The New Extra-ordinary

category - future city
category - gender
category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
type - opinion
We’ve spent our time fretting about the New Normal when we should be talking about the New Extra-ordinary. Precipitated scientific advancement, championed innovation, and a new age of collaboration, challenge and accelerated change is afoot

The Great Acceleration, the title of our new Trend Briefing 2021 online event, was a phrase I encountered four years after co-founding The Future Laboratory in 2001. It was a time of unprecedented change, when science, medicine, technology, physics, computing, AI and the life sciences were coming into their own and pushing ahead at an incredible pace.

Sure, we had seen this before – The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the coming of the atomic age with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1905. But this seemed different. Things, to coin a phrase, were hotting up – and not just in terms of the planet (which was indeed the case) but in terms of the things we were doing to it, on it, in it and with it.

So much so that the Anthropocene Age was officially declared – the point at which humankind’s imprint was indelibly left on the planet – and shortly afterwards, in 2005, The Great Acceleration, a term used for the first time in a paper published by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

According to their joint paper, The Great Acceleration boiled down to two things: the speed of future change, and the impact such acceleration has on our planet’s biosphere and the science, technologies and innovations that sit within it. You can even link its beginnings to a sole detonation in the New Mexico Desert on 16 July 1945, when the first atomic bomb was exploded, and radioactive isotopes were carried across the world by winds that later deposited them into the world’s sedimentary record.

This was the first weak signal that a new age – the Anthropocene Age – and a new unleashing of innovation – The Great Acceleration – were upon us. And from 1950 onwards, when the dust around that explosion settled, we sent up satellites, replaced hearts, developed computers, tapped into solar power, harnessed nuclear fission, travelled supersonically, discovered polio vaccines, launched the internet, deployed laptop computers, and even built the first true global megacities.

It was an age of opportunity, growth, uncertainty, and of course – given the impact on the planet’s health – of challenge and change. It was a time, we noted in one of our briefings of that period, when we looked up and out, rather than down and in. And now, almost 16 years on, coming through a global reset as generationally significant for some as World War II was for others, we are about to experience a similar unleashing…

But rather than settle on a name like The Great Acceleration, which captures much of the scientific optimism that was unleased from the 50s onwards, we have decided, rather mundanely, to call it The New Normal, as if the old normal in itself was somehow good enough for us not to want to change too many things.

Published by:

19 March 2021

Author: Martin Raymond

Image: The Future Laboratory


The Future Laboratory

Those endless hours of commuting. The suburban dullness of our high streets. Offices with less personality than a month of Jeremy Corbyn’s jackets. Brands like Debenhams, Wallis or Harveys Furniture that are soul-destroying enough to make self-harming appealing. And yet, somehow we want to go back to this, or if we bang the word ‘new’ in front of the word normal, to go back to variations on the same theme, this time perhaps with a few more home deliveries thrown in, a few more flexi-work hours to dream about, a few more digital nomading trips to take, a few more dreary bike lanes to avoid being run over on.

In short, nature has presented us with a unique opportunity, not to build back better, but to disrupt differently, reset imaginatively, destroy and recreate awesomely. The New Green Deal? The Next Great Acceleration? The New Next Great Brilliant Circular Economy? If only, but instead, we’ve ended up with the New Normal, or as it’s shaping up to be, thanks to the calibre of CEOs such as Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon, Barclays’ Jes Staley or Cisco’s Chuck Robbins, the same old, same old new normal. These chaps, for the record, have spent the past few weeks telling their workforce that they’re looking forward to having people back at their desks because this is how we learn, how we can build back better. Really? The long commute, the lousy lighting, the limp Powerpoints, the failed 10th-generation ‘media-style’ huddle areas. With visionaries like that, who needs procrastination?

But Covid has oddly enough shown us a way not to build back better, but to build back differently; in the time it normally takes to develop one vaccine we’ve used trans-global collaborations, mixed competitor academic panels, and pioneering advances in bioscience, genetics, data management, predictive analytics, AI, even volunteer testing, to develop six vaccines in record time, along with the scientific know-how to use the same lessons learned and approaches to push on with vaccines for cancer, continue the fight against Alzheimer’s, and even re-imagine age not as an illness but as a treatable, potentially preventable condition.

We’ve also begun the process of re-imagining more optimistically, to follow a new belief and optimism in science. Over the past year more and more headlines have appeared about colonies on Mars, space elevators, flying taxis, compact nuclear fusion reactors, spatial computing, geothermal energy, gene editing, electrical or hydrogen-fuelled planes, even discussions about molecular faxes that can zip us around the world faster than Elon Musk’s planned hyperlink.

Add to this the rise of metaverse retailing and crypto-economies, decentralised financing (DeFi), and Natcore cities, Mirrorverse planning and Chief Disaster Officers who are trained to see positive change in seemingly insurmountable challenges, and we are in a world that is far from normal, and beyond new.

It’s a world, as we’ll see in our latest Trend Briefing, of the New Extra-ordinary; one that captures the optimism of tomorrow, and accelerates us forward to the now or never, rather than backwards to the nine to five.

For a limited time only we are offering 30% off when you buy two or more tickets to our Trend Briefing 2021 online event. Just use the code TB-LC-2021 at the checkout.

‘Nature has presented us with a unique opportunity, not to build back better, but to disrupt differently, reset imaginatively, destroy and recreate awesomely’
Martin Raymond, co-founder, The Future Laboratory

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