Predicting the future is a tricky business. There have been countless ridiculous failures at identifying the trends and products which will determine the future shape of our life and our environment. Even more difficult is trying to guess which of us will be deemed a useful member of the community and which is an obsolete relic. To a large extent, the answer to this question lies in determining the useful professions of the future. This is an age when people are determined, defined, and categorized in strict accordance with their professions. Whereas during the Renaissance, a person might have been defined by his range of interests (remember the likes of Leonardo da Vinci), by his familial, religious, or ethnic affiliations, by his or her gender, and so on. Today the first and foremost question is a person’s profession. The first question that we must provide a clear answer to is: What constitutes a profession (as opposed to a hobby), a vocation (as opposed to an avocation)? To qualify as a profession, the act must bear the following hallmarks:
- It must be continuous and pursued for a long time.
- It must occupy most of the waking hours.
- It must yield earnings or compensation whether in money or in kind.
- The person must have an advantage in that field of knowledge or activity, at least over laymen. In other words, the categories of laymen and experts which are the result of highly specific education must exist and prevail.
- It must be hierarchically layered with clear flows of professional authorities and responsibilities and with a clear career path (progressing up the professional ladder).
The second relevant question is: What are the trends which determine our future? It is useless to look at micro trends. These are too volatile and, in principle, unpredictable. Much more important are the trends that last for hundreds or even thousands of years. These are usually not the results of technological conjuncture or geopolitical upheavals. Rather, they are the outcomes of characteristic human activities which are uninterrupted. Healthcare, for instance, is such a human activity. Humans terrified of death and infirmity always wanted and are very likely to continue to want to improve their health and thus postpone the inevitable and better the quality of what is available. Another such overriding tendency is education: this is a part of the human survival kit. By educating oneself, by studying a profession, by learning more about the world one better his chances to survive. Out of this set of human, almost deterministic activities, a group of overriding trends emerges:
From Less Mobility to More Mobility
People, goods and, lately, information became and become, daily, more and more mobile. Physical distance has been shrunk. A global marketplace has formed. Information is almost instantly available anywhere. This was described as the global village an outdated concept that might soon be replaced by the global home. All the professions which have to do with more mobility will benefit and represent preferred professions of the future. The moving of people: pilots, drivers, the car industry, sophisticated traffic planners and automotive innovators, tourism-related professions, and so on. The moving of goods: shipping, trucking, air, and modern train travel. This area is already so specialized that I do not consider it as offering opportunities in the future (put differently, I do not regard it as a growth industry). The moving of information (today dubbed: “The Service Industries”): Trading systems, the Internet, Networking and communications related professions, the field of communications within the computer industries, telecommunications, entertainment-related professions, technologies of banking. The creation of destinations for people, goods, and information (commonly known as Markets or Marketplaces): advertising, marketing, trading, design, image, and public relations experts.
The Age Polarization of Society
Better medicine will lead to a polarization of the age structure of society: there will be more older people and more younger people. Gradually, as birth rates fall and contraception becomes widespread, a reverse pyramid will be formed: most people will be middle-aged and old. This offers a clear view of professions that will be required in the future: Professionals to take care of older and younger people (which have very similar needs): nurses, paramedics, nannies, entertainers, leisure time professionals, companions, specialized equipment manufacturers, operators of homes for the very old or for the very young, pension planners, manufacturers of specialized medical and paramedical needs and products for both age groups, legal and accounting specialists in pension and inheritance laws and tax planning. Virtually every industry and field of human activity will have to adapt themselves to these demographic changes. Age-related expertise will develop in each one of them. This applies to the arts (mainly music and cinema) as well as to the crafts, to industry as well as to agriculture, to infrastructure as well as to government. Human society will be enormously influenced by these shifts.
The Fragmentation of Society
Initially, society was composed of very large units. People belonged to tribes “nations”. These were groupings of up to hundreds of thousands of people. They felt amply defined by this belonging. Nothing was left out when you said that a certain person was “Hebrew”. Nothing needed to be added. Stereotypes were more than sufficient and, usually accurate.
Later, the concept of the family fully emerged. First, in a very extended form: the family comprised a few generations and all removed family (blood) connections. Gradually, the family shed more and more layers. People began to be called by family names only 250 years ago. The nuclear family was an invention of the 19th century when the industrial revolution and modern methods of transport and communication broke families apart. Even these relatively small units came under a debilitating attack in the last 50 years and the nuclear family underwent a nuclear implosion, it disintegrated. Today, the basic unit of society, its cell, its atom, is the individual.
People will tend to isolate themselves: stay more at home, work from it with flexitime, form and break up short-term attachments to other humans, or be engaged in non-committal activities with others, activities which will not threaten their absolute freedom and mobility. Solitary media will be predominant: the Internet is a one-user medium (television was a family medium).
The professions which will cater to the needs of individuals and separate them from society (while maintaining the survival need to communicate) will be the professions of the future: Internet, entertainment (especially customized), telecommunication, singles-related industries (dating and couple matching, for instance, single’s bars, to mention another), virtual reality, small businesses which can be run from home, agencies for temporary work placement and other professions catering to the conflicting human needs of being together while being alone.
All the other seeming trends are recurrent illusions. Thee have been ages of more or less democracy, more or less market orientation, and more or less polarization between rich and poor people. The human race experienced numerous forms of government, marriage, economy, management, residence, production, and even of trying to predict the future. It was the wisest of all men, King Solomon, who said: “There is nothing new under the sun”. True, but it is getting stronger.
About The Author
Sam Vaknin is the author of “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited” and “After the Rain – How the West Lost the East”. He is a columnist in “Central Europe Review”, United Press International (UPI), and ebookweb.org and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101, and searcheurope.com. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.