What will the world be like in, say, 25-50 years? Let’s take a look, based on current trends, augmented by just a tiny bit of a visionary’s foresight.
It’s easy to see the factors whose importance will grow immensely. There is nothing new in predicting breakthroughs in communication technologies. It’s also a common place to assume that better technology will lead to prevalence of remote work in many industry sectors. It will also result in more convenient consumer services including banking and shopping. Another obvious result of better communications will be the exponential growth of social networking.
If taken separately, these tendencies do not necessarily promise any qualitative civilisation leaps. But it may be worthwhile to look at them in a broader context. And the context of technological breakthroughs might be quite severe. Let’s just consider a few more fundamental factors.
Environmental degradation and, especially, the climate change in the next 25-50 years will make living conditions harder in the usual habitats of humanity, especially in big cities.
Social factors will add pressure on big cities, too. Stratification of society will greatly increase, leading to greater risks of social unrest. Immigration growth, cultural and religious contradictions, unemployment, terrorism, epidemics will be making city life less and less comfortable.
As people will feel generally less safe, the traditional ways of ensuring security will become irrelevant. The whole notion of security will change its essence, as the efficiency of the military in combating the new threats will decrease. To cope with new challenges, security will largely shift from inter-state level (military blocks, global missile defence) and country level (borders protection) to municipal and community level.
The grim part of the forecast, however, terminates here, and the rest of the article will focus on the silver lining. Let us attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of a middle-to-upper-class family of the future.
On the one hand, thanks to remote work options, and abundance of online services, the family may move out from unpleasant city limits and settle in any corner of the world. On the other hand, the family does not want to sacrifice its luxuries, such as its circle of friends and relatives, habitual cultural and social life, high-quality medical service, a good school, etc.
However, let’s not forget about that other powerful instrument, which the family has thanks to modern technologies – the social networks. A person’s virtual network of contacts will have an all-embracing significance, and more importantly, the virtual friendships will have a tendency to convert to real-life with more opportunities to physically meet and socialize. Language barriers will be eliminated thanks to IT progress, and people will be able to communicate easily and form real-life communities of like-minded individuals, with similar financial status and pretty much similar aims.
This combination of new powerful resources – social and technological – will lead, in my view, to a qualitatively new situation. People will not just move to better climate areas, but will form communities, based on common interests, like cultural backgrounds and similar financial standing. Our middle-class family will not have to sacrifice anything – in fact, it will find an adequate or even better social life within the community of its choice. We are talking about upper middle class families – well-educated professionals, able to work remotely without harm to their careers. It’s easy to imagine a large group of families settling, for example, in the comfort of a Mediterranean resort town. They will have their own governing body, admission rules, and security systems. With time, communities of such people will establish their own institutions – educational, medical, and cultural – in their chosen locations.
In this way, business and intellectual elites will start concentrating in smaller towns in territories adjacent to warm seas, lakes, mountain resort areas and other geographical locations with a comfortable climate, far from urban and industrial areas. Such communities may be called ‘polis’ (plural is poleis) because of certain similarity with ancient Greek city-states. The poleis will actually be communities formed and governed by people of similar cultural backgrounds and financial status. They will largely be independent entities relying on their own organisation in most aspects including defence, and less on the traditional state. The role of person’s nationality and country borders will reduce. At the same time, the significance of person’s cultural and religious identity will probably increase.
The quality of life and well-being in the polis of the future will be higher than in the big cities. Thanks to higher level of education, the poleis will gradually become centres of civilisation, pretty much like in ancient Greece. Urban areas will preserve their economic importance but in other fields they will be yielding little by little their leading positions to poleis.
In a certain time perspective, we will see a world divided literally – and in fact geographically – into two classes: educated rich people living in the luxury resort poleis areas, and all the rest, earning their living the hard way in the industrial or agricultural areas. The prevailing global tendency will be towards stratification and growing differences within societies – between rich and poor, as well between people from different ethnical and religious backgrounds. While social and cultural differences will grow, the role of national identity will reduce, wiping away state borders in their current form.
Does that mean the world will be shifting away from democracy? Democracy is a just another term invented by the ancient Greeks. In a historical perspective, at some point democracy reaches its maximum level, and then it may ebb away due to natural causes, such as inefficient government and a high degree of social unrest. If we see historical processes as spirals, in a future time period we might observe a rebirth of democracy on a new level. But the social system, which we are talking about, will certainly be a step away from democracy in its modern meaning. In fact, it will acquire certain similarities with democracy in its ancient Greek version, where it was not a comprehensive system, but encompassed only the citizens – with no room for plebs, foreigners and slaves.
Leaving the question of social justice aside, let’s move to a more practical issue. Which countries will benefit?
The elite will have a wide choice of options while building up poleis, or selecting among the existing ones. The usual set of factors will determine the choice, including healthy climate, unspoiled environment, ease of transportation, safe neighbourhood, and cultural similarity. Factors such as religion or race, which were less significant in the 20th century, will start playing a greater role. Therefore elite Christian, Muslim, Jewish poleis communities may be formed separately from each other. To ensure security, they will avoid territories with mixed population. This is why many regions currently considered elitist might lose status, for instance the South of France.
Instead, communities with predominantly Christian population will emerge in traditionally Christian regions with a smaller share of immigrant populations. Obviously, these will include the East European states, which were less prosperous in 20th century, have attracted fewer immigrants, and have a more unspoiled environment. In Europe, countries with mild climate and mainly homogenous population such as Greece, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia will benefit from accepting the economically and intellectually rich poleis communities. The Muslim poleis will emerge in culturally friendly environment of Mediterranean parts of Turkey, and safer parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Poorer countries will heartily welcome the “invasion” of rich and influential poleis communities, which will bring the formerly provincial areas into the limelight, not to mention the new business opportunities, jobs, and investment which they will bring along.
With time, the overall picture of the world will acquire certain similarities with the ancient Greek world order, with an “aristocratic” minority, which will be the main source of intellectual progress. However, anyone will be able to join the elite, if capable. So to be more exact, another Greek word —meritocracy— must be used instead of aristocracy.
Will the future world be a nicer place to live? It will generally be a less safe place, but with wider opportunities for active, talented individuals, who will have the freedom to live in just the way they desire. Should we be afraid of the future? My answer is no, but it is wise to invest in good education and develop more human contacts. Be prepared that virtual dreams will come true before too long.
The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.