new societal infrastructures

In 2004 Bill Draves and Julie Coates wrote Nineshift: Work, life and education in the 21st Century. That was the same year I started blogging here. Nineshift is based on the premise that during the first two decades of the 21st century, there will be a major shift in how we spend 9 hours of each day.

“There are 24 hours in a day. We have no real discretion with roughly 12 of those hours. We need to eat, sleep, and do a few other necessary chores in order to maintain our existence. That hasn’t changed much through the centuries, so far.

That leaves approximately 12 hours a day where we, as individuals, do have some discretion. That includes work time, play time, and family time.

Of those 12 hours, about 75%, or 9 hours, will be spent totally differently a few years from now than they were spent just a few years ago. Not everything will change, but 75% of life is in the process of changing right now.”

The authors put forth that society would significantly shift what we do with those nine hours and this would be complete by 2020.

  1. People Work at Home — “Work is an activity, not a place.”
  2. Intranets Replace Offices
  3. Networks Replace the Pyramid
  4. Trains Replace Cars
  5. Communities Become More Dense
  6. New Societal Infrastructures Evolve
  7. Cheating Becomes Collaboration
  8. Half of all Learning will be Online
  9. Education becomes Web-based

In December 2019 NineShift announced its work was done — “The NineShift story, which predicted and then documented the transformation of society from the Industrial Age of 2000 into the Knowledge Society of 2020, has been complete.” It appears that some of their predictions were just a few months too early. There are suddenly millions of people working  from home (Shifts #1 & #2) and millions of students learning online (Shifts #8 & #9).

Many of the nine shifts were well underway in the past few years, which is quite a good prediction for a 16 year-old book. They were focused on changes in working life in the USA. But one shift that was not making much progress in America was #6. Without Shift #6 — new societal infrastructures — the other 8 would be pretty well meaningless for most members of society.

New Societal Infrastructures Evolve: Shift Six
“New societal infrastructures are built, so that the inequalities of wealth in society are adjusted to the benefit of both business and the middle class. A variety of win-win programs are created, including new privacy laws and Individual Learning Accounts.”

But like the Influenza epidemic of 1918-1920, another shift happened — COVID-19 hit us. Did we see this coming?

‘The influenza of 1918 was short-lived and “had a permanent influence not on the collectivities but on the atoms of human society – individuals.” Society as a whole recovered from the 1918 influenza quickly, but individuals who were affected by the influenza had their lives changed forever. Given our highly mobile and connected society, any future influenza pandemic is likely to be more severe in its reach, and perhaps in its virulence, than the 1918 influenza despite improvements in health care over the past 90 years. Perhaps lessons learned from the past can help mitigate the severity of any future pandemic.’ St. Louis Fed 2017-11

What will be COVID-19 effects on society? Nobody really knows yet.

“Overall, our analyses suggest that experiencing the Spanish flu and the associated condition of social disruption and generalised mistrust had permanent consequences on individual behaviour in terms of lower social trust. This loss in social trust constrained economic growth for many decades to follow. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the economic consequences of different approaches to managing the COVID-19 crisis.” —VOX-EU 2020-03-22

But we have some ideas.

“The economic consequences of the pandemic included labour shortages and wage increases, but also the increased use of social security systems. Economic historians do not agree on a headline figure for lost GDP because the effects of the flu are hard to disentangle from the confounding impact of the first world war. The long-term consequences proved horrific. A surprisingly high proportion of adult health and cognitive ability is determined before we are even born. Research has shown the flu-born cohort achieved lower educational attainment by adulthood, experienced increased rates of physical disability, enjoyed lower lifetime income and a lower socioeconomic status than those born immediately before and after the flu pandemic.” —The Conversation 2020-03-11

Now is the time to look at new societal infrastructures to implement post-pandemic. If not, we may go back to the old systems that got us into this mess in the first place. The shifts to working from home and learning online can also significantly decrease carbon emissions. We are seeing clean cities for the first time in decades. Let’s keep them clean, and slow down climate change at the same time. Why waste this crisis? The time to think about change is now.

The time to act on these new societal infrastructures is very soon.

For example, after the Plague killed a large population of people in England, labour became scarce and people could demand higher wages. But the status quo struck back with the Statute of Labourers in 1351.

“A statute passed after a large part of the English population had died of the Black Death. It followed an ordinance of 1349 in attempting to prevent labour, now so much scarcer, from becoming expensive. Everyone under the age of 60, except traders, craftsmen, and those with private means, had to work for wages which were set at their various pre‐plague levels. It was made an offence for landless men to seek new masters or to be offered higher wages. The statute was vigorously enforced for several years and caused a great deal of resentment; it was specifically referred to in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.” —Oxford Reference

The Peasants’ Revolt

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