The End of the Future is Here
By Adrian Notz and Frank Pagano
By Frank Pagano
The Future doesn’t exist anymore. Let’s tackle the ‘here and now’. McKinsey, in their many articles covering the Covid-19 crisis, calls for the advent of a strictly pragmatic approach to business, people management and, as a matter of fact, life. We have had crises before – lots of them, but this one looks particularly scary, due to scale and how much grey it has on it. Let’s hold our breath (pneuma), then, and dive into a long limbo.
Those who are street-smart don’t talk about the future now. Those who want to look smart are all about being pragmatic, all about action vs. beauty and vision. It is the right thing to do, I believe. We are in the middle of an invasion. It is wartime. The absolute priority for all of us is to survive, and leave as few casualties as possible on the battleground. As you will see from the notes by Adrian Notz, I also wonder if we are able, when the storm has passed, to find again our biological instinct to plan the future, or especially our will to imagine a future, which must be better than status quo. But it’s more than just opening up our minds to the future, which is innate in us. Truth is: liberalism has died in the past three decades. So, if we are the only creatures on the globe who are gifted with the power of imagination, will Covid-19 impair our ability to change, as we are mastering so well the skill to stand by? Will the current stop become our new, comfortable or uncomfortable, state? Mark Ritson predicts that we will go back to our old selves. Changing behaviors is probably the hardest thing to do. In a year, eighteen months latest, we will go back to the capitalistic routine, which pays our bills and makes us progress as a global community. Even the whole sustainability movement may come out of the crisis weakened and less urgent. Let’s cut the crap and go back to the serious, hard-core, money-making ‘ego’ machines that we have become. You know you like it. Yes, we can do that. Unless another scenario unfolds, and it has to come from the dream of an anarchic mind. Or from the objective mind that recognizes that, regardless of the virus, modern capitalism needs to be corrected.
The End of the Future
By Adrian Notz
1989. When the iron curtain fell and the internet was born, philosopher Francis Fukuyama announced the End of History. He was referring to an idea first formulated by German philosopher G.W. Friedrich Hegel, who saw the End of History coming, when one final ideology would dominate the mindset of mankind. Fukuyama declared ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’. What happened was the victory of neoliberalism over communism; and, in the past three decades, indeed, we have seen how neoliberalism, without any ideological opponent, could spread everywhere.
Your crisis is being delivered to a store near you. Each of the past three decades has been marked by a crisis. After 1989, neoliberalism took the form of turbo-capitalism in all former Communist countries, creating a new mindset, and so many, new oligarchs. After 9/11, the world started a global war on terrorism, and fear as well as panic became the dominant parameters of our mindset. The financial crisis of 2008 changed neoliberalism further: the archetype of the big business CEOs, in a tailor-made suit, shifted towards the one of the tech-nerd, wearing t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, while becoming a billionaire. The idea of success was finally democratized. Everybody can make it big time, by launching their own start-up. We are all unicorns. Tech innovations, like smartphones, the cloud, big data, apps like Uber and AirBnB, or social media and their influencers, not only disrupted big companies, but also made structures and values of our communication completely obsolete. Sense and content detached from communication, and anything became as important as everything else. Suddenly, the climate protest by a young girl sitting alone in front of the Swedish parliament became a global movement, within a few weeks. World leaders invited that school kid to join their Davos club. They started to understand, finally. They even claimed they had changed their mindsets, and now needed to create a sustainable world, which is, actually, the objective that the WEF had been promoting for fifty years. The questions of how to save the planet and how to create fairer economies should finally lead us to better business-making and to a healthier future. And, suddenly, Australia started burning, and Covid-19 exploded in Asia.
The Eternal Present. Technology has developed so fast, that we can hardly imagine what the world could look like in only five years. Nor can we imagine a world without smart phones, social media, or the internet. We have lost the concept of future, and our memory as well. The rapid development of technology, namely the instant access to tons of information and the constant flow of breaking news, have made us lose the memory of the past, as well as any vision of the future. We believe in statistics, and are making projections based off of things that already happened. It feels like the End of History has brought us to the End of the Future.
The Environmental Crisis. The world’s environmental catastrophe, gradually approaching – which we were warned about since the beginning of industrialization, is changing our mindset, and it further deprives us of the capability to envision a future. In 2018 fifteen thousand scientists reminded us of a warning, dating back to 1993: if mankind doesn’t act, we will have the sixth historical mass extinction. When? At the end of this century. In Spring 2019, an Australian climate risk task-force corrected the doomsday date to 2050. And, last Summer, the US Air Force and NASA anticipated doomsday to 2040. Soon we will start to say: Now! The end of the world is happening now!
Covid-19. The current pandemic makes us experience what our mind has already been passively tuned to. Differently from all dystopian Hollywood movies about the end of the world, we will be as passive as our End of the Future mindset. Stay at home, and please save the world by sitting on your couch! In this self-quarantine time, our mindset is changing again. Time collapses on itself, so that the singularities from astrophysics and sociology suddenly seem to be the same. The End of the Future clearly unfolds: (1) nobody can imagine what is truly coming – the term ‘for the time being’ or ‘until further notice’ dominates the current thinking; (2) physical movement has been reduced drastically, making time horizons disappear and the concept of duration totally different. Our minds are struggling to imagine even the closest future, like the next few weeks. Lives are being threatened, especially those of small businesses and start-ups; or those of artists, musicians and performers, who have been precariously moving from project to project. They don’t know and can’t imagine how to survive. The state of emergency will last for another two years, or, if we find a vaccine, eighteen months, say the experts.
So What? We can change our mindset now. We need to understand that this can’t be the end of the world, but only the End of the Future. The End of the Future gives us the great opportunity to actively enter the mindset of a NEW NOW. It is all there. We just need to activate it.
We might fear, like some Youtube ‘philosophers’ do, that in the post-corona time we will be living in a totalitarian state, or in a world where the rich is richer and the poor is poorer. The global shutdown, instead, puts us all in the same situation, and makes us experience the same thing together, as one species. We don’t have to secretly hope that the virus will bring about the long awaited revolution that will create equality and abolish all classes, like in an anarchist dream. We can make sure it will, because our mindset will have changed towards a NEW NOW.
The New Normal. Interesting facts. We start to feel how important human contact is. Simple things, like taking a walk, having a beer or experiencing the noise of a lively street, will have a different taste and sound to us. All of our rituals of social gatherings will become much more precious. Real-life experiences, as opposed to virtual ones, will gain new quality. This is my hope. That we finally start to understand how important culture is for our mental wellbeing and evolution, and that our memory is also an exciting place to visit; and, that our imagination can become a vast space of endless travels. We can start ‘travelling without moving’, as the protagonist Paul Atreides says in the 1984 David Lynch science-fiction movie ‘Dune’. It’s now ok to do useless things, or even nothing at all. We don’t need to be ‘productive’ all the time. Our growth mindset will not just be about moving forward, as growth is not about size anymore, but about greatness, openness and broadness. Our mindsets will expand infinitely, creating a NEW NOW, full of imagination, sensitivity and intuition. The global lockdown forces us to breathe, and not be out of breath while chasing success. World leaders in Davos might have grasped the idea that a world organized only on the idea of profit is not sustainable. Economy per se is not everything. Solidarity, a word that has been used a lot in the past few weeks, seems to be needed, more than ever, even more than neoliberalism. The NEW NOW mindset, which we can discover in this pandemic-induced pause from the daily craziness and unconsciousness, will be guided by sense, sensibility and sensitivity. We can, paradoxically, hope that exactly now we have the time to reset, and become a new, active community of sense. Covid-19 has frozen the present. It makes our lungs sick, but it may give us a new pneuma, a breath of fresh air and spirit, a new force of life.
Picture credit: Mihai Barabancea, End of Future, 2019 (from a series of 9 photos)
Franceso Pagano is Vice President, head of Portfolio of Licenses Brands, EMEA for Fossil Inc. He is passionate about craft brands, innovation, brand management, brand communication and international business. He is always up for irresistible product concepts, ultimate communication via integrated campaigns and truly great Italian food.