No-tech-land: Remains of the human nature

“Man is by nature a social animal”

– Aristotle, Politics.

I have been a pessimist for quite a while, running countless catastrophic scenarios in my head about the end of our species in a not-so-distant future. I might have been a little too much influenced by Matrix or Terminator-like prophecies. Or maybe just by our children’s school parking lot filled with Teslas ignoring right-of-ways and by holiday choir spoiled by overly present technology – as soon as the kids appear on stage, 50 phone screens pop out and block the view. Do we still know how to enjoy a show without recording it? I am wondering how often other parents actually re-watch the video and how much they remember of what actually happened in front of them.

Yet these past weeks, I’ve put my cynical hat in the closet to read extensively about signals of the future and I have had a good lot of positive surprises about the use of technology in the future of humankind. I have collected a few signals that I’d like to share with you:

  • After the disturbing paradox between hyper narcissism on social media and collective hysteria around data breach, Europe has led the way to reinforce data privacy and data protection under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Since 2018, entities collecting personal data must clearly disclose and explain the purpose for data processing. Individuals have the right to request a copy of the data collected and the right to have it erased. The job of data protection officer (DPO) has been created within public authorities and data businesses. Companies must report data breaches within 72 hours.
  • After years during which bots have been suspected of misleading users by artificially inflating counts of followers and likes, and manufacturing consensus on divisive issues, California passed the Bolstering Online Transparency (BOT) bill. The bill requires all bots that attempt to influence California residents’ voting or purchasing behaviors to declare themselves. The owner or creator of the bot is responsible for prominently designating the account as automated.
  • After scaring us as “stealing our jobs”, artificial intelligence becomes more human-like. As an example, the computer vision research team at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence recently released a collaborative game where a human and an AI take turns drawing scenes that the other can understand and identify correctly. The goal of the game is to improve human-AI communication. 
  • On the one hand, there has been a lot of talking and demonstrating with XR (AR/VR/MR) as driving the future of gaming. But on the other hand, board games have exploded these past twenty years, going beyond the traditional Monopoly and Scrabble to offering games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride (which sold many millions of copies), diversifying designs and scenarios, spreading out with extensions and derivatives. Game stores and game cafes are proliferating. In 2018, tabletop games raised $165 million on Kickstarter and the global board games market size is expected to reach values of over $12 billion by 2023. The future of gaming is not only virtual! Actually it may be the opposite: we now have so much screen time in our lives, that board games provide a refreshing refuge from them!
  • As cell phones have proven to be disrupting and occulting real-life bonding among individuals (researchers found evidence they can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality), people are now throwing device-free parties. Cell phone is banished from the date at the restaurant. Guests must leave their device in a basket as they arrive at their host. Couples arrange for phone-free weekends and enjoy vacations in places where cell phones are absent, such as Club Med villages, which resemble ancient times communities where signals were transmitted through word-of-mouth. Schools now provide Macbooks or iPads, but they also do favor cultivating a garden or a small farm. Field trips to the local senior center for singing Christmas songs are still a school favorite. For Thanksgiving, families organize potlucks. On the table you will find a mix of family-owned traditional meals and best online-voted recipes. And most of all, people still enjoy doing sports together and talk about sports together – they can actually do that for hours at a Thanksgiving or Big Bowl dinner!
  • Our most-advanced technologists love to rearrange their schedule around no-tech features. So-called Chief Happiness Officers in big corporations encourage their staff to take time off, give back some of their time to charities, and enjoy on-campus activities such as metabolic fitness, comics book club or cooking lessons. Employees participate in product testing and gain massage points. VPs conduct their meetings on conference bikes. Mindfulness teachers, chess grandmasters et world-explorers come share their wisdom at conferences and books signings during lunch time. And CXOs lead the way: Google cofounder Sergey Brin loves high-adrenaline exercises such as skydiving. Senior execs leave for disconnected vacation or sabbatical: their staff are unable to tell where they are, when they come back and how to contact them. After holding positions at Instagram, Google, Facebook and as current director of data science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Dan Zigmond wrote a book titled Buddha’s Office on how to wake up at our day jobs. If even in the most technology-advanced companies, we are invited to treasure our wellness, there is still hope for humankind!

For all these reasons, I feel optimistic these days. Human beings are social animals by nature, dixit Aristotle. In other words, don’t dramatize, we are not ready to be completely androized yet! Our nature is coming back at us and we still need our moments without technology. We need relief from the overload of information and constant solicitation technology can bring. The future will not be over-technologized or less technologized. I believe we will reach a balance where most of our life is technology-supported, but where we will still cherish disconnected time capsules. So let’s pursue and cultivate our no-tech-lands!

Futures Thinking, Family Therapy

“A robust forecast is a collective endeavor; it’s very much a product of collective intelligence.” 

– Marina Gorbis

There is no doubt, Futures thinking can help on many levels with immense outputs:

  • A tech company anticipating the consequences of more consumers using its new products 
  • A city government incorporating climate change and social impact in its development
  • A university planning its curriculum to prepare students with work skills that will be needed for jobs of the future
  • A food manufacturer basing new meals on new trends in diet and food technology
  • A VC investing in companies aligned with a positive impact vision
  • An entrepreneur willing to have an impact and change the world
  • A CEO trying to survive shifts and disruptions in a competitive market
  • An artist or science-fiction writer willing to inspire and convey hope
  • A scientist figuring out how to prevent the next deadly pandemic
  • An activist or an NGO acting for a better quality of life or preserved planet
  • Individuals and families looking for the best place to live in

Mainly, with Futures thinking skills, you can help anyone think more creatively, strategically and imaginatively, and prepare, innovate or make a difference.

However there is one thing I would like to add, like my first little stone to the immense Futures Thinking edifice. Thinking about a Future can actually be a family therapy! 

My father and I had these intense family dinner debates about politics and economics since I was a child. I remember having suggested to create a party of philosophers, for politicians to act with long-term wisdom. My father laughed at me: politicians need actual action-based skills to govern, they think about their next election, they want actions that can be completed within the time frame of their mandate. Plus philosophers are too much in their ivory towers, meaning by which he meant think too abstractly, instead of being on the field living the real life of real people. Ecology parties were emerging in Germany or France, but they seemed apolitical, as a new dimension to politics. By then (end of the 1990’s) politics were mostly bilateral, being social-oriented or being business-oriented. A lot has happened since then and many political figures are now sensible to social impact, climate change, sustainability. There has been more awareness around the risks for future generations and the importance to protect our children. 

On a more individual level, my father and I are closer in views today – well, I think, perhaps Christmas Eve will tell us otherwise. On the one end, after a productive life within a powerplant company, working on selling IT services, he has retired and has become a sort of philosopher and poet, reading a lot about the future of our society and trying to transcript his perception into poetry. On my end, after idealistic views as a philosophy and sociology student, I’ve turned to business and moved to Silicon Valley to help tech companies make money and investors make even more money. I feel that now coming back to long-term vision and ethics as I am launching my Futurist activity, we are finally meeting over the big questions. Some days he’s optimistic and some days he’s disoriented. I hope to bring a certain serenity that a Futures Thinking methodology can bring. But I am mostly happy that we overcome our disagreement and are able to talk about what we now both feel is important.

I like to think that our initial intellectual differences and our common questioning about tomorrow is an illustration of more common intergenerational conflict and solutioning. I hear his complaints and hopes based on facts, experience, and extensive readings, and I moderate with structure, framework, methodology. 

We come from different backgrounds, we are at different milestones of our lives, but we seem to have a common goal. A hopeful future.

Becoming a Futurist

“In dealing with the future, it is far more important to be imaginative than to be right.”

– Alvin Toffler, Future Shock. 

So will you believe it? I’ve turned the corner and put my job on hold as a co-founder of a cool startup (great team and fun business, but definitely a feeling of déjà-vu) to dedicate myself to a new project. I want to become a Futurist. A what? Yes, a futurist. Are you kidding me? What the…? My husband is patient and supportive of my every passion, but let’s say that this time his jaws dropped to the floor. 

Not only do I think it’s the coolest job in the world, I am actually also wondering why not everybody is willing to become a futures themself! Or even, isn’t everybody supposed to be one? Preparing for our future is the most important and most exciting thing in the world. Okay, I tend to become overly excited when I find myself a new passion. But somehow I feel that this time, it is will be a lasting one. It is a revelation: Futures thinking is at the crossroad of all my interests and hobbies!

Image

SOCIOLOGY / First of all as part of my background, I studied philosophy, sociology and anthropology. In college I loved to think about the future of our society, the organization and evolution of work patterns and human behaviors at work, and I dreamt of becoming a Sociologist for Private companies. Somehow I never ever really found a job offer designed for Sociologists in the business world. But a little tiny part of brain never totally gave up on this and as the concept of Future of Work arose, my dream started having a second life.

TECHNOLOGY / Then I spent my past 15 years working closely with Corporate innovation leaders and Consulting with technology startups. I’ve witnessed the emergence of more technologies and products aimed at changing the face of our earth than I can count, some in minor range, some at a bigger scale. 

STRATEGY / As a consultant I also got to mix both quantitative analysis tools and creativity to develop framework to answer the main questions of my clients: how to sign deals, how to gain traction, how to increase our customer basis, how to make more money, etc. But whereas my colleagues would be all about finding customers (a nice smart goal I admit), I took my pleasure in this aha moment, when entrepreneurs start thinking differently about their business. When I knew that I had brought them the facts to make up or even change their mind. When I knew that something had just clicked. And most of the time, this aha moment was linked to meaningful (and often visual) representations of the future and a strategic roadmap to seize the opportunity that this future opens to them. Afterwards we would be able to design an action plan to address these new challenges. Going from a short-term vision based on opportunism to a strong strategy-oriented state-of-mind has been my motto my whole consulting career. 

So now what? I discover that a job description combining all these skills actually exists. According to the Institute of the Future, futures thinking is said to rely on 7 key strengths:

Creativity, Imagination

Mental Flexibility

Foresight

Practical skepticism

Empathy

Strategy

Hope

Note that in Futures thinking, there is a plural at Futures, as we do not envision just one Future, we draw scenarios out of possibilities. Being mentally flexible, and able to imagine what could be(-come), instead of being fixed on a single most accurate future, also gives us agency to develop the right tools, technologies, forms of organizations, and lead individual and collective actions, in order to create together the future we want for humankind. That’s why hope is also a core element of Futures Thinking. 

Now my husband starts to understand it better, right this sounds like it’s meant for you. So what should you do? Is there a training? What should I do to support you? (Ah I love him!) Very well, for starters I need to read and learn a lot about the methodology. In no time I am enrolling in all possible Coursera classes from the Institute of the Future, determined that I am done for the job.

But yes of course, I still need to convince others, like for example… employers! So second step, I have decided to start this blog to share with you my path to become a futurist and my amazing discoveries along the way!

Through the Looking Glass

“So many choices, you end up not knowing which one you want.”

Hang the DJ, Black Mirror

Did I already tell you that I’m going through a Netflix binge-watching fad? Well, I probably haven’t told you yet how I am actually going through a deeper existential crisis, as lately I have been falling asleep after absorbing an alarming number of Black Mirror predictive scenarios, inhabiting my nightmares with harrowing visions of the future.

My husband is more of the American Horror Story type, with pure horror thrill, while I am engaging more intensely with realistic futurist fright. You take one idea, one innovation, one technology, and you push it to develop to its furthest, unanticipated and worst consequences. You take a good mind willing to advance humanity and you also investigate what will become if their findings are misused, or even worse… if these findings get their own autonomy and escape our control, as in the scary Metalhead episode. There it is, you have the existential vertigo… What will humankind look like in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years? (What will have become of this stupid Futures Thinking blog?).

My Top 10 “Black Mirror” Episodes

“Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1) > The Future of Grief
“Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5) > The Future of Law Enforcement
“The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3) > The Future of Relationships (…)

Black Mirror’s creator Charlie Brooker revealed the meaning of its title in The Guardian (2014): “Any TV, any LCD, any iPhone, any iPad – something like that – if you just stare at it, it looks like a black mirror, and there’s something cold and horrifying about that, and it was such a fitting title for the show.” The show relies on the idea that our screens – and by extent modern technology – not only offer a reflection but also magnify the darkest aspects of our human nature. 

I like to believe that it also refers to the Magic Mirror in Snow White’s tale whom the Evil Queen is asking for repeated reassurance that she is the fairest… Until she isn’t pleased with the mirror’s answer which unleashes her rage and Snow White’s death hunt.

Another wink is probably Alice’s looking glass and what she finds behind the mirror and the appeal of parallel worlds, as in the San Junipero or USS Callister episodes.

The core questions are actually not only what you see in the mirror, but also what do people see from the other side of the mirror and you can think of Black Museum’s mindtrapping technologies.

I’ve tried to compile my own list of episodes, rating them according to the intensity of existential vertigo they created in me:

#1 – “Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1) > The Future of Grief 

#2 – “Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5) > The Future of Law Enforcement

#3 – “The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3) > The Future of Relationships

#4 – “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1) > The Future of Social Reputation

#5 – “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4) > The Future of Sickness

#6 – “Arkangel” (Season 4, Episode 2) > The Future of Parenthood

#7 – “Hang the DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4) > The Future of Dating

#8 – “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1) > The Future of Gaming

#9 – “Black Museum” (Season 4, Episode 6) > The Future of Death Penalty

#10 – “The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1) > The Future of Politics

By the way, have you noticed the irony of it? Black Mirror is itself bound to be played on a black mirror. And there I have it again the Black Mirror vertigo feeling…

Fit for the Future

“The future is dark, which on the whole, is the best thing the future can be, I think.”

– Virginia Wolf, writer

Once a year, my husband and I subscribe to a free 30-day Netflix trial. We love discovering the latest shows and keeping up-to-date with our favorites, as latest seasons are rarely available in city libraries, our primary source of entertainment – yes, we are dinosaurs on some aspects. However, with three kids at home, two full-time jobs, no family living nearby, the Netflix mania cannot last longer than those 30 days every year, given how sleep-deprived we already all are just a week into the trial. And I am also including our three-year old who sneaks into our bed to watch Dark with us. Who knows? He might have a little something for German prosody…

So here we are, it’s that time of the year again, when our friends don’t get to see us anymore, as we are stuck to the screen in an intense binging marathon. Suddenly an avalanche of gloomy TV series and morbid movies and depressing thrillers with serial killer-antiheroes and drug-dealing novices open up. At first, we want to watch them all. After 7 ranking review and some IMDB rating checking, our playlist shrinks to 50. I see my husband eyeing at an expected part of the screen advertising a show about his first musical love, the diva Dolly Parton. But he’s not in a lucky day, I have the remote in hand for once and I hear myself say Look, what do you think of this one? as I launch Inside Bill’s Brain. Out of an (almost) infinite catalog of series and films, I choose what…? a documentary about the life, thoughts and humanitarian projects of Bill Gates, whom I know so much and so little about at the same time. Sure he was my father’s greatest inspiration to become an IT guy, then the super villain during the “Microsoft will eat us all alive” era, finally a clever retired philanthropist as other giant villains take over the newly vacated role. But, how come we are now watching this guy reading books as he nervously chews on his glasses? And how come that the more I watch and the more I want to continue watching? 

I turn to my husband, still in need to go check the Dolly Parton thing, and tell him: I think I’ve found myself a hero of my own. And now I am dreaming of installing revolutionary sanitation systems in Africa, and I want to leave my job and start all over again and I fall in my eternal identity crisis doubled by a devastating imposter syndrom: What I do is so inconsistent – helping startuppers raise funding to develop a new CRM, analytics platform or dating app? What pain points are they addressing? You know I love entrepreneurs, I’ve been helping startups flourish for years now, but hey how useful are they to our Earth, and – more hurtful question – how useful am I? How useful am I… 

The cool thing is, I am now in Bill’s brain and I feel that I should refocus my mission on earth to just one thing: act for a better future. After all, I am a millennial. 

Suddenly everything makes sense – I always had this feeling that I don’t belong, that I will never find my dream job, that I don’t like to commute hours and come back too late to enjoy life with my kids, that I am strictly unable to work in an organization with a superior anymore, that I will always remain a consultant, freelance, entrepreneur, whatever, I am hitting the dreaded glass ceiling in my area of expertise, but that I am unable to go sell myself for a real job in a real company with a real boss and real colleagues, that I am an unfit individual, not adapted to this world. 

But now I see it. This is the other way around. I am not unfit. I am fit for a changing world, I am just riding on a second curve, not the one of our old past, but the one of the future of work. My own unfitness is one of the signals that the future is made of a more fragmented and fluid work. And now my role is to make us all, collectively, fit for the future! Are you ready for the challenge?

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started