten used to that, in the spirit of a new way of working and living.

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Over the centuries, society has evolved many times: today we are in the middle of a new evolution, but many haven’t realized that yet. Paradoxically, we are going to live in a society ever more like the Greeks where citizens didn’t work, but just used to manage the city, and the jobs were done by slaves. Today, those slaves are precarious workers, but very early they are going to be replaced by technology.

Working wasn’t seen as a positive thing, but as something negative to delegate to others so that they could devote themselves to something nobler. This concept changed when the world moves from a purely agricultural society to an industrial one (between 1600 and 1700) when because of Marxism people start to identify themselves with their job.

The world went from an agricultural society, which lasted about 7000 years, to an industrial society, which lasted 200 years, where mass production, labor workers, and the use of mechanical and electromechanical machines were introduced for the first time. A time dominated by figures like Taylor, who conceived the division of labor, and Ford, who invented the production line.

At that time they believed to have unlimited resources and they aimed for an idea of economic growth that could be endless. All these things led to consumerism which has grown to huge proportions until today where it’s at its best. Furthermore, there were the effects of globalization, more schooling, and the arrival of mass media.

After 1900, post-industrial society has begun and the products made by machines grow including intangible ones such as services, information, worth, aesthetics, etc… The intangible production becomes the main, in a scenario where economics is more important than politics; finance is more important than economics and rating agencies are more important than finance. So, politics follow the index (such as the spread) instead of looking beyond and seeing the real needs.

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Technology evolves and the mechanical and electro-mechanical machines are flanked by the digital ones, these last changes the concept of time and space becoming global where everything happens immediately and the distances shorten.

So, what will change from here in 10 years?

  • Surely there will be a demographic growth (about 8 billion people);
  • Longevity will increase;
  • Women will have more central roles;
  • Technology will exponentially get better (as Moore’s law suggests);
  • Genetics will be ever more central to healing illness;
  • Intellectual work will be ever more delegated to A.I.;
  • Humans and technology will be ever more melted together by nanotechnology;
  • More things will be built individually (for example by 3D printers).

Many activities will be online, such as jobs, learning, relations, amusement, etc…

Artificial Intelligence will be smarter than human beings and will be able to solve problems that are unintelligible to humans. The A.I. will also help doctors and lawyers to give answers more quickly than a human.

Businesses, where your mind and creativity are crucial, will increase. Moreover:

  • There will be less privacy;
  • It will be impossible to claim something because everything will be traced;
  • It will be hard to forget because there will be more evidence;
  • Even getting lost will be harder than now;
  • Getting bored will be harder since we’ll have so many resources;
  • Even to be completely isolated because we’ll be traced by different means;
  • It will also be hard to betray because of the large amount of data available about us.

So, the possible outlooks of the future are 2: on one hand, there’s a neo-liberal point of view carried by most of the politicians for who new jobs will replace the lost ones, whereas, on the other hand, the point of view argued by sociologists for who the lost jobs won’t be replaced.

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So far, the old ideologies haven’t managed to completely solve society’s needs because communism can distribute wealth without creating it, whereas capitalism can produce wealth without distributing it, and concentrating it in the hands of a few.

The recent events caused by coronavirus have pushed us much more quickly toward the reality of these above-mentioned predictions. If we had prepared before for this scenario, today we would be more ready and in less trouble, just like we will be in the future if we move in this direction and we understand the basic needs.

When the quarantine has finished we will realize how many jobs will be lost because, on one hand, companies will have to save money to limit their losses, and on the other hand, many will realize how many jobs are useless, and the others will be automatized.

How could have we been prepared?

If remote working would have been a reality for many more companies, today they would be able to handle this pandemic with fewer critical issues.

At the same time, if we already had economic support such as a universal basic income, today unemployed people, people at home because of the virus, and self-employed people with their enterprises closed would have money to support their basic needs without living in the quarantine with fear because they can’t even buy food.

The concept of job, which we’re still dragging on, changed starting from Christianity for which to deserve heaven you must suffer. This can be applied to a job as perfect parallelism, thus to deserve a salary you must break your back. Now, this concept should be completely reformulated.

Jobs shouldn’t be the means to get primary goods, but, at most, should be the means for secondary goods. So, this quarantine should make us think especially about this point before we will be floored over the next few years.

Source De Masi D., Lavoro 2025: il futuro dell’occupazione (e della disoccupazione), Marsilio, 2017