The New Global Trends

Urbanisation

Today, over half of the world’s population lives in cities compared to a mere 13% in 1900 and  fast expanding urban centres are mushrooming all over the planet.

Sixteen millions inhabitants Shangai for example with its hundreds of skyscrapers was just a small fishing village barely 40 years ago. 3000 towers and skyscrapers have been built in 20 years and hundreds are underway.

People move in cities to seek economic opportunities and participate in the global economy but urban life often doesn’t guarantee access to wealth, comfort or even basic facilities. Every week, millions of people swell the population of the world’s largest cities but many end up living in precarious conditions without access to daily necessities such as water, sanitation or electricity.

Nigeria for example, the biggest oil exporter in Africa has 70% of its population living under the poverty line. Lagos is one of the fastest megalopolis in the world. It had a population of 700 000 in 1960. It is more than 13 million today and is projected to rise to 16 million by 2025. The new arrivals are mostly farmers forced off the land for economic or demographic reasons or because of diminishing resource. This is a radically new type of urban growth, driven by the urge to survive rather than to prosper.

Another potent consequence of urbanisation is the emergence of an entirely new mentality: there are now generations of youth born in concrete environment who have never experienced the natural environment. Their perception of the world is one of busy streets, crowded markets, shops and man made entertainments. The food they buy comes in plastic packaging and they know nothing of the land which produced it; the air they breathe has the smell of exhaust, the universe in which they live has the opacity of tarmac, the hardness of concrete and the lifelessness of synthetic matters; the only running water they know is that which comes out of a tap or flows through polluted canals between banks of concrete or jammed motorways.

Those people have lost touch with nature. They have lost some of the sensitivity to the vibrancy of living organisms and to the well being or plight of nature; they are not really aware anymore than without rain, without running water, healthy soils or trees, we cannot survive.

What we have witnessed over the last few decades is the growing creation of an artificial, virtual reality which increasingly tends to replace the real one. Most people now spend their life in front of a computer screen or a machine; they can choose between dozens of TV channels, play football, war or politics on virtual video games, make friends through the internet, love through chat rooms and experience the beauty of a mountain stream or of a golden sun setting over the ocean on a 60 inches TV screen – 20 inches for the poor.

Many are increasingly isolated from the real world and from authentic relationships. Never before have the means of communication been so widely available yet never before has there been so many people suffering from lack of meaningful communication.

The age of the internet      

Launched for public use in 1990, the internet is now connecting more than 1,7 billion people. Those people have created more than one trillion web pages and given rise to an unprecedented burst in knowledge, creativity, access to information and freedom of expression. From the last ten years, the amount of information available is estimated to double every 2 or 3 years; 8 billion songs have been purchased and 160 billion pirated; Wikipedia users have written 17 million articles; You Tube hosts an estimated 120 million videos, increasing 200 000 every day and serves 2 billion videos a week; there are 250 million users registered on Face book – if Facebook was a country, it would be the fifth country in terms of population in the world!

The internet has allowed information to be widely and instantly available everywhere and has played a determining role in improving education, providing access to information or learning to those excluded from traditional educational circles, triggering social change, promoting human rights and transparency. It has allowed people living in distant and geographically, culturally or politically isolated parts of the world to connect to global opportunities and the latest trends in thinking; it is playing a crucial role in the emergence of a world wide culture in which humanity meets beyond the boundaries of culture, race, social background and religion.

The internet is literally representing the formation of the brain of the planet with hundreds million of computers-like-neurons organically forming connections with each others to produce new learning, spark new ideas, provide new perspectives and generate new meaning – the emergence of a new intelligence which has liberated our brains from the burden of memory and offers the possibility to develop new dimensions of consciousness where communication, combinations, meaning, creativity and insights are more important than information  and the repetition of known formulas.

But beside being one of the must extraordinary resource ever given to the family of mankind for its evolution, it is also one of the most potent time wasters and a potentially hazardous tool for the mental, emotional and physical health of individuals

Research estimate that people in developed nations spend an average of four and half hours everyday surfing the net, adding to the two and half hours spent watching TV. Does this point to a new cultural revolution based on a real thirst for learning? Yes, to a certain extent. Besides internet marketing and shopping, top searches are about hot news, fashion, chat rooms, gambling and sex. A few years ago in the UK, the number one cause for disciplinary action of employee was for internet abuse.

The internet has made everything openly available – the best, the ordinary in abundance and the worst. At a social level, in the context of freedom of expression, it is almost impossible to control or censor it.

At an individual level, it requires a great clarity of focus to use it without wasting one’s time – although random or ‘intuitive’ surfing undoubtedly leads to valuable discoveries, it also scatters attention and this is not wonder many children in developed households suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Just like our thoughts spontaneously associate with related memories making thinking an unending process which is very hard to guide or control, the internet is an ever expanding system which captures our attention and can very easily side track our lives.

This means that, like in most dimensions of the new global life, it is up to the individual to make their own choices self according to their priorities and values. If personal values are not clearly defined, the world is an increasingly dangerous place to live in because we will end up making choices motivated by what others, the media or the advertising industry want us to do for their own advantage. But if our values are clear, if we have identified and defined our priorities in life, those things which really make our soul come alive then the world will be an extraordinary field of learning, creativity as well as opportunities for growth.

The New Values

“Modern society has provided us with many opportunities for pleasure but very few for happiness” – Pope John Paul

 

The values which define the new global life style are very different from the traditional customs and wisdom we had inherited from our ancestors.

In the new global culture, the search for ‘success’, pleasure and independence has permeated almost all areas of life. It has weakened the social web which used to hold people together and harmed the ‘values’ which were the guiding principles for people’s lives.

Values and moral principles, although they are still ‘taught’ are increasingly perceived as a collection of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’ based on outdated concepts belonging to another age, before modern civilization ushered the age of ‘reason’, the era of the machine and the dream of money can buy happiness.

One of the greatest changes occurred in the early eighties when psychological and social sciences became potent enough to allow business corporations to form the opinions and behaviour of the people and influence governments. Government who were traditionally in position of leadership and authority lost their power to financial institutions which became the main rulers of people’s lives. Today, the dominant institution on the planet is business and business has no tradition of taking care for values, for moral principles or for the well being of people. It is by definition self serving and it is only recently, with the combined influence of economic competition, climate change and the rise of civil society and social networking that global businesses started talking about of social and environmental responsibility.

Since business, industry and technology became the dominant institutions replacing the state, the traditional culture, the family or the temple in shaping the destiny of people, the priority is to produce what pleases consumers and generates profit. Nations do not evaluate their success on the levels of happiness and well being of their people, but on their ability to produce of wealth.

At the social level, an individual is increasingly evaluated on the basis of his position and financial status than of his character and behaviour. This has led to a global mindset of selfish carelessness, cynicism, competition and mistrust which is particularly poisonous for the well being of societies, organizations, families and individuals.

What we call a ‘value’ represents what we give ‘value’ to because it enhances our experience of living: it is a choice we make, as an individual or a society, which represents our priorities in life. They are what we define as meaningful, essential or ‘valuable’: the things, the activities, the ideas, attitudes, inner experiences and behaviours, or the ideals we want to live by. Those values are later expressed in principles of behaviour and self imposed codes of conduct.

Humanity’s ancestors had made those choices and their priorities were to protect the clan or the race; to maintain unity within the family, the community or the nation; to help people lead balanced lives in harmony with their natural environment as well as with the world of the invisible worlds of the spirits and the gods in order prepare them to cross the unknown and mysterious frontier of death.

Today, things have changed. The new scientific mindset has taught us to believe that life, with all it contains of joys and opportunities for enjoyment, ends with the body and that nothing more than a memory will remain after we have left. It has told us that consciousness and happiness are products of the brain, of matter and has reduced the purpose of living to the mere accumulation of comforts, information, experiences and pleasure.

The late 20th century’s consumer society is defined by an emphasis on the individual, a search for wider opportunities and experiences, a desire for comfort and autonomy, and personal material accumulation. These are the choices we have made and which now determine the direction in which the world is heading. In the new global consumerist society, the consumer is king and determines the social and economical trends which define society as well as the quality of the relationship we have with our environment.

In the past, the state, the traditional culture, the family or the temple were ‘caring’ in the sense that they were making value based choices that were regulating the life of the people – for the good or for the worst depending on those ‘values.’ Business, industry and technology have no tradition of caring for people or for moral values. Their purpose is the creation of wealth, their value is profitability and they produce and distribute what sells, irrespective of the moral, environmental or health impact.

In the media industry for example, because murder, catastrophe and scandal sell better than philosophy and good news, the front pages of magazines choose to report on what is happening on the ugly side of life, relegating to the back pages the stories of the good and positive things people do to themselves and to others. This is a choice but one that has consequences.

Negative news tend to provoke negative reactions, feed negative imaginations and, at the end of the process, stimulate negative behaviour. Then, as the process goes, negative behaviour has negative social consequences further reported as negative news provoking negative reactions … etc. This process is known of all psychologists and has a name: the cycle of Self Fulfilling Prophecy, a simple mechanism taking place at the level of perception which affects all areas of our life.

The Self Fulfilling Prophecy is based on two fundamental principles of our consciousness (i) we record in memory all the images that are presented to us – especially those charged with a high emotional content – and (ii) those same images later re-emerge in our minds as personal imaginations which strongly influence our perception of reality and therefore determine our attitude, intention and actions.

Studies estimate that by the time a typical American child finishes elementary school, he has witnessed about 100.000 acts of violence and 8.000 murders on TV. Consequence? Every week, an average of 88 children are expelled from American schools for bringing a gun to class – and some make it to the top of the global news box by using it. Images of violence feed violent imaginations and become standards of behaviour; they generate insecurity and ‘normalize’ violence.



 

 

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