The world is changing. And very quickly. Every day quintillions of bytes of data are being produced available at our fingertips from anywhere in the world. New materials and technologies are making our lives more like sci-fi movies everyday which is giving us more scope to imagine the world of the future.
However, how we move forward into that world and how the next generation are included in that shared experience is essential to how they continue the human legacy.
We must strive to demonstrate that past actions and attitudes need to be different and that the future of the Earth, with it’s many species of plants and animals and rich ecologies can be balanced with technological progress.
I remember when studying Product Design at University, about a decade ago, we would have different corporate speakers come and attempt to spark our interest in joining their industry, and ultimately their company.
This would mean gas and oil, weapons, pharmaceutical and even banking companies would come and present the case for a future career in the sector. Not to say that this was the only opportunities presented to our young minds, but they were out in force. I was already on the path of sustainability and found these suggestions of creating war machines and drilling deep into the Earth unappealing and actually upsetting. Some of this was due to the fact that I could sense the excitement and anticipation of career pathways from my peers, presumably dreaming up illustrious futures reaching the peak of those companies, gaining respect and earning lots of money.
Yes, they wouldn’t be far wrong. Those jobs, those companies are highly successful in the world of the 20th Century, and those technologies and ideas have been forever woven into the history of our planet until this point. However, we have understood now that these paradigms do not serve us in the future which we want on this planet.
Environmental degeneration, Genetically Modified and pesticide grown food, dirty energy and the Military-Industrial Complex have all been uncovered as genuine issues on our planet.
Renewable energy generation, organic & innovative locally grown food schemes, crowdfunded community projects and cryptocurrencies are the ideas of the future.
When we see the university courses which are becoming available to the next generations we get a sense of this shift. The buzzword sustainability can be found in more courses than ever; from Sustainability & Management to Sustainable Energy Technologies or even Sustainability & Environmental Management, this example gives just a microcosm of the new focus that universities are taking. Just last week at the end of October 2017 the University of Edinburgh in Scotland announced it would be shifting £60 million of investment into businesses that directly benefit society and reduce environmental damage. Many universities now have sustainability departments who focus on developing greener campuses.
With the development of the internet, even the previously heralded pinnacle of university education is losing it’s validity as people are seeing that startups and entrepreneurial lifestyles can be just as lucrative and often more ethical. I am not, by any means, negating the massive contribution which responsible and expansive academic research has to offer in creating the new world but the cost of graduate degrees in these times means many are skipping these institutions and using new forms of education to empower themselves.
We can even see how the shift of the corporate world towards Fair Trade, reduced plastic and health are becoming the accepted sense of normality, with greater attention paid to their behaviour.
This is all great news and a decade on from being offered a single module on Sustainability & Recycling at university I feel we are moving in the right direction.
My question is, with all of this new information and possibility trickling down as part of the inherited cultural norm, are we giving our young people of tomorrow a sense of moral compass?
Do we want to move towards an ecological utopia where technology and nature are interwoven with an empowered, creative and connected human race stewarding the planet or some Orwellian commercialised world of self-indulgent technocrats?
What we manifest, I believe, is in how we present the context.
I am a deep believer that initiation is a key rite of passage which fosters a sense of belonging and a connection to something greater than the self.
An African proverb which resonates with me goes:
“If the young are not initiated into the tribe they will burn it to the ground just to feel its warmth.”
If we can show the young people that society has a place for them and indeed keep true to this notion, and demonstrate that they are part of the Earth they will continue to take care of it willingly.
This attitude will be inherited: if we can demonstrate we are thinking and acting in this direction, then they will also. The education system needs to adapt to give this understanding to the young.
Ecological mindsets and futurism are no longer maverick mindsets and they need to be given the appropriate level of exposure in the mainstream.
Victor Papanek, legendary visionary and author of Design for the Real World: Human Ecology & Social Change had this to say back in 1971:
“Design must be an innovative, highly creative, cross-disciplinary tool responsive to the needs of men. It must be more research-oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly-designed objects and structures.”
As the creators of our destiny we must give the next generations as solid a foundation as possible to dream and build the world of tomorrow. This means giving them insight into pioneering technologies today whilst ensuring they keep a grounded connection with the natural world.
In fact, by shining a new light on technology we can show that nature has given us wood, copper, bronze, iron, gold and plastic with which we have cultivated a comfortable world of instantaneous information and communication. Silicon revolutionised technology and graphene and carbon nanotubes look set to replace many materials across different sectors with more efficient, stronger, more durable versions of our old materials. However, we need to revitalise and care for the planet so that we still have air to breathe, food to eat and water to drink.
I believe we will find the path which will both give a greater sense of connection with an attitude of responsibility and also give us the means to elevate to higher levels of technology where we can push the boundaries of possibility for centuries to come.
The buzzword sustainability is captured well in the the Brundtland Report which says:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”