23 January 2015

It’s 2015! What will 2030 look like?

“Read as much and as widely as you can,” is an early piece of general advice given to those starting out on a PhD project. So I have been. Thoroughly enjoyable but I am a person who, once I start reading something I then see something else I’m interested in and I end up having to know all about that in detail before going back to the thing I was originally reading about. I’ve been reading about the future and what it might be like. Wide you say? I’m looking at infinity. My poor brain!

Management PhD research (at least, in my topic area) needs to address not only the current situation but to also look at what the problems of the future might be. “Now” moves on to become “then” very quickly in life and before you know it, it’s Friday evening and everyone is wondering why there’s nothing in for dinner. Producing best practice suggestions and practical ideas for positive action in reducing gender and occupational segregation requires an understanding of where we are going and what it’s going to look like when we get there.

Predicting the future isn’t easy. Think back to childhood, watching Tomorrow’s World on BBC and imaging what the world would be like when we were grown up. There would be monorails everywhere. We’d all have jetpacks. And video phones (actually, I suppose we do have that). We’d eat powdered food like astronauts (yuk). And recycle more (getting there). We got it partly right. Although add to this that we are now in the year that Marty McFly and Doctor Emmet Brown travelled forward to in Back to the Future. Most of this future-tech would still be well received, even if it was beyond idealistic, parodied best in BBC TV show, Look Around You.

To our future as we see it now: if some reports are to be believed, by 2050 we’ll all be working from pods in our spare bedrooms, the physical office won’t exist anymore and a typical working day might pass without an employee meeting another person face to face. There will be more automation. (Beware the robots? This struck home for me recently when debating a lawnmower purchase, I discovered there is a sub-category of Robotic lawnmowers).

The UKCES report, The Future of Work: Jobs and skills in 2030 (2014) gives us some idea of where we are going. Forecasting change isn’t easy:
Yet, the way we think about tomorrow influences what we do today. We do not have definitive answers about what is around the corner but we can try to systematically make sense of the direction of travel in the labour market and assess the key uncertainties that we know exist. By analysing developments in the UK labour market now, we can start to position ourselves for the work needs and opportunities of the future. (2014: iv)
The labour market will change, due to societal, environmental, technological, economic and political arenas. There will be predictable and unknown challenges.

The world progresses (some might say it just changes, and question what exactly the nature of progress really is). Perhaps the most obvious way we experience this is technologically; it’s easily seen. At the same time society advances around us, less tangible. Sometimes change happens quickly in response to environmental or economic issues while we accept new ideas and reject old thinking on a gradual basis. Within social research we predict what we can, as far as we can, with as much conviction and evidence as possible. With that in mind, I suppose the main thing I learned from Tomorrow’s World was that nothing in the future will go entirely to plan: “This worked perfectly well in rehearsal.”

So, will gender inequality continue to reduce, albeit slowly, until it is naturally eradicated? Well, the answer to that will be a chapter in the Literature Review of my PhD thesis. In there I won’t be able to write a sightly abstract, amusing, or straight-to-the point answer so I’ll do it here:

Naturally eradicated? Where’s my hoverboard, Doc?

References:
UK Commission for Employment and Skills (2104) The Future of Work: Jobs and skills in 2030

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