Last week, I wrote about the following global trends that will be shaping our world in the coming decade; each are listed below, with links to the longer, more detailed predictions.Interesting Times: All of these global trends will be fueled by, and responding to, the unprecedented rate of technological change. The acceleration of advancement that we are seeing now, and which will be ever more present in our daily and global affairs, is the near-fruition of the trend Henry Adams picked up on 150 years ago. Exponentially more advanced technology, made more available to the wider world, will contribute to the following cultural, economic, political, and social trends…1. Economic Headache and Heartache: The current economic crisis is at once old-fashioned and a sign of things to come: before the Great Depression, the world economy swung from extraordinary boom to catastrophic bust with mind-numbing and hear-aching speed. The accelerating rate of change will lead to more of this economic upheaval. And while this technology will make it a bumpy ride, so too will it advance the upward movement of billions of people worldwide, who will be better fed, educated, and housed than every before. All of this will keep economists and mathematicians busy as they seek to comprehend, and perhaps channel, the roiling world economy.2. Sold Downstream: Incredible technological advancements have already made—as in the case of the American military—war-fighting more precise and, you could even say, more humane. But the 2010s will also see these new war technologies make their way downstream, to places we don’t necessarily want them to go. Proliferation high and how will mean that the weapons and technology of the most advanced, professional armies will, like all technologies, move down-market, making what are or would be already brutal wars (in Congo or Sudan) more lethal.
3. Lagos on Steroids: 2010 will be the first year in the history of humanity when the majority of people live in cities; in another 50 years, three-fourths of the world’s population will be urban. As people around the world continue to leave their rural roots, and as urban centers sprout and swell, we will see the Rise of the Panopolis. These turgid cities—80 of the 100 largest of which will be in developing countries—will encapsulate the full spectrum of the human condition, with the richest and poorest within the same city limits, and be connected to itself and the wider world as never before via technology. As a result, the poorest of the world’s poor will see and know a lot about how the richest live, and about world that exists beyond the panopolis walls.
4. Seven Billion Mutinies Now: Not only will the world’s population be more urban, but also better informed and in the faced with incredible personal and economic insecurity; they will be less patient and more restless, leading to more small ‘d’ democratization. And while the spread of democracy has become axiomatic in some eyes, it may not be the rosy future they envision: in many cases, it will look less like a John Trumbull painting and more like Tammany Hall with a deep religious tint: the demand for democratic power will not always be accompanied by—and in many cases will reject—the liberalism and pluralism we westerners too-often imagine inhered in democratic movement.
5. A New Map: The outlines of the old, familiar world will continue to fade and blur during the 2010s: the ‘west,’ first world,’ and ‘third world’ will make less and less sense amidst of the disaggregation and the death of the West. Old blocs will disappear, while new ones form, and in the middle of it all will be a breakup of, and American move away from, European cultural and political influences.
6. “All Peoples on Earth Will Be Blessed Through You”: What began in Genesis, when God bade Abraham to get moving—“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”—continues to this day. The 2010s will continue to witness the rise of hot religion and the March of Abraham: far from dead, God is back. Whether fueled by global insecurity, greater education and urbanization, or the failure of secular ideologies, the world’s people are opting for the ‘hot’ versions of religion, and the march of this fervor—whether in Nigeria, Peshawar, or India—will affect all peoples on earth, even if they don’t agree who is blessed.
7. The End is Nearish: It’s not the first time humanity has been in the throes of uncertainty, and like years past, the narrative that we are dealing with forces—spiritual or secular—that might end life as we know it becomes more appealing to more people . As another age of the apocalypse, the 2010s will find its religious, cultural, and political movements infused with this narrative and fear, affecting everything from our debates about science to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
8. Bloody Meridians?: While the vast expansion of the world economy is, on the whole, something to be energetically welcomed, there will be losers, leading to uneven development and the African time bomb. The movement of borders and reorganization of nation-states in Europe was a long and bloody process spanning two world wars, and is still unfinished; as Congo continues to bleed, and tremors begin in Sudan, I fear that we are to witness a similarly bloody breakup of certain African multinational states, and the 2010s will see a redrawing of the borders that dissect the continent—most of which were originally lines drawn upon a globe in an 1880s Berlin parlor room.
9. Let Them Eat Cake: The scene at the Copenhagen Conference when the final ‘politically binding’ declaration was hammered out is telling: none of the five countries in the room (the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa) were European. Just as old blocs and categories dissolve and are made irrelevant, the 2010s will see the European world order break up. Increasing, the locus of power will move from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and America’s role will be as the arbiter between the very contradictory inclinations of Europe and Asia.
10. Well, That Was Depressing: You’d be forgiven if you only didn’t even make it this far, after so many dour predictions. But, despair not! Amidst it all, hope and change are not just campaign slogans: the same change that feeds our fears should give us hope, as we are riding a rising tide, not a falling one. So look up and hold on!