Physically living here, but mentally being somewhere else. In the digitalizing world, it is becoming ever easier to live in one place and work – digitally – in another. It is also becoming ever easier to live in a random place and stay connected to your homeland and culture. At one time it used to be necessary to learn the local language in another country – or you could not earn a living – nowadays it is quite possible to emigrate to another country and keep speaking your own language among your compatriots. In all the major cities of the world you will find people from almost every country.
What does this lead to ? We are living in a world that is becoming more and more scrambled, without a single homogeneous new “fluid” culture emerging. The fluid is, so to speak, not very well mixed yet. Whereas different cultures used to be geographically separated from each other and – given the long distances usually did little harm to each other – it is now easy to digitally conspire as a religious or extreme group worldwide and make life miserable for other groups or cultures. This partly explains the success of Islamic terrorism and the dirty tricks, lies and conspiracy rhetoric on social media and the strange attacks of “lone wolves”. The scrambled world is vulnerable to evildoers. The scrambled world makes it easier to prove your supposed right by attacking innocent civilians with freely available weapons. Or by spreading fake news and thus inciting groups against each other.
Social cohesion has crumbled. One effect of the “scrambled” society with digital group formation is that social cohesion within countries and large cities is crumbling. Where people used to need each other at work, in the social environment, thus learning the language and integrating, now all kinds of groups of people live in large metropolises, completely alongside one another. Large cities are thus collapsing into tribal environments, where tribes live alone and not with each other. A similar effect can be seen between large cities and the countryside. Both environments have a totally different perception of reality, to such an extent that in the countryside one finds predominantly conservative and nationalistic thinking people, whereas the cities are progressive and cosmopolitan.
Digital transition of society. We live in the transition period from the classical world, where everyone lived in isolation in his own country and cultural background, to a digital world in which mankind will integrate and merge continuously. In which ever more services will become available on a global scale, such as those of the Tech Giants. In which national borders will blur in favour of global collaborative networks. Global division of labour, migration, clashes of civilizations, geopolitical turmoil, it is all part of this transition period. We are heading towards a digital world with different social structures, which at this moment we can hardly imagine.
How should we deal with this ? What certainly does not work is what populists are trying to do: look back at how it used to be and present it as a desired future. Anyone who wants to move forward but keeps looking back will only bump onto something. The past was not as beautiful as it is supposed to have been and moreover, it will not return. The entanglement between thousands of sectors and organizations worldwide has already progressed too much. Closing borders is not a solution. It does not stop either digitalization or globalization, nor does it offer a solution to migratory flows. What all this will eventually lead to is an increasingly egalitarian world. That is what is particularly pressing in rich countries and within these at the bottom of the labour market..
Move with the transition. We will have to accept that humanity is in a transition period which continues and the only thing that can be done is to guide the process positively. This means that governments have to create space for the natural process of worldwide cooperation between citizens, scientists and companies. That governments must work together to tackle the major problems of our time. That governments have to adjust their laws to the international changes that are going on, reform their labour markets and learn to look beyond purely national and short-term interests.
Time for new leaders. For the time being, we irrevocably live in a scrambled world, in which we will have to deal with contradictions between people and cultures cautiously. We could at least learn that there is not one truth, but that there are different solutions to the problems we are struggling with. That it should not be “us” against “them”, but “us together” working on a world where we can all live in decent conditions in a sustainable environment. In this new world there is no place for enemy thinkers like Trump. It is time for new leaders who understand the new era and guide us through this transition phase towards new social structures.