The Economics of Tomorrowland

Written by Martin Lucas

The Economics of today's society is fascinating. Every age of humanity is in a constant state of flux; the world never stops evolving, and yet we do have patterns of the world pointing in the same direction.

Known as an Era or an Age, as shown in the sphere of Behavioural Economics, analysing the past is rife with triggers of what tomorrow may bring to society as we know it.

But what is this Era we are currently in?

Understanding the present is challenging, mainly because we think about the past and worry about the future more than considering the present. Alan Watts, by far my favourite of the modern Philosophers, wrote in an essay about a great way to think about life in this context. I’ll paraphrase:

I am pointing at the moon.

If I tell you to look where my finger is pointing you will see the moon. You follow my instructions and you would indeed see the moon.

Now, if I tell you to look where my finger is pointing you will see the present. You follow my instructions and you would be in the past by the time you get there.

This always stuck with me as a great way to explain what it means to get grounded in the present. In the simplest terms, trying to think about the now is actually wasting away the present and you are caught in a loop of never being in the present. Thus, you are wasting your time thinking, instead of being and doing.

The present is all around us and we humans are followers by nature but what are we following today? Since the Industrial Age, it’s been hard to avoid seeing technology as being the backbone of all change. I really like this image which was recently doing the rounds on social media:


They (historians like this) say the second industrial revolution ran from 1850-1970. What came next was the age we are currently in - the Information Age. As you can see, any Age has roughly 100+ years to it and it’s (still) continually debated as to the official starts and ends of these ages. My point is that we are in the first half on an Age beginning with the birth of computers through to smartphones to cloud and now we are faced with AI, VR, AR and many other abbreviations of technology all of which are changing our day-to-day behaviours as you can see in that 2006 image. In such a short space of time we are barely texting anymore and now WhatsApp is becoming part of our lexicon for digital messaging (peak nirvana for any brand). You could pick any of the examples below as a short term ‘remember when…’ nostalgia game.

Remember when…

…it took four hours to download a song

…you had to buy music and not just stream it on Spotify

…phones had no internet

…you had to call for a cab

…you had to stay in a hotel and not with a random stranger

…flights were expensive

…microchips were about a microwave, good salt and ketchup

It’s an incredible shift in the past 20 years let alone the 47 years since 1970. What will happen next and why?

A metric-based society

Today's world is a metrics-based society. No matter who you are or what you do, you have targets that are either number of jobs you complete, revenue, customer satisfaction, test scores, appraisal scores, analytics, followers, likes, engagement, NPS, employee satisfaction, unsubscribes, shareholder value, share price, profit, targets, project delivers, tasks completed and on and on it goes. We are in a data-driven world that is only just starting to manifest itself. Here at Mastermindset, we are just as guilty; we literally tell our clients that there is nothing that cannot be measured and it is true - every behaviour has a cause & effect basis to it and you can assign a metric to prove it. Now, we do that on a mathematical basis and we use sentiment analysis and what we call irrational mathematics, which is a way to understand any individual amongst millions relative to what they prefer when considering buying a product or service. We only need to look at the everyday insights and tools that every human leaves behind in their digital interactions. It’s kinda scary how many behaviours you leave behind online everyday - the odd comment or like on social media, or indeed the like you don’t give can be telling. This is why they say data is the new oil.

Where it’s all about to go really crazy is the birth of AI personas - basically fake people on social media (a concept which already exists). The next phase of these fake people is giving them AI skills so they can interact on a baseline level but enough to trick people that a particular brand is good or bad, popular or making people mad. It is the next evolution of the Trump and Obama strategies and it’s not just fake news but fake people. Our bias is going to be manipulated and no one will know how to deal with this because technology has brought change too quickly for us to understand it, to regulate it or to anticipate it.

I think this will ultimately be known as the digital life era - our ability to work wherever and as whomever will be like a combo of Second Life and Wall-E


Let me join the dots and explain why this is our not too distant future. Forget technology for a second. If our society is driven by metrics and data, and the biggest users of said metrics are corporations, then who is the data they use really for? Their customers; us humans. And if we continue destroying the planet - as we are with stuff like palm oil plantations, plastics, Capitalism, rapid human growth and meat consumption - than one could argue that our evolution is actually going to mean we would happily live and work in concrete palaces, plain old grey concrete rooms and yet still be happy as AR and VR will literally take our minds elsewhere. Corporations will happily play the hand they are dealt and - as Netflix has done to old school TV - they will do the same to how we live our lives and where.

Not sure? In the past decade the U.S. military has been using VR to help treat severe burn victims - the most excruciating pain there is - when they need to change their bandages. They have proven that VR literally takes their mind elsewhere during this procedure as the patients’ perception changes so they feel little to no pain. It sounds like science fiction but it’s not. It’s practical; your perception is your reality. Think about the Wall-E clip again, read this and just consider what tomorrow might easily become. After all, when we look to the past, didn’t you used to record your favourite cartoons on VHS? Play music on Walkmans? Or send emails?

The future is coming more quickly than we can ever realise; it’s why we can be tricked by our perception of what the present really is.