Article published in the Ventura Star
What Will the New Millennium Bring?
Here Comes Our Future
By William Knoke
We all know intuitively that the 21st Century will be different from the 20th. But what will the changes be?
Your Home. Your home will be the same. As disappointing as it sounds, the homes of the 21st century have already been built. Nobody’s going to tear them all down to rebuild them with polypropylene. Our roads will also be about the same, only more congested than ever.
Government. The Nation-State will decline in power. The problems of the 21st century will best be solved at the local (police, schools, traffic) or global (economy, defense, terrorism) level, leaving the 19th century nation-state as the odd man out. Much power too will shift to global corporations who will usurp more power making democracies wonder who is in charge.
Democracy. Nonetheless, the 21st century will be the Century of Democracy. The ease of information flow makes it hard to keep secrets. Our information-hungry population even puts the bedroom of the most powerful man in the world on the international stage. Participative “town-meetings” and debates are multiplying, and tyrants easily bypassed with the Internet. Never has the world been riper for democracy.
War. World War III will not happen. Unlike in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Big Powers are much too economically intertwined today to fight each other. Moreover, in the Information Age, conquering territory is not the path to riches it used to be. But regional wars will continue among poorer countries, with the primary engine being rival ethnic groups and religions. As population pressures mount, look for Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and India to be potential Kosovos.
Terrorism. The 21st century will be the Century of Terrorism. Even in democracies, disenfranchised minorities want to be heard, and terrorism is the weapon of choice. The dirty secret is that technology favors the terrorist. Look for terrorists to compete through ever-greater acts of destruction to capture the evening news. Consider the rise of unaccounted plutonium. Consider too the effect of DNA technology in the 21st century, when disgruntled biology students provide their knowledge to the highest bidder. The global age brings with it a world without borders, as global terrorists perform their magic.
Global Trade. As the world becomes more intertwined, global trade will continue to surge. It will rival governments for power. Nations will lose control of their ability to pull the levers on social policy: labor protection, the environment, and the economy. The public will look for scapegoats: the large corporations, rich countries, and international organizations. Expect rising civil disobedience on a global scale. In the end, global trade will be slowed, but not stopped.
The Internet. The Internet will grow into every aspect of society to the point where “Internet” will no longer be a differentiating word. There will no longer be any “Internet” companies in that all companies will be Internet companies. Telephone, cable television, video rentals, book purchases, public libraries, banks, the mail, videoconferencing, the Internet will all merge into a single concept. Despite that, most of today’s Internet companies will no longer be in business, as new business models Darwinistically evolve. The 21st century will be the century of 20-something wealth, as the young continue to dare to do what the older generation barely understands.
Economics. As global trade accelerates, the 200-odd world currencies will be seen increasingly as a stone-age anachronism. Before the end of the 21st century, the world will step into a single currency based on a merger of the euro and the dollar. Look for a single central bank seeking to eliminate the errors of the IMF and the WTO. Nationalists will oppose a single currency, but as with Europe’s euro, a global unit will evolve.
World Government. Look for heightened pressures for World Government. Global commerce, economics, the environment, terrorism, and drug trafficking will require it. But regional pride and ethno-nationalist preferences will reject a universal solution to regionally diverse customs and traditions. Expect civil discord, riots, and terrorism as the world ratchets toward some global consensus to problem solving.
Business. In the Information Age, hierarchies tumble and the individual is empowered. Headquarters offices will shift power to local operations. The boss will assign more responsibility and accountability to the worker. In many industries, more and more workers will work at home if they choose to, staying in touch via complex computer networks.
Customer Service. The 21st century will be the one where the customer rules. She will determine what she wants–perhaps a three-wheeled car with purple stripes–and the business complex will find a way to make it, overnight, and deliver it to her door. Mass produced merchandise will still exist, but the profit margins will approach zero. Companies will compete by providing service and highly customized (computer aided) designs.
Environment. Public consciousness will rise to the realization that the planet is one single organism. Public policy will shift in favor of environmental protection, but not until the global environment deteriorates further. In time, engineers will harness clean energy (probably powered on the hydrogen atom), biodegrading plastics, and assemble products that can be “reverse manufactured” into raw recyclable components. Environmental factors will become a major barrier blocking world wealth.
Rich-Poor Divide. The biggest challenge of the 21st century will be the growing rich-poor divide. Technology will make the rich richer, but it will leave the disadvantaged further behind. While the rich will give a blind eye, the global flow of information will keep the poor acutely aware of their relative poverty. Expect major world migration, terrorism, civil riots and regional and ethno-religious wars over this issue as the gap widens. The population explosion will slow on its own accord, but the related rich-poor gap will not.
William Knoke of Agoura Hills is an internationally recognized futurist and author of “Bold New World: The Essential Road Map to the Twenty-First Century.” Contact him at email@example.com.
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