The end of the year is a time for contemplation. In this Retroscope, we look back and reflect on the ideas and insights we have published in The Macroscope throughout 2018. We have covered a wide range of events and developments in technology, global politics and society. The Macroscope is marked by our team’s diversity of perspectives, ranging from philosophy, economics, history, sociology, political sciences to engineering. Combining this interdisciplinary approach with scenario thinking and cyclical thinking, we aim to assess current affairs from a comprehensive and long-term perspective. Our retrospect of 2018 is therefore about how this year’s events tie in with or deviate from larger trends in technological, hegemonic or socio-cultural cycles. Our mission is to unlock society’s potential by decoding the future.
The hyperlinks in this Retroscope refer to the underlying Macroscope publications of 2018.
We hope you enjoy our reflection!
Socio-cultural cycle 2018
The grand narratives of the past have been met with post-modern skepticism and outright resistance. Many people are longing for new (hopeful) stories and principles to guide their lives and these are now emerging on different levels. On a philosophical note, the rise of intelligent machines is forcing us to rethink our own nature and gives way to a post-human perspective.
1. New times call for new narratives
In the midst of global and transnational populism, driven by the rise of the precariat class, we have also witnessed how new generations have developed new hopeful narratives and consumer practices that go well beyond mere consumerism and broader business ethics (e.g. Nike’s embrace of Colin Kaepernick). On a personal level, new narratives are emerging about our bodies and minds, the food we eat, emancipation, and our relation to digital technology. The same is true for travel, which is less about relaxing and much more about personal development and even transformation. All of this is not just about content, language itself and the style of communication are also subject to profound change.
On a socio-economic level, people are seeking new ways to articulate their changing political preferences and narratives, as part of a general trend of more holistic or non-reductionist worldviews. This new tone of voice includes new ways of utopian thinking. Interestingly, these new generations are about to inherit large sums of money from their baby-boomer parents and they are bound to look for sustainable and impact-oriented investment opportunities, hence they will be able to translate their changing ideals into real-life changes.
2. New generations seek new navigators
New narratives require new navigators. As part of this trend, youngsters are increasingly searching for intentional content and meaningful entertainment (e.g. in gaming). This search leads them to listen to new voices, some of which we consider politically incorrect and turn to more communal forms of entertainment and new trusted parties to provide guidance in the virtually unlimited amount of digital (pop culture) content they have at their disposal. Marvel’s huge commercial and cultural success with Black Panther made abundantly clear that traditional trusted parties can continue to play an influential role as long as they align themselves with the mindset of new generations. For these generations, the lines between the virtual and the real world are really beginning to blur. Especially Gen-Z is embracing fully digital influencers and this generation is creating truly meaningful virtual lives as these youths find valuable experiences and share precious moments in virtual worlds.
3. Beyond an anthropocentric world view
Partly because of ever-smarter digital technology, we are in the process of broadening our minds. The re-bundling and networked nature of the digital age is giving rise to a less anthropocentric, more post-human perspective. That is, artificial systems may develop genuine consciousness and our spirituality might become mediated by technology. That same technology will develop a will of its own, become a legal entity, and provide us with altogether new insights about the complexities of life. In other words, we may come to consider computers our equals and do away with our held belief in the uniqueness of man.
This philosophical shift away from the primacy of humankind is also visible in a number of consumer practices. While these are presented as means of reducing friction and making life easier, several “as-a-service” business models can also be understood as ways of reducing our own free will. That is, we are no longer expected to make our own choices or, for instance, maintain traditional human rhythms. Moreover, this year, Google (secretly) speculated about a future in which humans are reduced to mere data-generators in favor of an ever-smarter and selfish ledger.