What will life look like in 2030?
It is comforting to think that it will consist of “high-tech and communicative” houses, food that is “convenient, delicious, and healthy”, and education provided by “superstar teachers”.
Yet, it is hard to imagine that these predictions will describe your life if you are among the 1.7 billion people expected to live in urban slums or among the increasing number of refugees and displaced persons expected as a result of proliferating intra-state conflicts.
(Illustration: Malay Karmakar/Mint)
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Trend Compendium 2030 predicts that extreme discrepancies between “haves” and “have-nots” will decrease globally, but they will increase within individual countries.
Yet, the global context is changing in ways that make such a world not only undesirable, but unsustainable.
For one, we have an increasing capacity to harm one another. The compendium predicts a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including among non-state actors.
Moreover, we are bombarded with information about the actions of others, but often without the insight or understanding that would place them in context and recognize the human—and therefore humanizing—interests, values, hopes, and fears that motivate them. And if the compendium is correct that media will become more personalized, it is easy to imagine many of us choosing that media, which confirms our biases and reinforces our preconceived notions.
Recent years have provided disturbing examples of where an interdependent world with plenty of information, but little understanding, can lead. Cartoons depicting a revered prophet in despicable ways get printed in an obscure newspaper and—after months of poor decisions by media and political leaders alike— spark violence between communities.
As if in response, a conference dedicated to calling into question one of the most horrifying events in recent history is held under a government’s patronage, complete with a competition of cartoonists lampooning the historical tragedy.
We have enough information to know how to ridicule and denigrate one another’s most sensitive and revered symbols, but not enough empathy and compassion to understand why we should not.
The compendium is supposed to help leaders better guide their companies, communities, organizations, and—in some cases— countries. Its predictions inspire at least three ideas to consider.
First, while we look to governments to remove barriers to accessing information and to expand and protect the freedom of the press, we need media leaders to use the tools at their disposal to enlighten as well as entertain. If, as the compendium predicts, we are to witness a marked rise in “infotainment”, how can we identify and communicate the facts and truths, which may be difficult or even dissonant for some to hear, but which are crucial to ensuring a real understanding of our world?
Second, the positive and constructive capacities of religious communities should be recognized, welcomed and cultivated.
The compendium predicts an increase in religiosity, but mainly stresses its negative consequence —growing radicalism. This may be accurate, but it makes the common error of linking faith itself to radicalism—particularly for Muslims—when it highlights what it terms “radical Islam”. The most reliable studies and surveys prove that there is no correlation between devoutness of practice and extremist views in Muslim societies. Indeed, the common denominator of extremism is the perception of being under persecution, attack, and persistent humiliation, whether due to political oppression and lack of opportunities at home or political domination and occupation from abroad.
More importantly, we should recognize the fact that diverse religious communities offer some of the very capacities and resources that will be most needed if we are to deal with the challenges expected to confront us in 2030.
For one, there is the unparalleled reach of religion. In this era of globalization, it is easy to forget that nothing has achieved the global presence that our diverse religious traditions have. Synagogues, churches, mosques, and temples remain by far the most ubiquitous institutions from the most remote villages to the densest urban neighbourhoods.
And while religions get blamed for many of the world’s ills, there is at least as much evidence that they offer the deepest available reservoirs of empathy, compassion and humility, inspiring billions throughout history to act in service of others and even, at times, to forgive the unforgivable.
A world in 2030 marked by increasing intra-state conflict, expanding refugee and displaced populations, and rapid urbanization—with associated family dislocation and increased crime and drug rates—will need the service and leadership that religious communities are uniquely placed to provide.
Third, we need leaders who understand the implications of living in an interdependent world— that what is most urgently required is not only, and perhaps not even primarily, the intellectual capacity to grasp increasingly complex realities, but the deeper understanding and care that comes with empathy for others. If we cultivate this capacity in our leaders, the creative and entrepreneurial problem-solving spirit that we celebrate today will perhaps be directed towards ensuring that “your life in 2030” is free from want and free from fear no matter where you are born.
Shamil Idriss is acting director, UN Alliance of Civilizations and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org