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Europe in 2020
Alex Steffen, 27 May 06

Guest contributor and futurist Marcel Bullinga makes his home online at FutureCheck.

The world is getting flatter and we need technology, creativity and talented people to survive. We have to deal with wealth worldwide, not poverty anymore. Europe possesses a very strong and very positive legacy. It can and will survive 2020, but it is necessity, not choice, that will drive us. We lose low and high end jobs, disappearing into the technology and into other countries. We lose our educational strength. Europe is too rich and too lazy. Europe needs a dream, a focus. Please permit me -- an independent European futurist, a native of the old continent, and proud of it -- to outline European survival in 2020.

So, what's life like in 2020?

We will witness an acceleration in change and an overall sense of insecurity. Due to globalisation, 2020 is flat, with less trade, knowledge and entry barriers. 2020 is filled with nomadic people in a constant flow of short and semi-permanent stays all over the world, creating a constant brain and workplace circulation. Due to digitalization, 2020 is virtual with intelligent houses, cars and streets. Basically, it is one giant video camera. We will gain and lose privacy. 2020 is transparent and, as a result, hyper competitive. Every one knows your achievements and your failures, and only highest quality will survive. Government and law enforcement will turn digital and invisible: less bureaucratic, more powerful. In this world it is difficult to lie or to hide. The mix of bits, atoms and genes will cause a production and services revolution, such as: printing products at a distance; personal selfservice dashboards for customers & citizens; and low cost, high quality virtual mobility tools. These inventions will have the same effect around 2020 as telephone, TV, and automobile had in the 20th century...

All of this may lead us into a new Golden Century -- which we will need to tackle the enormous energy and congestion problems of 2020. In some ways, 2020 resembles the Middle Ages. Back then the city provided safety, stimulated trade, and made children grow up very fast. The world will be crowded with old people with a lesser drive for innovation. It will make traditional social security unaffordable, but it will also create a wealthy grey market: Silver Century.

2020 is about customer power, self control and self service. It is about personalized services around global commodity products, about making technology invisible. It is about simplicity of choice, about identity and lifestyle -- the only real cliff hangers in the fast world of 2020. Such a world needs flat & flexible organisations, and creative people with a drive for success.

The trend of globalisation, no matter how powerful it is, can be reversed. The following emerging counter trends might do the job. Unmanageable congestion problems. Global energy wars. A failure to stop low talent immigrants, thus creating major safety and social security problems. A failure to attract top talent immigrants, thus creating a fallback in research and innovation.

Any European dream worth the name must recognize these trends and counter trends and must have answers to them. What we need the most, is energy, passion and enthusiasm. The energy derived from a shared goal, a goal that every normal citizen understands and embraces. We need the European equivalent of a moon landing. In fact, we need multiple moon landings in 2020. Here they are. We need to be energy independent and self sufficient. We need global, individual portability of pensions, education possibilities and health care. We need to implement smart law enforcement. We need to develop low cost high quality virtual mobility tools. We need to take advantage of the Silver Century. We need to lead the production and services revolution. To maintain our wealth, we need to make our organisation flexible & creative. To maintain our civilization, we need a straight back and a secular society.

A dream is not about dreaming. It is about taking action! If in the next 15 years we land on all these moons, we will survive. So, let's start innovating now!

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I took the time to look at Marcel Bullinga's open letter and really the tone is that of a high growth booster. The following is typical:

"We may well earn our money where wages are highest, and spend it where cost of living is low and quality of living high. Out of choice or out of necessity. Switching between the sun an the cold in spring and fall. Working during the week on one spot and relaxing in the weekend on another spot. Not permanent but semi-permanent immigration, part time so to speak, more fluid, less definitive.
I call this nomadic living. "

Frankly this is unsustainable on two counts, firstly the energy costs of working in one place and "living" in another are unsustainable (certainly in the 2020 time frame). I don't think that regular readers of World Changing need this to be explained.

The second is rather more subtle. The future imagined by Mr. Bullinga is also mentally/spiritually unsustainable. We are already living in a world where we constantly urged to work harder for a "higher quality of live" which really seems to mean little more than a higher level of consumption. Existance is divided into "working" and "living", two separate worlds, one of over stressed drudgery and the other pleasure.

The paradox is of course that your work time is also your life and the mental/spiritual fulfillment achieved there is of equal importance to pure financial gain. Jetting off in the weekend (burdened down with all the virtual chains of the teleworker of course) to some vacuous pleasure park is not my idea of a fulfilling or mentally sustainable existance.

So here's the rub. There is not a single future, we don't just have to go for high growth, high pollution, high stress - the American model. Come one Mr Bullinga, what about a real European alternative.

Posted by: Brianthesmurf on 28 May 06

Dear reader,
thanx for your comment. In *Europe in 2020* I have made a picture of what life might look like in 2020. Be aware: *not* the "desirable" future, but the "probable" future -- both grim and nice, both positive & negative. I absolutely share your concerns. I think "growth" should be about creating lesser but better things with lesser transportation and lesser energy.
If you read the whole essay, not only the introduction, you will find that where grim futures are probable, I make suggestions for innovations to turn them bright.

Two examples.
1. In order to avoid a digital striptease of our lifes in 2020 with no privacy left at all, we need selfservice Personal Dasboards to regain control over our lifes. Hence my Open Letter to Microsoft's Bill Gates & Google's Larry Page with a description of such a Dashboard and the respectful request to them to start building it.

2. In order to avoid mounting energy problems and even an energy war, we need to develop a. energy created locally; 2. enhanced materials & new raw materials (like improved solar cells and fuel cells) through nanotechnology. 3. printing products locally in 3D objects, avoiding transportation.

I think that for the first time in history we can combine sustainability *and* wealth -- through the smart use of technology.

In my presentations for business and government I always urge the decision makers to start innovating in this direction.

Well, that is my dream -- at least part of it.

Marcel Bullinga
Independent European Futurist
Direct URL to "Europe in 2020:

Posted by: Marcel Bullinga on 28 May 06

Stopping low talent immigrants, and attracting high talent immigrant leads to a brain drain of the developing world. I find it depressing to see this listed as a prerequisite for successful globalization. My intuition is that successful globalization needs the full participation of the developing world. Otherwise globalization is only a success for us westerners.

Posted by: Martin Svalin on 28 May 06

"I call this tool Personal Dashboard, a self-service Information Communication and Privacy Control Centre. The next big thing after the website, and a likely bestseller to 8 billion citizens worldwide. Consider it to be your personal manager. With a few clicks, you subscribe and unsubscribe to the newspaper, you order your passport and a pizza, you obtain a residence permit, pay the rent. You allow or block ads."

We have the beggining of such a program already. It's called Firefox on the Linux OS. ;)

"2. In order to avoid mounting energy problems and even an energy war, we need to develop a. energy created locally; 2. enhanced materials & new raw materials (like improved solar cells and fuel cells) through nanotechnology. 3. printing products locally in 3D objects, avoiding transportation."

Telecommuting will be a big part of the future as well. My old company whom my Father still works at, just told me the other day that they are making their tech support department 90% telecommuters. He himself is only in the office 3 months a year now and that is only because he is a manager and status report meetings are still done in person unfortunately. We need better videophone technology as well to make the office completely virtual. If 2/3rds of all IT jobs in 2020 are telecommuting, just think of how much gas that would save in the long run.

Posted by: Chris on 28 May 06

I'm sorry to say this, but this is one of the most passéist views on Europe's future I've ever read.

The entire discourse is based on a pure modernitistic paradigm, while Europe's precisely moving away from this!
Bullinga's discourse repeats the old modernistic mantra of increasing individualism, consumerism, transparency, virtuality and technocracy. It's a very typically Dutch discouse, I would say!

As a Belgian, I can tell you that (thank god) there's a much brighter, more sensitive, more collectivist and social discourse about Europe's future: one based on a sense of community, one away from digitization (the virtual is anti-sensual, and people don't want it), one back to sensualist materialism, and one of community formations, away from nomadism.

It's the altermondialist discourse, and it's making the difference (see the French youth who protested the CPE - they're the new generation of Europeans).
Globalization will have to transform itself from an 'extensivist' model (merely sucking up surplus value and moving on), to an 'intensivist' model (one which contributes and enhances to the formation of sociality, not nomadism and individualism), - or it will not be. That's my intuitition.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 29 May 06



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