For well over a decade at the end of each year, I look back at that particular year, contemplate and look forward. Moreover, I put it all in the perspective of visible and invisible developments – trends as you wish – thus grabbing some bits and pieces of the Zeitgeist. I am glad to share my annual reflection this year with you.
The year of the mirror and the trampoline
Everything that gets attention grows. Everything that receives too much attention continues to grow unhindered and excessively. From ego via Bitcoin to those in power. Looking back at a year that (once again) passed in a blink of an eye, one thing is clear: with the speed of light we are heading towards ourselves. A step back, to move forward. As we look outside, the journey takes place from within. On our way to the year of … the mirror and the trampoline.
What has actually happened in the past year?
A lot, yet again very little. The past year was mainly a year of ongoing developments. Technology that’s just a bit smarter. The self-driving car that is already on the road. Robots that can now also cook, based on the input of bits and bytes. Unfortunately millions of people are again fleeing war and economic misery. China’s economy is rapidly expanding, on the way to become the largest economy on earth, where economists already take a peek at the second half of the 21st century, when India will take over the number 1 position in terms of both population and the economy. Science is getting to the next level in fighting terrible diseases. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, already in existence for many decades, has finally been proven last year. And leaders who, whether or not in a slightly different composition, continue to lead, transform or – in some eyes – muddle. Unfortunately, yet again, the continuation of terrorism, with new attacks on different or sometimes the same places, always with the aim: publicity, spreading fear and everything connected with it.
In addition, the skyrocketing prices for works of art, with a new world record of USD 450million for Salvator Mundi – literally translated: Savior of the World – by Leonardo da Vinci. A well-known Christian motif bought by a Saudi Prince, soon to be seen in the Abu Dhabi Louvre museum. Marking the connection between religions and cultures. Who knows.
In short, what’s new?
Does it actually matter what happened in the past year, what really happened or what supposedly took place –filtered by spin doctors or fake news? Or is it imminent that we, as mammals will use our instinct, our common sense again (much more), our gut feeling, and thereby identify what is right, what our limits are and where vast possibilities arise? That we in our wolf-like pack need to adapt to survive, and not only have to take but also contribute.
If news or other types of information is showing less and less the actual facts, wouldn’t it be much more interesting to find out what happened behind that so-called reality? To what extent does what we see and read actually has the impact it claims. What are as such the underlying factors, goals and motives.
The Bitcoin hype –who didn’t hear about it- seems to be the 17th-century tulip mania, or the South Sea bubble from 1720 all over again. The I-buy-because-tomorrow-it-will-be-worth-more pyramid scheme is accelerated by the possibilities of today’s technology. You even hear regularly down to earth people seriously defending and promoting these unheard-of price rises competing with the annual inflation rate of Zimbabwe or the likes.
In parallel with the urge of people who want things to be organized quickly for themselves, no matter how disruptive their personal wishes turn out for society. To illustrate this, just check out the sovereign debt and balance sheets of Governments and central banks that have grown to immense proportions. This is possible as long as you -as a (more or less) reserve currency holder of the world- can print money limitlessly and unpunished for the time being. In this way real money will no longer be related to any fundamental, so the virtual cryptocurrency world and the physical money world will become increasingly similar. It is the fundamentals, my dear Watson, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes.
The Bitcoin hype fits in perfectly with the age-old pattern that people want to be part of a group. The famous fomo – fear of missing out. First everyone wants to be part of the group showing the best (read: not realistic) version of themselves on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and so on, subsequently the first participants already deliberately say goodbye to Facebook for example. Less friends instead of more. Every generation its own bubble, and also the end of it. The fear of leaving last?
The people who shout the loudest seemed to be the most popular online and offline in 2017. A global phenomenon. It seems that generations are now growing up with the imprint that the packaging, of words and of the bringer of it, is by far the most important element. And the snappy media quotes, under the leadership of UberTwitterChamp Trump, provide less and less need for depth. Harsh language. Zero nuance. Soundbites versus content. You are an expert when you are famous. So it seems.
People want stardom, they need to look up to other people. Ordinary people become – apparently due to a lack of role models – also stars, through well-watched talent shows, blogs and vlogs. This is also a form of ‘printing money’. Instant success as the new expression of the American dream. And yes, the word says it all, a dream. 2017 showed that we are in an era that coincides with and is reinforced by the demand for people who flat out say what is on their mind (whatever that may be). Why? Certainly, it is a fact that everyone wants to join in every debate. They want their voices to be heard. They want to matter. All very understandable, but participating in a discussion, a full-blown debate, also creates a responsibility. To listen to your opponents, to dive into the facts, to study the framework. The awkwardness and social rules of everyday life versus the allegedly perceived reality in and on the various (online) media. Hence the abundance of reality shows on TV and online, which are often exaggerated or even fully scripted. In other words, reality that turns out not to be a reality, but is seen by millions as a leading example, in which screaming and cursing have become the standard. Fake reality becomes a harsh reality. Fulminating as the new way of human interaction.
Trump’s (and not only his) communication strategy appears to be the ultimate representative of this type of behavior. Show the worst, most raw version of yourself online, subsequently everything that you do in real life will not be perceived as that bad at all. The seamless transition from reality show to the impulse-driven real world. Induced by the supreme People, today a voter, tomorrow a (news) consumer.
You heard a lot less about Big Data in the past year, all the more about the next phase, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning. AI and machine learning as an AI application that can fundamentally change many aspects of our life.
But humanity can be at ease, since artificial intelligence still remains just artificial for the time being. And in addition, are machines capable of worrying, which is a crucial part of both reflection and progress? As long as there are concerns, there seems to be hope for humanity.
In a Western society, where belief in a God or anything else supernaturally is increasingly waning, we created our own omniscient, omnipresent phenomenon, something or someone who knows everything about you. Is AI God in its modern embodiment?
Astronomers and others seek life in outer-space, everything far away from us, also a typical human tradition going back thousands of years. Man once wondered if there was life in the next valley. The more we knew about our own area, world seas and distant countries, the further we went exploring, especially ‘well beyond’. We often searched for the Great Solutions far beyond our reach. Even outside the Earth. In 2017, Ross 128b was discovered, a planet with the size of our Earth, which is possibly habitable. Here too, we like to mirror ourselves – at a distance – directly with something that looks like us. Or at least we want to be part of that, a select group of planets containing life.
Philosophers have been mirroring for centuries, but them too ‘we’ have boxed in and set them apart, and we see them as different, a bit outside of our reality. In short, the easiest step, actual and profound self-reflection, appears to be the biggest challenge for human beings. And because of the almost infinite possibilities of today’s technology, knowledge available 24/7, the brain is no longer encouraged to think about certain things for a longer period of time; making this brain training, much needed for the bigger work – self-reflection, philosophizing, thinking – less and less available.
A year of Brexit, Kim Jong-un of North Korea and #MeToo. Motivation as change-maker.
The British want to be taken seriously in their individuality, yet at the same time wish to belong to the vaster group of nations, but with a twist. Where the gap between countryside and city seems unbridgeable. Brexit was less about the gap between the island and the mainland, as appeared from many news reports. No, the main issue was the rural residents, who with their non-urban challenges do not feel heard in the mainstream, big-city-dominated media and the ditto political debate, and therefore want to be heard in a different way. By even voting against their own (jobs) interests. It is known that North Korea has for many years been in the pursuit of being taken seriously by the superpowers, especially by America. To this end, one is prepared to go very far. Wanting to fit in is, in their own special way, their driving force.
The Catalans want independence. Freedom. That feeling is apparently so strong that people are inclined to start a conflict for it. In fact, this conflict is about exclusion, about craving to really belong to the bigger entity.
In the case of many years of patterns of sexual harassment and worse in many sectors, many were in the know, but no one said anything. There was fear. Not to be taken seriously. To be excluded from the group. Now after the courageous act of a few, many felt strengthened in the past year to also come out. The strength of the group, the collective, came forward. From exclusion to inclusiveness. #MeToo as a tipping point and marking.
Same motivations, different forms of expression.
Did you also notice the other trend? The winner takes all.
Tech companies are growing excessively, and are increasingly taking the lead in all kinds of industries, which they partly or entirely take over. Taxi industry, hotel industry, health industry. The majority of these companies are clustered around 1 city in the USA and a few cities in China. Tech like the all-absorbing black hole.
The financial industry: two-thirds of the share capital is owned by twenty US investors, all based on one square kilometer in NYC.
It’s all possible, until it is not possible anymore. Privacy, integrity (Uber scandals about spying, sexual harassment, Apple scandals, FB scandals, tax matters, privacy issues, fake news that flourishes based on commercially exploited ingenious algorithms). Even Russia seems to be taking advantage of the supreme media and their information monopoly by allegedly influencing elections in certain countries. The bloody limit!?
Also, consider the blocked acquisitions of Anglo-Dutch Unilever or Akzo Nobel. The takeover plans were countered, because infinite growth on the basis of numbers alone may not (or no longer) fit in the Zeitgeist, possibly in need of business on a more human scale. Broadly supported values make their voices heard. A step back on the road of never-ending-business-growth to a higher and progressively balanced quality of life. And not just sending more profits to the NYC square kilometer. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is now the richest man on earth. A clear sign on the wall. We mourn the permanent change of the once pleasant shopping streets, but we consider the source of this change as an extraterrestrial phenomenon, beyond our control, while at the same time we order everything with a mouse click at that very same online giants, sitting on our couch. Except 3D TV’s, which seem near the end of existence. Possibly an example of something that technically is feasible, is not per se required or desirable. Also marking a turning point?
The cities grew at an accelerated pace because almost all attention goes to the same cities and their inhabitants. Perhaps if we (will and want to) give more attention to the countryside, the sheer beauty, the space, the infinity and so on, if we pay much more attention to that, who knows, that part of our world will grow and flourish again. As an impetus to restore the balance between city & nature, food supply, source of (biomimicry and other) innovation, architecture integrated with and in relation to its environment. Something that makes the whole better. A tad less on the way to more, better. With more of that same human scale feeling. Too many people together create an abstract amorphous mass, something which is meaningless in the eyes of many. Too much of everything is nothing. Also in this case.
Undoubtedly because of those and I imagine many other reasons, the leading architect Rem Koolhaas and his think-tank realize and research this trend and they plan a major exhibition in the Guggenheim NYC in 2019 called “Countryside: Future of the World”. Agenda tip! And we will undoubtedly amaze ourselves with this transformation that is also going on in the countryside, inextricably linked to ‘our city world’. Less city, more countryside. From a mirrored desire and connected interest.
In addition, the municipal board of Shanghai decided in 2017 that 25 million inhabitants, to be reached in about 10 to 15 years, is the limit for that city. For the first time such a metropolis sets the limits of growth. This also forces other cities to self-reflection, and a possible different way of looking at the countryside. After all, people have to live and work somewhere. Trendsetter or tipping point?
Speaking of deliberately taking a step back: in the abundance of information – newsletters, offers, apps, expanding timelines – there are more and more people who consciously set their own limits. Defriending, leaving certain social media, unsubscribing newsletters and even creating house rules for the using tablets and smartphones at certain places and times, also within the private domain. Likewise, obesity measures are kicking in, via a growing number of projects to promote healthy eating and drinking at schools.
There is an abundancy of money due to artificially low interest rates, creating a generation on the housing market, who really thinks that money is actually almost for free – and that this is the norm – and the corresponding inflated house prices also as such. Free money is conceivably even more addictive than the mobile phone. The central banks are already trying to point out to addicted consumers that also in this respect, the end is nearing for this atypical situation, with certain limitations on the horizon.
In all respects, it’s time to take a few steps back. This, incidentally, will provide a great opportunity for a more conscious life, well suited to the continuing trend of making a lesser impact and footprint on the fragile ecosystem of Mother Earth. Many realize the necessity, still too few sense the urgency, but their number is growing.
Furthermore, the tide is turning that only working in the tech sector or becoming famous with singing or vlogging is cool. The old-fashioned craftsmanship and especially the appreciation for it increases considerably. A step back from the ladder of instant success to lasting satisfaction of something that has been created with (your own) hands.
For some, unfortunately, 2017 was the last year in which they could realize their personal ambitions, large or small. The final step back. Famous or unknown, for everyone the end-station is a common denominator. We said goodbye to special people who, in their profession, in their being, were an inspiration for many, such as: fashion designer Azzedine Alaia – who dressed both Greta Garbo and Madonna-, Hugh Hefner, Fats Domino, Roger Moore, David Rockefeller, Helmut Kohl and many more.
We will continue as long as we are there. With a profound bow for those who have made their value-adding contribution to this world.
Looking back is our indirect way of looking ahead, isn’t it?
As Yves Saint Laurent only looked at his models through the mirror, indirectly, but so revealing. He observed his models and undoubtedly also a glimpse of himself, so that he could see himself in a certain context; it’s perhaps a good idea that we look at ourselves more often in a different perspective, both literally and figuratively. In addition, that good old mirror is not that bad. Everything retro is ultimately (again) en vogue in the future.
The French President, newly elected in 2017, addressed his people in his first speech in the English language. A break with tradition, apparently a step back for the proud French people, but it turned out to be a major step forward in thinking and acting in a country in urgent need for change. Yes, President Macron acted as a mirror for the people. Letting go the France First dogma. And that set the tone.
Scientific research showed once again that our brains are creatures of habit, but that you can train them with different patterns. Great encouragement to kick the ping of another message, another like, to the aha … of a good conversation again, another insight, something to chew on and come back to later.
All those little steps back, taking some distance from ourselves, paying attention to each other, looking more often in the mirror, or in each other’s eyes -the mirrors of the soul- give more insight into your and other people’s motives. Considering why you do what you do, why something can and must be done in a different way, experiencing Art, that other reflector, full of metaphors, beauty, confrontation, aimed at sharpening your own mind, scrubbing your profound convictions. Because imagine, why do you think what you think, and why are you who you are? Nature, nurture and little urge to really take off the comfortable coat of regular patterns, or taking a step back to rise to greater heights, that’s the question for 2018.
Pope Francis set the tone by announcing last year in a TED talk (!): “The more powerful you are, the more responsible you are to act humbly”. In other words, on the top of the mountain taking a big step back in attitude. In that way making progress, together. This serving leadership style seems to experience a continued breakthrough in 2017. Embracing the ‘Everybody sweeps the floor’ vision of Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman (“(“and if everyone sweeps the floor they should get the glory too”)
The year 2018 as a trampoline: a step or jump down – into the deep – to come out higher than ever before. Preferably together, looking into each other’s eyes and in synch, without a smartphone in the hand and with all the attention for each other. In this way moonshots are possible in every aspect. Social, economic, political and personal. Shall we give it a try? Your neighbor, friend or colleague has already started with it. From an (social media dominated) ego system to a more coherent, interacting and connected eco-system. A small step for an individual, a big leap forward for mankind.
Based on this ambition, I wish you a beautiful, surprising and mutually inspiring 2018, with many mirror moments, and some steps back as fuel for monumental leaps forward, establishing a world more in balance. Towards a better version of ourselves. For real. In good health.