All over the world, people are giving up.
Think about it. Where they get to vote, often nowadays, a majority can’t be bothered. When asked, they simply say “it makes no difference”.
More and more are going beyond that. You see people refusing promotions now, refusing to go higher on the career ladder where there are fewer spots to compete for.
If there are 120 spots for a senior clerk or technician, but only 10 supervisor’s roles, in your community, which slot gives you more security? Are the extra few dollars worth it, especially if next year the company your work for is downsizing, offshoring, outsourcing or is acquired? (That the senior staff position may well be one that pays overtime and the management position doesn’t could actually see your take home pay drop when you’re promoted, too — in a time when every bit of income matters.)
Along Europe’s Mediterranean coast, it’s now the norm that your 35 year old son has never left home, never married, never started a family of his own — and maybe never held a job. If that’s the case, why expect that today will bring something different?
These, and many many more, are showing up in our society as breaking points, fracture lines in the body politic.
The world is changing, and rapidly, and in ways that don’t necessarily make tomorrow better than today (that is, if you measure better as “more”, or in terms of advancements).
I live in a neighbourhood where nearly half the shops are shuttered, either formally out of business or where they may still be being rented but nobody blows the dust off from one month to the next (the office used by the former MP, defeated in the election of 2011, is still apparently rented by her, although I’ve never seen any signs of life for two years now).
Yet the street is not dead: the neighbourhood comes together to paint and refurbish empty storefronts, and they’re used for pop-up shops to test new business ideas regularly. Some have even rented digs and set up shop permanently.
When you see a former corporate high-flyer with their goods at “Artisans-at-Work”, you’re seeing another sort of breaking point unfolding.
The neighbourhood, too, is filled with people who work from home. But then, this city is filled with people who don’t have jobs as we used to know them. Over half the urban area of 6.5 million people is self-employed (or -underemployed), a contract worker, permanent part-time, or some other profile that doesn’t fit the traditional 9-5, 37.5 hour week.
Just as well, too, because the transit system is groaning under the commuting that’s going on now in rush hour, and the roads are in gridlock.
I recall meeting a start up CEO two years ago. She was adamant that during working hours she simply would not meet with anyone outside a certain set of streets. The reason was simple: no amount of potential business was worth the lost time struggling to get around, and what that did to her quality of life.
She’d rather, she said, have a much smaller business and a happier existence, than lose the reason she went on her own in the quest for more.
Less is more. That’s a breaking point, in spades, for a society that’s built around endless growth and the consumer as the heart of the economy.
We are coming to an inflection point. We are not ready for it.
Almost all our government programs for things will be useless. They’re geared to doing one of two jobs: funnelling money into established organizations, or providing transitional support to get individuals back into the mainstream.
No micro-business, something that provides a life for its owner but not much more, can afford to deal with the bureaucracy. No one walking the artist’s way is an organization, and thus they’ll remain outside the mainstream.
Meanwhile, many of our best and brightest won’t be running things — by choice. They’ll have stayed on the front desk at the community centre, in a low role in the kitchen, or at a small desk in cubicleland rather than move up and take on more risk for little reward.
More and more people are eschewing possessions — they’re not owning cars, they’re living in postage stamp-sized spaces, they’re people who rent when needed rather than cluttering up their lives with “stuff” — with disastrous effects if your only measure of success is the GDP.
It’s a problem of scale. Things are getting smaller. But we’re left with an infrastructure and institutional landscape — public sector and private — that’s behemoth in size.
For a while, yet, at least. When your breaking points are reached, how will you deal with them?