Text: Prof. Uwe J. Reinhardt | Reading time: approx. 35 MinutesWho does the future belong to?Five countries, five truths, five visions: Why it’s important to think about the world beyond the west.
CHAPTER 1 – Life
CHAPTER 2 – Social Media
CHAPTER 3 – Shopping
CHAPTER 4 – Germany
CHAPTER 5 – Digitalization
CHAPTER 6 – Globalization
CHAPTER 7 – Mobility
CHAPTER 8 – Automation
CHAPTER 9 – Future
CHAPTER 10 – Tomorrow
Through five interactive Skype conversations, we discuss the topics and technologies of the future, and talk about culture and mobility. What hidden opportunities do current problems present? How do new things make their way into the world? And do we need to initiate a new dialog about our work and happiness in our everyday lives?Different cultural and economic spheres experience different and exciting trends. In this era of digital globalization, it seems possible to acquire all the knowledge you need in an instant. In tandem, tasks are becoming ever more complex, calling for bold, networked thinking. It is easy to talk of being at a turning point, but in reality the speed of societal and technological developments brings its challenges, too. Where can the opportunities presented by new concepts be most productively utilized? And how can we actively help to shape progress and the future? What is important, and why?
It is all too clear, and not just in developed countries, that many approaches and tools used to date are no longer effective. For many young people, this background gives life a tumultuous feel. So what do young people want to talk about? And what are their hopes and dreams? What knowledge do they have, and what are the trends in their countries? A glimpse into the future, from Estonia, Ghana, India, Israel and Turkey.Imagine traveling the world to talk with people and hear about the changes happening in their countries; being curious about the perspectives and utopias experienced by other people and other cultures; listening closely and using surprise discoveries to create your own visions: Meet five students from Estonia, Ghana, India, Israel and Turkey. Each of them has set out through their studies to learn something about the future and to become an entrepreneur of knowledge. To establish just how much enthusiasm and imagination there is in their respective countries when it comes to the prospect of a positive future, we spoke directly with five young people who told us what they think, what they are working toward and what visions they have for 2025. There are some common themes in the discussions. New thinking – the quest for mindfulness.
So who does the future belong to? By 2025, almost a quarter of this century will already be in the past. Global, networked progress pushes us to find new ways to gain reliable insight into what lies ahead and to expand our horizons. In education and other environments, the compass is being reset for change, for technological innovations, for inventions – and also for dreams that are worth turning into a reality. This framework will give rise to ideas that, in some cases, will subsequently be developed into major inventions or bring about large-scale change in society. Let’s see what our five students from Estonia, Ghana, India, Israel and Turkey have to say about this.
Diandra from Estonia.
Jacob from Ghana.
Payal from India.
Benjamin from Israel.
Oguz from Turkey.
1.) LIFE“What good is money if you cannot spend your time with your friends and family?” What makes your life rich? What makes you happy? Tell us a little about your family and your background. What is your biggest wish for the future? How important is starting a family to you? What is more important to you – earning more money or spending more time with family and friends?
Values make the world go round.The desire for family and for the feeling of contentment that comes with being at home, plus the desire for prosperity, independence and security – these are all things that speak to a middle-class value system and that serve as a compass for making decisions about the future, from Estonia right through to Ghana. Who would have thought that conservative virtues like diligence, orderliness, courtesy, respect and frugality would so obviously strike a chord with young people in a variety of countries? However, while Diandra from Estonia longs for a new experience working abroad and Benny from Israel hopes to forge a career in the automotive industry, Jacob from Ghana is keen to carve out a better future within his own country – not just for himself, but for the simple farmers in Ghana’s predominantly agricultural economy who only just scrape a living. For Jacob, improving agricultural production conditions and processes as part of the digital transformation is the primary concern. Payal from India also feels bound to her country; she is a budding entrepreneur determined to develop solutions for local problems. The more developed a country is, the more individual needs seem to take precedence – or to put it another way, the less developed the country is, the more important social cohesion becomes.
A case of we or I.“My biggest wish is that farming is seen as a business; that farmers are not exploited by those in the buying chain,” says Jacob from Ghana. By articulating a collective concern, he has set himself a rather different life goal to the other students. In their own way, each of the students is striving for autonomy, personal happiness and an ideal world – but willingness to engage in matters outside their own personal interests is not a given. When Benny from Israel and Oguz from Turkey speak about the future, their first thoughts are about their personal development. By contrast, entrepreneurship is inextricably linked with the common good for Payal and Jacob. The premise that “things can only go well for me if they are also going well for my fellow human beings” speaks to the desire for a socially balanced economic system.
Give and take.The notion of giving back to others or to one’s own children is a common thread throughout the comments from all our students. In Ghana and India, we see that personal desires are strongly connected with progress – not with the aim of isolating oneself within an elite group, but rather with the intention of actively helping to improve conditions for everyone. Conversely, the comments from Jacob and Payal make it clear that quality of life and social harmony are mutually dependent. All interviewees indicated that making time for family and friends is another top priority, confirming a common ethos among the post-materialism generation – a good work-life balance is more important than maximizing money and possessions.
Social media – between utility and diminishing marginal utility.More than 1.4 billion people use Facebook alone every day. Some 60 billion messages are sent every day via WhatsApp. The micro-blogging service Twitter has around 300 million active users worldwide per month. In other words, social networks are ubiquitous from Estonia right through to India, but they are used differently by the students we interviewed. This is surprising, and indicates a critical approach with a strong degree of reflection: The students had a clear picture of which medium and which platform they prefer. And the differences between the various countries and individuals were just as clear as the similarities. As a Ghanaian, Jacob loves the interaction it brings with other people. For him, communication is about enjoying life and experiencing solidarity. While Jacob couldn’t imagine life without Facebook and Instagram, Diandra, who comes from the highly digitalized country of Estonia, is rather more conservative. Diandra views social networks more as a functional tool than something with an emotional connection. With our daily life increasingly saturated by digital communication, Diandra’s comments, which indicate a need for digital independence, stand out as something of a paradox. All five students agree that the tone should be set not by what is possible, but by what is meaningful. As a result, they are all aware of what image and building an image really mean, and where the dividing line is between appearance and reality. They are careful with what they post, and they always check their facts. This approach indicates a high level of media competence across the board, which becomes the barometer for added value. Nevertheless, Jacob views social media as a reflection of his personality, which he likes to show to the outside world, whereas Oguz really values his privacy. The Stanford student only uses social media as a way to get in touch with people and not to develop relationships or to maintain them. From these opinions, we could draw the conclusion that people in Africa are extroverted and open, whereas in Turkey people prefer to be more circumspect with their personal data. Benny, Diandra, Jacob, Oguz and Payal all prefer to be offline when working and studying. However, the overall impression is that social media brings more advantages than disadvantages. Time will tell whether that will remain the case in the future.
The feel of life.Although the digital transformation is increasingly permeating both our personal lives and the way we live in society, some things stubbornly buck the trend – such as the book. Four of our five students definitively prefer a printed book over a digital version. Picking up a book and leafing through the pages makes reading a physical experience, something for the senses. When Diandra from Estonia describes her psychological attachment to the things she buys, it’s almost like these things are helping to shape her identity. Jacob and Benny also have an emotional attachment to their possessions. The convenience, choice and efficiency offered by online shopping were not the only categories to come up when discussing shopping habits. The personal, social interaction that comes from making purchases in a physical store is perceived to add just as much value as the time-savings and convenience of ordering via the web. In the world of commerce, the competition between analog and digital is like a battle between emotion and function. And in addition to individual preference, the infrastructure and logistics in each country have a major impact on the consumer culture. One of the reasons why Payal from India prefers to visit a store is the fact that it can be difficult to get online orders delivered in large parts of her country – but she also finds the experience of physically selecting something and trying it more appealing. But change may be coming! Online retailers such as Amazon are working hard to tackle these issues. Whether the solution is delivery by drone or opening large-scale physical retail spaces such as the Amazon Bookstores, online commerce as a whole is gaining ground through intelligent cross-selling strategies. In Germany alone, the eRetail sector has posted annual increases of some ten billion euro since 2012. The German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association has forecast additional growth of approx. 9 per cent for distance selling and online retail in 2018.
Environmental awareness as standard.Our interviewees believe that environmentally sound practices should be a matter of course when manufacturing products – and the products should not cost any more as a result. The financial restrictions of student life are likely to be the reason why sustainability is not viewed as a luxury and using ostensible environmental awareness as a marketing tool is not well received. For people like Payal and Jacob, who see a high level of poverty in their countries, the utility of products is the top priority. However, both students recognize the global need to protect our environment, showing an awareness of the conflict between the needs of the current generation and those of future generations, who will be forced to bear the consequences of environmental degradation. But while the majority of people cannot afford to purchase sustainable products, the global consequences for the environment remain unpredictable.
Perfect, imperfect Germany. The students from around the world have a detailed and considered view of Germany – based in part on the stereotypes surrounding cars, football and Oktoberfest. “Germans just breathe cars,” says Payal from India. In addition, Jacob ascribes the highest quality standard to German automotive manufacturers. In contrast, there is a more considered tone from Israel. Benny comments that many German companies are lacking innovation and the willingness to take risks. Given the ever-increasing speed of technological change, innovation cycles must also be accelerated. And this includes the willingness to fail. Benny tells us that, in Israel, new concepts are often developed without knowing how they will impact on the world. With his Turkish perspective, Oguz perceives a certain arrogance from Germans. Is Germany resting on the laurels of its past economic achievements? Is this simply due to inertia, or are some German companies willfully resisting progress because they believe in “knowledge before belief” and “profit before benefit”? These are controversial yet shrewd observations from Benny and Oguz. Consider startups like Uber and Airbnb – which would not have been possible without the courage to accept a considerable risk and a vision of something bordering on utopia. There are a lot of positive social associations with Germany, centered on Germans being perceived as hard-working and reliable, but also some critical observations. For example, Jacob from Ghana finds that it is very difficult for foreign graduates to gain a foothold in German companies. He also complains of a certain social coldness – he hasn’t always felt welcome during his three years in Germany. Other (southern) countries were perceived as having a much better social climate.Ultimately, the five students would like Germany to be more spontaneous and courageous, and to have more tolerance and more zest for life.
5.) DIGITALIZATION“… and I feel connecting people is really special and it’s really cool.” – DiandraWhat do you see as the challenges and opportunities of digital progress? Do we need to change the way we think as a result of digitalization? (In terms of mobility, industrial manufacturing, communication, raw materials)
Digitalization means progress.The differences in digitalization between countries are clear just from the transmission quality of the Skype conversations. The connection with Ghana broke up almost every minute, whereas there was virtually no interference in the communication with Estonia and Israel. Despite these contrasts, it is clear how easy it is to transcend the distance between continents and connect people. The five students are “digital natives” – digitalization is an integral part of their lives. Benny from Israel highlights the Internet of Things and the gradual digitalization of all areas of our lives – he believes progress is inevitable. Simplifying and accelerating processes is mentioned as the key benefit of digitalization. Or in simpler terms: productivity gains and convenience. All of the students have a similar view on this topic. Digitalization as a driving force for work is also mentioned – this is particularly interesting, since critics of digitalization often fear the exact opposite. The confidence felt by the students is backed up by events of the past. The profound transformation of social and economic relationships being brought about by digitalization is comparable with the impact of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century. In that era too, the resulting changes to the world of work did not lead to a drop in employment. Where laborers became workers, today mechanical jobs are becoming digital jobs. The digital revolution also brings with it challenges such as fake news, social neglect and data protection. These challenges are not underestimated by the students, but rather accepted as part of the change. Oguz thinks it is important to protect the culture of communication between people, which could be lost as a result of the new human-machine interfaces. The pros and cons of the digital transformation have been acknowledged and considered. The specific features that mark out human intelligence from artificial intelligence are becoming more important. The megatrend of digitalization brings with it progressive consumerism. The almost unlimited availability of goods also leads to more waste. In this context, Jacob points out that in view of resource scarcity, the environment must be at the top of the agenda of the upcoming digital age. Benny believes that security is actually the greatest challenge. For him, the ability to manipulate information represents the most significant potential for conflict. Despite the differing points of view from Ghana and Israel, both students are certain that the opportunities represented by digital transformation can improve conditions for everyone.
The world is getting smaller – and that’s a good thing.Here in Germany, public opinion on globalization has been influenced for many years by the critical voices speaking out against free trade agreements such as TTIP, the protests at the last G20 summit and the global climate movement. In contrast, all of our students view globalization in a positive light. This opinion is due in no small part to a shift in the students’ perspectives towards development in their own countries. The term “global village” is understood as a means of increasing prosperity and delivering environmentally sound development. In countries such as Estonia, Ghana and Israel, the global view is considerably more internalized than in Germany. Benny speaks about globalization as being very much an Israeli thing; he believes that smaller countries in particular should think globally like Israel in order not to miss out. Payal from India is pleased that globalization opens up new perspectives to help her gain a better understanding of the world. In the same breath, she notes that globalization also leads to a shift of economic resources, which can have a particularly adverse effect on developing countries. For this reason, Payal plans to move back to India when she finishes her studies abroad. Each of the students hopes that the economic effects of globalization will result in greater prosperity for all countries. However, Oguz from Turkey also fears a loss of national identity – he highlights a contrast between the economic advantages of globalization and the cultural disadvantages. His vision is to bring people together – “to unite as one nation” but without sacrificing cultural differences.
Mobility equals quality of life.When it comes to mobility, there is a clear critical awareness among all the students, with differences based on the various countries and their structures. In densely populated countries such as Israel, intermodal transport is vital for preventing the system from grinding to a halt, whereas in Ghana the car remains the most popular mode of transport and is a definite status symbol. Unlike all the other mobility concepts, the car is viewed as a symbol of individual freedom – and our three male students in particular found the prospect of owning a car appealing. Modern mobility is characterized by a certain conflict between independence and sustainability, between meaning and emotion. The social components of mobility include quality of life in urban areas, as well as the development of infrastructure in certain individual cultures. From Israel to India, the pressure to develop new mobility solutions is growing. As a result, we are experiencing something of a paradigm shift, certainly in the highly developed countries. Community spirit and environmental responsibility are gradually starting to override more personal preoccupations. The students are unanimous in believing that more thought needs to be given to mobility. Jacob from Ghana dreams of the road network being expanded, and alludes to the inequality between Germany and a country like Ghana. Benny from Israel, on the other hand, is focused on mobility solutions that make use of the sea, and on the large-scale use of tunnels. Payal from India sees no future for the car, and envisages a vertical transport model with multiple levels – one level for pedestrians, one for cyclists, another for buses, etc. With our planet’s densely populated living areas, mobility has become an interdisciplinary research area, and one of the biggest economic markets of our time. One thing that is clear from these differences between the countries is that the speed of developments in mobility will vary. Concepts that may belong to the past in Israel could actually move mobility forward in Ghana. And in this global context, it is also important to think critically and relatively about the place of technology such as the combustion engine.
Robots welcome.Our students were all positive about the groundbreaking developments in automation and robotics. All five see the possibility of improving working hours, increasing cost efficiency and reducing errors. The optimization of industrial production processes has historically been seen as an opportunity to create sustainable value chains. And it follows that efficiency gains are likely to reduce the impact on the environment. We can also factor in digital intelligence and Big Data as additional tools that help us to tackle complex problems such as global environmental pollution and climate change. Payal from India predicts that humanoid robots will take up tasks currently completed by humans. This would free up a huge amount of time, which could be really beneficial to people. Payal dreams of less stress and more leisure time, as does Jacob from Ghana. But our students are also clear that we need to consider the risks, in particular the social aspects. Will automation actually result in more leisure time, or will it just lead to higher levels of unemployment? Will people gradually just become tools for operating computers? Will we lose the human aspect of our society? Can robots make ethically correct decisions? Do we need an automation tax in order to provide a social balance? Through their individual reflections on these and related topics, our students are discovering how our everyday lives can and will change.
Passion for the future.Be it a constitutional or financial crises, migration or mass unemployment, global warming or environmental pollution – the media often paints a pessimistic picture of the future. Our interviewees are nonetheless positive about what lies ahead, although they are also keen to see fairness prioritized throughout future progressions rather than the pure pursuit of profit. “I would like trade to be done on an equal basis, irrespective of the countries that are involved – a more peaceful world,” says Jacob from Ghana; for his country, he hopes for a future in which less money is spent on capacity-building and calls for targeted assistance programs and free market access for small farmers. Payal would like to see developing countries benefit more from the technological achievements of the industrialized nations. Our students talk of environmentally sound agricultural practices and sufficient food for everyone, of eradicating poverty and disease. Benny would like us to make greater use of innovative technologies in order to minimize the damage caused to the planet. It seemed important to all our students that we push ahead with research in the natural sciences. But in contrast to this, Oguz from Turkey focused his comments about the future on the innovation culture of first world countries. He is skeptical about the need for radical change, citing as an example evolutionary development cycles such as that of the Boeing 747 – which has been enhanced time and again over the years but never completely phased out. He would like to see a similar strategy employed in the automotive industry. He believes we should optimize how cars function rather than replacing them. Oguz’s philosophy is that we should stick by good basic ideas. And finally there is the dream of colonizing other planets, which in Benny’s view is ever closer to becoming a reality.
Asking Diandra, Jacob, Payal, Benjamin and Oguz to share their thoughts has allowed us to answer the question: Where do opinions differ about material things and technological advancements, and where are we on the same page? Talking to people from all over the world is always a great way to discover what products we actually use, what interesting developments are happening elsewhere, and what we can learn from one another. Being mindful of specific cultural features helps us in our interactions with different continents and people. Our horizons are expanded further and further to encompass all the countries in the world, and our thoughts and actions inevitably become more global.