Trying to predict trends in the New Year is a publishing tradition. With the rapidity of technological innovation, these posts increasingly concern innovations in technology. This occurs both directly, such as WIRED’s “2016 Will Herald the End of Google (sort of)”, or indirectly, like Inc.’s “6 Predictions for the Most Disruptive Tech Trends” and “The 5 Most Undercovered Marketing Trends for 2016” in Forbes.
But there are other trends in the world that dwarf the promises of emerging tech. Problems that can’t be solved by an algorithm or rich guy’s donation to “charitable purposes”.
There are certain points in human history that we look back at and see as pivotal turning points in our collective experience. These are years when politics, culture, economics, and technology come together to create an unstoppable force of transition around the world. One of the most recent such years was 1968. These years force change. They do not “disrupt”, nor can they be fixed through new apps. They come out of the fundamental aspects of our human nature and the way in which we relate to one another. Most importantly, they are moments of choice. We are headed towards such a moment.
Global inequality is the principle challenge of our time. On average in developed and developing countries, the poorest half of the of the population controls less than 10% of the wealth. This is not something that will be wished away by the Sharing Economy or fixed by a buy-one-give-one model. It is not something that Elon Musk can solve.
Worldwide population displacement is at an all-time high. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.” This is not a tenable situation, particularly as it coincides with domestic calls to raise borders trapping these refugees in horrific situations such as the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. There is no crowdfunding this problem away.
In the midst of these issues, the threat of global terrorism and conflict loom. There are enough articles out there so I won’t go into everything here. But suffice it to say, when taken together in a single equation, we are facing a crisis — one in which technology, for all of its shiny promises, can only play a minor role in solving. These are human problems that require human solutions.
These solutions do not come cheap. Nor are they likely to create opportunities to be the next big unicorn. They will not revolve around the creation of a new economic paradigm. Rather they will be focused on empathy. Remembering that hard work had nothing to do with where we were born and the opportunities that it afforded us. Remembering that no matter how bad things are there is always someone worse off than you. Empathy does not need to be blind. But it does require taking the time to listen, to learn, to understand, and at times simply providing a shoulder to cry on. Technology can assist in the creation of solutions but, to be effective, our ultimate goal must be helping others, not turning a profit.
My 2016 prediction is that this year will be simultaneously one of exciting innovation and deepening inequality. I challenge all of us to not turn a blind eye to the world’s problems. We live in an increasingly connected age with access to myriad sources of information.
Let’s make 2016 the year of empathy.