I’ve been listening to conversations and asking the question.
Some are cautiously optimistic; others pessimistic, a few seem to be hunkering down waiting for the apocalypse.
Late in 2016, Thomas Friedman published his most extensive book yet – Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.
I began reading the book wondering about the source of his optimism. Why does he believe we can thrive going forward?
Friedman describes his book as “one giant column” – 450 pages – about how our lives are being affected by three global changes, accelerating all at once: technology (Moore’s Law), globalization (the Market) and climate change (Mother Nature).
All of them are as threatening as they may be promising.
The title Thank You For Being Late is a comment Friedman made to a guest who showed up late for a breakfast appointment. Rather than an inconvenience he saw it as an opportunity to pause for what he calls ‘moral reflection’ in his otherwise unpredictable fast paced world. Something he recommends we all do, faced as we are by inevitable disruptive changes in our lives.
The future of computer technology and Internet communication is a mixed blessing. AI (artificial intelligence) will go beyond winning at Jeopardy, making decisions better than humans. Robots will take over most manufacturing jobs. For better or worse social media can connect everyone on the planet. Big Data knows more about us than we know ourselves. Cyber warfare will be the international conflict of the future among nations.
Globalization is rapidly replacing national boundaries. We can’t build walls high enough to keep the world at bay. Everything we buy, the news we watch, our financial security is affected by uncontrollable events from beyond our boarders.
The planet earth’s biosphere, home for over 7 billion people, is deteriorating as we continue to fowl our own nest. Mother Nature, the whole global ecosystem, is being reshaped.
Friedman is not optimistic that these three accelerations, on their own, will help us ‘thrive.’ He warns that without intervention, technology, globalization and climate change are likely to cause more harm than good.
We are, he writes,
‘at a fork in the road where one of us could kill all of us or all of us could fix everything if we really decided to do so.’
He is confident that we can thrive since we have the capacity to innovate and adapt whatever the circumstances.
Beyond that we need what he calls a ‘moral revolution,’ a revolution as surprisingly simple as it is difficult – a revolution from self-interest to the collective good initiated at a very personal level.
‘When I think of this challenge on a global scale, my own short prescription is that we need to find a way to get more people to practice the Golden Rule.’
Therein is Friedman’s source of optimism – not from the mega changes disrupting our lives but in small one-to-one relationships, something we can all do, every day – treating others as we would like to be treated – an admonition, he reminds us, found in every major religious tradition.
In a chapter near the end of his book Friedman asks, “Is God in Cyberspace?” a place, ‘where we are all connected and no one is in charge.’
His answer is “no” — “but He wants to be there.” God is not going to intervene to solve our problems. However, as Friedman believes – “He is truly manifest if we all choose sanctity and morality in an environment where we are all free to choose anything.”
For the revolution to gain traction he says we need leaders “to help people face reality and to mobilize them to make change.”
That may be some of the best advice for all of us including leaders in any profession for 2017 and beyond – face reality and make change.
In a sentence, the message of the book is: While none of us alone can control technology, globalization and climate change, together we can thrive, if we advance a moral revolution for the collective good.