After a morning browsing High Street shops, the Badger and his wife popped into a well-known pizza chain for lunch. The number of empty shops and limited footfall meant that our shopping experience had been a sombre one with little atmosphere. As we waited for our pizzas, it was impossible not to listen to the amusing, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation of a spirited group of 30-somethings at an adjacent table. Their conversation seemed to centre on the importance of social media to free speech given Microsoft’s withdrawal of LinkedIn from China, the forthcoming COP26 climate conference, and transformation of the world! The Badger found himself silently oscillating between admiration at their optimism and idealism and dismay at their simplistic view of our globalised world.
Three things in their conversation grated. The first was a belief that social media is a bastion of free speech. It isn’t. Free speech has existed in societies long before the advent of social media. Yes, social media is a modern channel for sharing information, but it’ll never be a bastion of free speech when people and organisations with nefarious characteristics or intent cannot be held to account. What keeps most people attached to social media, the Badger feels, is simply FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out – not free speech.
The second thing which grated was the view that it’s the UK government’s responsibility to ‘save the planet’ via COP26. It isn’t. The uncomfortable truth is that the UK can facilitate and be an exemplar on dealing with climate issues, but ‘saving the planet’ is more in the hands of the USA, China, Russia, and India than this tiny island. The final thing that grated was a view that the COVID pandemic has shown that our online tech has already transformed the world and that a green, tech-centric, utopia is just around the corner. That’s not the case! The pandemic has, in fact, highlighted that we’re entering an unruly extended period of global transformation which will affect every facet of our lives. Transformation with chaos will be a feature of the years to come!
Transformations succeed when everyone aligns and commits to common goals, plans, budgets, and so on. There’s little real evidence for such alignment and commitment amongst the major powers. The US, EU, China, Russia, and India all have their own economic and internal pressures. US relations with China show little sign of improvement, countries and companies are re-evaluating the strategic wisdom of extensive globalised supply chains, and the move away from carbon creates different tensions as demand for old commodities declines and demand for different ones rises. With this backdrop it’s foolish to think a green, tech-centric utopia is just around the corner.
As our pizzas arrived, the Badger’s wife said ‘There’s a generation whose entire lives will witness perpetual transformation and chaos’. The Badger simply responded with ‘That’s life’…