The Fragmentation of Society

Lately, my life has been completely packed with speeches, meetings, and in-depth, often lengthy, conversations. Plus ongoing research and writing, of course. It all culminated Thursday afternoon at the beginning of a business meeting with the leadership team from a firm that will become a significant new business partner. At the very beginning of the meeting, the head of the firm leaned over to me and asked, “What’s on the top of your mind? What are you thinking about?” The previous night we had a small group of about 15 people in my living room after dinner, and the question was similar, “What keeps you up at night?”

It has become an emotional question for me, because the answer does not come easily, is complex, and can be more than a little unsettling. It is, however, evolving out of the research and writing I’m doing on my new book, The Age of Transformation. Whether audiences and readers agree with my answer or not, it is not a feel-good message, which is somewhat frustrating because I’m the biggest long-term optimist in the room. But I acknowledge that what I am talking about suggests that the ride between today and the long-term happy ending is going to be more than a bit bumpy.

This week’s letter is going to be a passionate summary of my answer. In form, it will be something like a conversation between you and me, sitting in your living room or mine, or in a restaurant, maybe sipping an adult beverage, thinking through the future together, and wondering at how the world is transforming in front of our eyes.

In part, the impetus for this letter was a video I did with Patrick Cox last week, one in a four-part series that Patrick is doing called “Riding the Gray Tsunami.” We had a candid conversation about the future that lasted an hour, though our outstanding moderator and editor Jonathan Roth, one of our team members, will likely edit it to about 30 minutes. Patrick’s other guests will be Dr. Mike Roizen, the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic; Aubrey de Grey, the chief science officer of SENS Research Foundation and one of the true experts on longevity science; and finally, our friend Jim Mellon, self-made British billionaire and avid biotech investor. You really don’t want to miss this. Now let’s jump to the letter.

The Fragmentation of Society

In the interest of brevity, let’s take it is a given that we’re going to see massive technological change in the next 20 years. In fact, we will see more change – and improvement – in the next 20 years than we’ve seen in the last hundred. Think where we were 100 years ago and how much has changed since then. That much and more is going to happen in the next two decades. Global society really is going to transform that fast.

Let’s start with some good news. In 1820 some 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. By 1990 the figure was 35%, and in 2015 it was just 9.6%. Forty percent of those who remain impoverished live in just two countries, Nigeria and India, both of which are growing rapidly and will see their extreme poverty significantly decrease in the next 20 years.

There is research to show that, on a global basis, the poor are getting richer faster than any other group. However, if you look around the US or Europe, that is not the conclusion you come to. But Africa or Asia? Absolutely. Let’s be clear: The Industrial Age and free-market capitalism, for all of its bumps and warts, has lifted more people out of poverty and extended more lives than has any other single development. The collapse of communism has been a great boon to humanity (even if it is still talked about favorably in Western universities).