Human society is rapidly transforming. And we are having trouble keeping up. For the first time in human history, more people now live in urban rather than rural areas. As the world’s population grows from today’s 6.3 billion to the 9 billion predicted by 2050, almost all these extra people will dwell in urban areas. But rather than cities being industrial centers for spreading prosperity, as in the past, many may become crowded populaces of attempted refuge for those needing work.
This dramatic change brings with it huge social ramifications. And each individual will now have to accept the challenge of dealing with the changes: changes in the environment, changes in expectations, and ultimately changes in survival strategies. The need to find positive support structures within these new urban environments is going to be more important than ever before.
Working harder and faster
One of the biggest shifts over time has been the increasing focus on knowledge based work, and the increased amount of time being spent on it. Over a lifetime, the average person now works for 71,000 hours, or 8 solid years. According to a 2003 OECD survey of 25 industrialized countries, employees worked the following hours per year in the following countries:
- France: 1,431 hours
- Germany: 1,446 hours
- England: 1,673 hours
- America: 1,792 hours
- South Korea: 2,390 hours
Our work has, by sheer weight of time commitment, become a strong focus for our lives. Whether we like it or not, we are spending more time than ever working, and we need to find meaning and connection through our work because of it.
The increased focus on work has also brought about dramatic advances in many areas, particularly in the area of communicating and relating to other people. On top of working longer hours than our predecessors, we are now meeting more people, communicating more, being exposed to more messages (up to 1400 direct and indirect messages per day), and facing more and more challenging expectations and tasks.
The price we pay
A deeper look at the statistics reveals that although the expectations being placed on individuals are increasing exponentially, our capacity to manage these effectively has not increased.
As we push ourselves harder and harder to meet the expectations, to gain more and more in the way of material comfort and economic security, we are experiencing significant imbalance and stress
As Hugh Mackay, an Australian leader in social forecasting, says:
“We have simply not yet had enough time to adapt from the relative secure life of the hunter gatherer village structure, to a very different way of life in the vast suburbs that sprang up around industrial towns and cities… We have paid a high emotional price for our material comfort.”
Only time will tell just how high that price could be.
The organization’s responsibility
It will be essential for the organizations of the future to come up with proactive approaches to life and work in order to cope with the present and survive the future. It is time to start thinking of innovative ways to improve social structures. It’s time to consider how individuals can be provided with maximum support so that they are not simply trying to keep up with the changes, but can instead be ahead of them.
And that will require some creative thinking.
©2006 Gaia Grant
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