THE SOCIETY CHANGES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

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Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor, The Business Thinker; Founder and former CEO JPIndustries, Inc., a Fortune 500 industrial corporation.
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We live in a century in which many of the old cultures and societies that have been successful under the old technologies and cultural norms are falling by the wayside.   Already there have been dramatic shifts in economic wealth, both within and across nation states.   The cost of failure, which in many ways will be equivalent to the inability to adapt to technological change, will be significant.

There is still some debate about how the new changes in technology will affect some of the more prevalent twentieth century ideologies.   For example, will the new technologies and associated cultural changes support or retard the growth of the liberal democracies? Or, will the vision of George Orwell be realized, with a technology-induced return to a world-wide authoritarian state? Obviously, all the data are not in, and will not be in for another seventy-five years or so.

The early returns, however, suggest that many of the new technologies seem to enforce democratic values and practices.   For example, one of the critical features of using information technologies and computerized systems is the rapid and transparent exchange of information across settings, cities, and nations.   This is highly compatible with democratic systems and values.

However, we have also witnessed that China has been able to have an effective state control over these advanced technologies so that has been little if any democratization and is some cases it could be argued that we have seen a decrease in democratization! The Economist in a  article, published some time ago, has concluded that the democratization effects on China by technology could have been overestimated.

On the other hand, some of the new technologies will reinforce distinctions between individuals and classes of people, thus perhaps leading to a more hierarchical and elitist structure of society.   Moreover, the ability of the new technologies to successfully manage and facilitate diversity of tastes and markets, may lead to a fragmentation of societies such that it will be difficult to sustain larger goals and visions.   For example, it is unclear whether a television society can really sustain a long-term mission, or goal, or struggle.

It is relatively clear that the many cultural changes facilitated or reinforced by the new technologies will yield the twenty-first century equivalent of the renaissance man. To subsist and succeed in the new society will demand a rare diversity of training, education and perspective.   It will be impossible to be exclusively a technical person, or a person of the humanities or arts, or any other singular “ism”.   The successful resident of the new society will need to be much more conversant in a variety of knowledge areas, intellectual perspectives, and sets of values.

Perhaps the most important by-product of the increasingly complex and diversified new society will be a greater emphasis on the value of working together.   Perhaps we will learn, after having failed to do so for several thousand years, to live at peace with one another in a true collaborative set of relationships.

My talk has very few conclusions because frankly, the state of the data of which I report is still emerging. There are a few things I would like to leave you with.   One is that the disciplines and areas of knowledge which have tended to guide our thinking for the past decades are in some sense, up for grabs or dying.   You will see rapid changes in the structure of knowledge and the underlying epistemologies of our society. You will also need to learn to somehow bring together the softer side of our understanding of people, with our technical understandings.   In fact, that may be the major task which we will need to accomplish as we enter the twenty-first century: how to manage our world with a mixture of rapidly changing technology, values, and cultures, with wisdom.

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