Smile: the humanizing power of technology

Technology is an extension of the hands of man.*

We fight with our fists and by extension with bombs. We heal with our hands and by extension with scalpels. With fire we warm our homes and we burn villages.

The power of humankind to hurt and to help are magnified by the technology we create.  It extends our reach.

Recently, Listerine commissioned the creation of an app that allows the blind to “see” a smile. This is an example of how technology amplifies our humanity. And this is just the beginning.

Kudos to Listerine. Sure, it’s marketing. But isn’t it an advance when corporations, who are rightly motivated by profit, tap into the best of what makes us human rather than the most vulgar and vile? Love this.

Imagine: What might a future in which technology makes us more human look like?

*For more thoughts on the “new trinity” — biology, culture, technology — see Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future by Alex McManus.

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The Future of Getting Around

tumblr_m6lkibTTQW1qbt5xfI have two recent articles in mind.

The first is from TechCrunch titled, Baby We Won’t Drive Our Cars: the future of automotive transportation. The title begs to be sung to the melody of “Drive My Car” by the Beatles.

The second is from IMN Horizon Scanner, Nic Nelson, titled, Dethroning the King of Los Angeles: the ebb of car culture.

The two together are great fodder for beginning to imagine the city of 2035.

What if, as Nic’s find suggests, major cities like Los Angeles reduce! the number of traffic lanes. What if we were to degrade the capacity of our highways in order to allow the growth of pedestrian and bicycle traffic?

Or, what if the automated car, as suggested in the Techcrunch article, dominates the future?

Imagine how an automated car (that is not dependent on fuel) might change our future landscape. Here are some thoughts. (It should go without saying for regular readers, these are not predictions…the future cannot be predicted. These are ideas to get the imagination going and to increase your personal and organization mental elasticity.)

  • Gas Stations go away.
  • Parking lots become unnecessary.
  • Homes no longer need garages.
  • Highways shrink.
  • Better air quality.
  • Cities reorganize into multiple micro-hubs.
  • More bicycles.
  • A thinner, healthier population.
  • Fewer highway deaths.
  • Fewer ambulances and highway patrol.
  • Highway adjacent property loses its value.

And the question is, of course, and what else happens because these things happen? What if, rather than a dark and dystopian “Blade Runner” style urban future, the future were greener, healthier, brighter? What are other possibilities for 2035 if we found ways to change the way we all get around?

Enjoy.

Fish populations change as ocean waters warm

NorthAtlanticFish

Marine ecosystems are changing as ocean temperatures rise according to Global Change Biology. Remember, when thinking about the future, it’s not what happens, but what happens because of what happens.

One example of “what happens because of what happens” is the overfishing of marlin and shark off of the California coast. That is what happened.

What is happening because of this?

The numbers of aggressive squid appears to be growing near inhabited beaches, making them even more dangerous for swimmers and divers. ABC News in Los Angeles, for example, reported an explosion in the squid population off the southern California coast.

What happens because of this? We’ll see.

But a possibility may be that swimmers may no longer fear the shark fin but fear the squid tentacle. Imagine this: rather than being attacked by a shark, a swimmer is dragged by the feet hundreds of feet under the sea until their ears explode.

Ok, enough Hollywood. Back to the warming waters of the Atlantic.

The consequences of warming waters is that fish accustomed to warmer waters are pushing into the North Atlantic. Will cold water fish like Cod disappear and be replaced by Sardines? And, the million dollar question, what might happen if this happens? The potential consequences are many and, as of yet, unpredictable.

The Culture of Blur

transgenderAccording to the Washington Post, On April 15, 2015, Sweden will add a gender-neutral pronoun to its official dictionary . That pronoun is “hen.” It turns out that the Swedish pronoun for males is “han” and for females is “hon.” So, while it’s unfortunate that it sounds like the english word for a female chicken, “hen” is not that far out there, if you’re speaking Swedish. The Washington Post reports that according to linguistic expert Sofia Malmgård,

“…the gender-neutral term can be used in two ways. “First, if the gender is unknown or not relevant (as in: “If anyone needs to smoke, ‘hen’ may do so outside”). Second, it can be used as a pronoun for inter-gender people (as in: “Kim is neither boy or girl, ‘hen’ is inter-gender”).”

We live in what I call a culture of blur, and this is an example. The culture of blur is an effort to erase boundaries and redefine reality. And this effort targets basic societal structures such as marriage, family, and gender. For example, when a child is born, most people across time and culture have been able to quickly and easily determine the “sex” or “gender” of the child. In the past, a doctor would happily announce the baby’s gender: “It’s a girl!”

Not anymore.

The culture of blur is a shift away from the vision of those who see the world in more  “either/or” terms. Those who inhabit the culture of blur, on the positive side, are often able to see invisible things others cannot see. On the downside, they are often unable to see distinctions visible to others.

In common usage, these two words (“sex” and “gender”) are practical synonyms, but in certain circles, these two words have come to have distinct connotations.  For many, the former is about biology and physiology and the latter is about social constructs and expectations.

In the culture of blur, this happy pronouncement of gender is withheld, even though the biological and physiological distinctions are clear. To announce a child’s gender limits the child’s future possibilities. After all, the pronouncement of physiological truth brings with it too many societal expectations which we are trying to rework.

If by “erasing gender” we mean an attempt to end discrimination against the female of the human species, this is a good thing. Will adding a gender-neutral pronoun work to reshape the human imagination about gender roles? Probably not much. Turkey, according to the Post, also has a gender-neutral pronoun. Nevertheless, the country was only ranked 125th in the 2014 gender equality report of the World Economic Forum. So it may not be effective, but it has good intentions.

But if by “erasing gender” we mean, an attempt to mask difference, then it may be well intentioned but evil. It may make some adults feel better but confuse everyone else (worst of all children). Yes, gender expressions can be varied. Females can be “masculine” and males can be “feminine”. But are not the vast majority of these expressions that run along the spectrum of “feminine to masculine” launched from the basic binary platform of male and female? When we begin our human experience, we are either male or female and that should be celebrated.*

The Shift: from distinguish to blur

Have you heard of the old book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus?  It came out in 1992,  sold some 50 million copies, and remained on the bestseller’s lists for over two years. The book’s premise is that most relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the genders.

Key word here: difference.

This book signifies the formerly and widely held point of view: men and women, boys and girls are different. The content of most marriage conferences and seminars I’ve attended have been based on the same premise.*

Not in the culture of blur. strongwoman

Rather than basic difference, blur sees a spectrum of possibilities for each person. So, rather than categorize a child at birth according to the visible biological truth, let’s let them develop apart from the gender biases that are part of the world and allow them to explore how they fit into the world in a more neutral environment. It prioritizes potential gender “expressions” over the existing binary physiological gender. It underplays physiological gender to the point of making it invisible.

But is propagating an untruth the best way to raise awareness of a truth?

In the past, the basic differences were assumed. Today, in 2015, if you’re going to lead a seminar on dating or marriage, before you can begin to unpack the differences between men and women, you may need to make a case that there is, in fact, such a thing as men and women. If, in fact, there is. I recognize that gender-neutral language is about more than societal expectations for women, but that is where I want to begin. I’ll touch on other issues in a later post.

Sweden and the hen

In Makers of Fire, I include a list of descriptors that point to things that are happening in our world right now. One descriptor, already mentioned above is ERASURE. Another descriptor of the present is SPEED. The Washington Post article tell us,

“Over the last few years, the word ‘hen’ has more and more found its way into the Swedish language,” Malmgård told The Washington Post.

Five years ago, barely anyone in Sweden was aware of the word. The decision to now include ‘hen’ in the authoritative SAOL dictionary is expected to facilitate an even more frequent use of it in everyday conversations. 

Five years. How did this happen so quickly? Again, according to the Washington Post article:

According to experts, the ‘hen’-revolution in Sweden has two primary origins: LGBT groups have promoted the pronoun as a way to raise awareness for their cause. However, support for the idea has also come from a more unexpected side: Nurseries, kindergartens and preschools such as Egalia increasingly argue that the pronoun’s usage allows children to grow up without feeling the impact of gender biases. “The public debate over the pronoun actually only started after the publication of the country’s first gender-neutral children’s book”, Lann Hornscheidt, an professor of Scandinavian languages and gender studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University explained.

In terms of speed, I anticipate that the rate of social change, say for example in the concept of marriage, will move quickly from traditional marriage, to 20th century love-based marriage, to gay marriage, to polygynous marriage, to communal marriage, to interspecies marriage, to organic and robotic marriage. Once romantic love became the basis of marriage within a culture, there is very little, aside from some radical disruption, to stop these developments. (Some of you will think, relationships with robots? But, if we are losing the ability to see the distinguish between male and female, why do you believe that we will be able to maintain a distinction between the organic and the synthetic?)

  ARE WE A BINARY SPECIES? 

And here we reach a point of tension. The Washington Post reports:

To Hornscheidt, the popularity of ‘hen’ has not come as a surprise. “The introduction of a pronoun which challenges binary gender norms has been an important step, following a more thorough debate over the construction of gender within the last 10 years,” he said.

The Berlin-based researcher nevertheless cautions that simply introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in other countries may not be sufficient to fight sexism or gender-biases. 

owlyingandyangBe sure to take note: this pronoun challenges binary gender norms. These binary gender norms come from at least two sources.

A basic description of binary reality given to us in the poetic truth of scripture is that God created humankind male and female. I am not saying that binary gender norm is true because the Bible says so. I’m saying exactly the opposite. The Bible has this description because that is what we see out there. This leads us to the second source.

The evolutionary wisdom of natural selection brought us to this point. The binary coupling of male and female is how our species survives in nature. Any other couplings are evolutionary deadends. That’s a binary model of human kind.

How important is this? It depends on whether you want clear vision or not. We must challenge and topple ideologies that depreciate the value of the female.

After all, this is the most startling thing about the binary description of humankind in the Genesis chapter one. The male and the female are both essential to the image of God in humankind. There is no hierarchy in this image. If this is what we mean by a binary “gender” norm, then we must champion these kinds of changes in language. Must. This is a global battle and, I am convinced, it is the trajectory of the biblical narrative. This means using language, as in Sweden’s case, to highlight how our social constructs and cultural assumptions may limit the possibilities of women worldwide.

In other words, the difference between men and women may not be the differences we have created. Many of these socially constructed expectations limit the full potential of our girls. At the same time, we must not mask the reality of difference in the binary or we will create an unhealthy future.

Rather than erase the biological platforms we each receive, we must celebrate them.

At the same time, we must recognize the ways in which our assumptions, language, culture, and even biology often create systems that depreciate women, human uniqueness, and radical otherness. The question becomes how do we BOTH topple the global oppression of women and champion their value as women, AND still recognize and celebrate the distinction.

Gender-neutral pronouns are an attempt (however futile) to remove the invisible limitations of expectations, social constructs, and cultural morays, but may be prove just as harmful to our ability to see the reality that is visible.

Strange, isn’t it? We live in a culture that wants us to see invisible realities clearly and at the same time seeks to blind us to visible realities. I wonder if we can be open-eyed to both. My question is, Will Sweden’s experimentation with our children one day be considered abusive, irresponsible, or just a harmless eccentricity? My bigger question is, Will the global human community one day so recognize the valuable and indispensable treasure of the female that it will loudly, proudly, and happily announce, “It’s a girl!”, without suppressing anything and everything that a girl could become?

What do you think?

_______________________________________________ 

*I recognize that there are rare cases in which the gender is observably ambiguous. This is the exception that proves the point. *While it’s important, I think, to maintain the difference (singular) between the female and the male and sustain the binary and complementary image of the Genesis narrative (and of nature with regard to the evolution of our species), it is also necessary to acknowledge that the differences (plural) we often see are social constructs. Men and women are not equal in the sense that they are interchangeable. But both are necessary to the image of God in humankind.

Two Major Shifts: Dematerialization and On-demand

Last year I led a sessionyoungspock on the Future of Education for the Orlando extension of Asbury Seminary. We discussed two major cultural/technological shifts- Dematerialization and On-Demand- and their implications for education over the next few decades. What are the implications of these same shifts for the mission of your business, organization, or church?

DEMATERIALIZATION

Dematerialization has been a major shift in the entertainment industry.

Think Blockbuster and Netflix. (This was spotted for you almost two years ago in our “How Life Changed in the Last Decade” series). The material, brick-and-mortar business is gone. The digital business thrives.

It’s a major shift for readers. Think Borders (now gone) and Amazon (now ubiquitous). Think paperbacks and Kindle.

What are the implications of this shift for brick-and-mortar business, shopping malls, universities and seminaries, and churches? An example of the implications of Dematerialization comes from the world education in the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). Through Udacity a student can earn a Master’s degree from Georgia Tech for about $7,000.00. And you don’t have all those expenses related to relocation. And now, as MOOCs team up with Educational Institutions AND employers, this is a game changer.

Here’s the fun part: Imagine a university or seminary campus 25 – 50 years deeper into this century. What do you see? Any university or seminary that is investing in brick-and-mortar facilities needs to consider the “dematerialized” future.

ON-DEMAND

How many of you have needed to learn how to do something and immediately turned to Youtube for the answers? My wife, Niza, came home from a college class a while back confused from a lecture. She searched it on Youtube and found the videos that helped her understand what she was supposed to be learning in college.

The three “Rs” of learning used to be reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Add “R”search. Today, we can discover what we want/need to know on-demand by searching for it online. But the key here is not that we can find what we want, as cool as that is, but that we can find it when we want it.

On-demand.

This means ultimately customized and personal. What might the implications be for your organization? Not in 2050, but today?

THE DEMATERIALIZED AND ON-DEMAND FUTURE

Ok, so let’s paint a picture.

You’re a young person in India or Kenya born in 2015. futurecityWhen you’re in your early 20s, you feel a calling to study X — engineering, theology, etc.

Unlike the first billion people on Earth who came online during the bulky desktop era, the last billion people to come online, of whom you are one, all did so in a completely mobile digital world.

High quality content comes to you, wherever you are whenever you want it. The quality of your learning corresponds to the level of your interest. You are in charge of how much, how deep, how fast, and how far you go.

And the goal isn’t even a degree.  The immediate goal is a skill, a practice, a competency. The long term objective is to be deeply connected to opportunities for life long learning.

Ok, back to the present.

Leaders, you’re probably already responding to these shifts whether you know it or not. And, an important skill for leadership in the 21st century is the ability to fearlessly describe the present. But, just in case, here are some processing questions for you and your team.

  • Are we seeing these shifts in our field and relationships?
  • How are these shifts changing behavior?
  • What are ways that we’ve already begun to shift our practices and strategies?
  • What are some strategically intentional shifts we can make to pre-position ourselves for these shifts?

Alex McManus
Author of Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Retro Posters about Future Vacation Possibilities

Kepler_16b_20x_30

Download the posters from JPL.
My friend, Joby Harris, created some beautiful posters for NASA to mark the discovery of habitable worlds.

From the CNN source:
These posters mark the discovery of potentially habitable worlds.

“Rendered in the retro style of classic travel billboards of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the posters depict these distant worlds as pleasurable destinations.

The image for Kepler 16-b — previously compared to the fictional “Star Wars” planet of Tatooine because of its dual suns — shows a space-suited figure basking in the light from the twin orbs overhead.

“Relax on Kepler 16-b,” the poster says. “The land of two suns … Where your shadow always has company.”
HD_40307g_20x30Although the planet is depicted as a rocky, terrestrial world, NASA says it could also be a gas giant like Saturn with freezing temperatures that would make it hostile to known lifeforms.

A second poster shows an astronaut free-falling to experience the powerful gravity over HD 40307g, a “Super Earth” 44 light years — or 264 trillion miles — away.
Another sunny day on Kepler-16b.

The third depicts Kepler-186f (even further away at 500 light years) with a scene of red trees held back by a white picket fence.
Kepler_186f_39x27The planet has been previously described as “Earth’s cousin” because it’s similar in size to our own world. Because it orbits a cooler, redder sun there’s speculation that if plants did grow here, they’d be a different color to our own vegetation.

Where the grass is redder

“Kepler-186f, where the grass is always redder on the other side,” the poster’s slogan reads.”

The Saddest Trend of 2015

My friend, Greg, sent me an article from a UK News Source, The Telegraph, titled, The Saddest trend of 2015. The article is about the growing popularity of the technology of “mindfulness.” The practice of mindfulness, rooted in Buddhist meditative practice and now a phone app, was so popular in 2014 that it was, in the writers words, “pretty hard to get through the year without noticing it.”

If you haven’t heard about “mindfulness,” take it as a reminder that you don’t have to travel into space to explore other worlds. The writer lives in a different world than you.

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present, and leaving behind the cares and worries of the past and the future. And it’s popping up in schools, business offices, and, as in the featured photo to this article (Photo: Neilson Barnard), even on the street. There’s even a documentary about it.

(As a side note, It figures that I would write a book on “leading from the future” in a year that was all about the present.)

The article takes a nice twist, as it cites data from the Mental Health Foundation that estimates that one in four people will experience a mental health problem every 12 months, when it asks:

“Why are so many of us living lives we feel unable to cope with? How is it that we are so unhappy with our lots that we will willingly sit cringing in a room with our colleagues while remembering to breathe?”

The writer concludes that an app that helps guide us in mindfulness may not be enough. The problem is “our lives and how we lead them.” Rather than a practice to cope with a life that depresses us, how about a change of life? If that were the end result of mindfulness, the world could change.

Jesus seemed to point in the same direction. He also told his followers to focus on today: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6.34)

And just before this, he told them: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6.33) In other words, be intentional about what your life is all about.

So, in bullets:

  • Make sure you’re intentional that your life is about what matters (macro)
  • Focus on today (micro)

As I’ve mentioned before and expand upon in Makers of Fire, there are (at least) three undercurrents in 21st century life that indicate we’re trying to be more intentional about what our lives are all about. They are trajectories that move us from

• outsiders to insiders
• above to within
• against to with

In a thumbnail, we are trying to design a world that has room enough for everyone to benefit. (<— Click to tweet) And, when I say “everyone,” I don’t just mean everyone who is alive today but future generations too.

We want a world …
…that is more integrated, not a world of “us” vs “them, but “us” with “them”.
…that bursts open with life because it is our garden. We live within it not above it.
…of collaboration in which we tap into the genius of our species to solve problems and create solutions that work for everyone. Perhaps we might even evolve from a world of “‘us’ with ‘them’” to world where it is just us.

Then maybe we would not need to remember to breathe. We would not need to turn to an app to help us find peace and happiness. We could just open our eyes and look around and enjoy the beauty of the world and of our relationships. That would be a happy trend.