Tag: Future of Life

Post-consumerism (or are why are people not buying things?)

One of the topics that has dominated the business news in India recently has been the spectacular decline in automobile sales. One of the reasons that our Finance Minister gave for this trend is that millennials are increasingly not buying cars. She received some flak on social media for this comment, but many also feel that she does indeed have a point.

A cursory read into the state of the US auto industry (one of the largest in the world) would show that this trend of declining sales has been visible for some time now. And many commentators are not hesitant in calling this a structural shift in the industry, driven by multiple factors, one of which is undoubtedly that people, especially so-called millennials, are indeed buying less of cars.

And this drop in consumption is not restricted to just automobiles. Real estate, apparel, music are just some of the other categories where people are moving away from asset ownership. This is a topic that I am interested in, and have been reading up on. Here are some of my personal observations:

People, especially the younger generation, but not necessarily restricted to them alone, are increasingly questioning the value in ownership of traditional ‘assets’ such as houses and cars. Some commentators believe that this is due, at least in some Western markets, to having experienced first-hand the troubles faced by their older generations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

In addition, the rise of the ‘sharing’ economy has made it much easier for people to experience a similar lifestyle and benefits at a fraction of the cost of full ownership. This has led to consumers increasingly questioning the traditionally held concepts of value of asset ownership.

The rise and rise of digital and social media is also playing a role, in my opinion. I think we are beginning to see a reaction against the intrusion of digital into all aspects of our life. We are increasingly yearning for simplicity and a desire to reconnect, with each other and with nature. Witness the popularity of movements such as minimalism and personalities such as Marie Kondo with her message of decluttering.

The desire to reconnect with each other and with nature is leading to people valuing experiences. It is believed that since 1987 the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events relative to total U.S. consumer spending increased 70%. This can also be seen in the significant rise of Airbnb with its core concept of enabling authentic stays and experiences.

There is also a view that the younger generation are more concerned with the environment and in leading a more sustainable lifestyle, which again leads to questioning traditional consumption habits.

Is this still a fad, or the start of an irreversible trend? My opinion is that it’s the latter, but only time will tell.

The Future of How We Live

One of the topics that fascinates me is the way we are adapting our lives to respond to the changes wrought about (largely) by technological advancements. There is a generation growing up that are technology natives and who might not know of a life before social media, smartphones, video and music streaming, etc. We are already hearing about how, led by this generation, people are:

  • Purchasing less cars, preferring to use shared mobility services
  • Delaying (perhaps indefinitely?) the purchase of real estate for personal use, preferring to rent instead
  • Looking for interesting and fulfilling work to do, rather than a job
  • Preferring to spend on experiences, instead of assets (live music concerts, niche travel, etc.)
  • Exhibiting greater awareness of willingness to lead a more sustainable life

I am not sure if all of these are definite long-term trends or a short-term reaction to the present stimuli. I am also not sure if all of these hold true globally, or are specific to a country’s state of development and specific economic conditions.

I hope to read and learn more about these trends and be able to express some views over the next few weeks.



AI for Human Happiness

As I posted last week, I came across an interesting article that prompted multiple thoughts in my head. I wrote about one of them (Greed and Development) last week. Here is the second.

An interesting section of the New Yorker article spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is a topic I am ambivalent and frankly, confused about. We hear about this all the time. While the majority of views are positive, there are a few dissenting views around. I believe this is a significant issue that demands us to pay a lot more attention and engage constructively around.

Most of the discussion around AI is driven from a technology point of view. It is no doubt creditable that technology has developed so rapidly that AI / ML is now increasingly impacting our daily lives. And yes, I have no doubt that it’s making and will increasingly make our lives easier and possibly more comfortable.

What concerns me, though, as the article implies, is that I am not sure that stakeholders in this (and that includes all of us) have given much thought to what is the end goal that we would like AI to solve for? Private players, for the most part, have vested interests that would impact the direction they would like to AI to move towards. And, at the moment, that seems to be towards maximising corporate profits. While I have no qualms about that, I do worry that we are not thinking enough of how we could leverage AI to make people happier.

I am not sure that making lives easier automatically equates to making us happier. I am not a pyschologist nor a sociologist and therefore, do not have a good answer to exactly what would make us happier. But here are some points that, I believe, are relevant:

  • Sense of connection / belonging: We humans are inherently social animals. The more we feel a sense of connection to the community at large, the more I believe it would make us happier.
  • Sense of purpose: We are increasingly, in a digital world, trying to find out what our purpose in life is. I believe a lack of purpose leads to unhappiness.
  • Feeling connected with nature: This might probably not resonate with everyone, but I believe spending time with nature can make us happier.
  • Health: No explanations required here, I would imagine.

The good news is that there are qualified people grappling with, and expressing their opinion about, this topic. An article on Pew Internet called Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans includes the views of many experts in this field. I particularly liked the views expressed by Baratunde Thurston, futurist, former director of digital at The Onion. A few of his comments below:

  • “The problems to which we are applying machine learning and AI are generally not ones that will lead to a ‘better’ life for most people. That’s why I say in 2030, most people won’t be better due to AI.
  • By 2030, we may cram more activities and interactions into our days, but I don’t think that will make our lives ‘better.’ A better life, by my definition, is one in which we feel more valued and happy.
  • To create a different future, I believe we must unleash these technologies toward goals beyond profit maximization.
  • We need to ask that they ask us, ‘What is important to you? How would you like to spend your time?’ But that’s not the system we’re building. All those decisions have been hoarded by the unimaginative pursuit of profit.”

Let’s hope that we see some more public discussions around this topic in the near future.

Image of Nature