Millennials in the Postnormal World

The present epoch is characterized by technological developments happening at a breath-taking pace. Human knowledge doubling, which used to occur every 100 years until the beginning of 20th century, now happens every 13 months. IBM projects this doubling to happen every 12 hours in near future thanks to the breakneck speed at which big data can be collected, processed and interpreted. The speed of developments that the early- and mid-20th century generations witnessed – in the ‘normal’ times – appears to be a distant turtle pace to us, the postnormal millennials. 

Breakthroughs in information technology have transformed the world into a cyber room. Social media keeps us abreast of all the happenings worldwide. Big data transfer is possible at lightening speeds, opening a plethora of opportunities. It is not impossible anymore for one to become an overnight phenomenon simply by posting a video from one’s mobile phone on social media. The frenzy can transform one into a millionaire. The concept of IoT, internet of things, is now giving way to IoNT, internet of nanothings, highlighted as one of the Top 10 emerging technologies in the 2016 report of the World Economic Forum. Smart electronics is expected to transform our lives in a way never dreamt of before. Think of clean solar energy that can be extracted from sunlight – not using the bulky and costly silicon panels, but by inexpensive, light-weight and foldable sheets of paper. Genome editing technology, famous by the acronym CRISPR, opens the possibility of designer babies. Additive manufacturing, such as 3D printing, allows printing human organs, with a potential of delivering 3D printed humans in the distant future. And then, there is the buzz of artificial intelligence (AI). Smart, self-powered robots seem around the corner. Earlier this year, Elon Musk announced Neuralink, a venture that will attempt to establish the brain-computer interface.

This tremendous acceleration of development marks the postnormal epoch. The epoch no doubt has placed humanity to unparalleled heights, yet is characterized by a feeling of uncertainty as to the sustainability of growth. Then there are questions on the ethical side of the above technologies. The even-ricocheting question of what happens to the many manual jobs once robots come in? Would AI eventually power robots to outwit the human brain and, hence, ascend to supremacy? True that opportunities have increased tremendously, yet do we not see an ever-increased poor-rich divide with almost the entirety of world’s resources controlled by a few tens of individuals. Is democracy an illusion: how then shall we describe the volatile geopolitics of the postnormal epoch? Economic meltdown in 2008 bears testimony to how vulnerable we, as a global village, have become to the complexity and the interconnectedness. Think about human rights of the 3D-printed humans? Would designer babies be an ethical concern? Even if we forget ethics for a moment (that might be distant debate) and face the question: what are the long-term health effects of genome editing and AI-inspired brain implants? Global warming is, in itself, a box of worms.

Thinkers, such as Ziauddin Sardar, have pointed out three c’s that are shaping up the postnormal times: complexity, chaos and contradictions. It is an interplay of the three c’s that results in an uncertainty. It is more like a roller-coaster ride. We cannot anticipate what is coming, before it is there in front of our eyes. Little makes sense. Truth has become increasingly falsifiable. We have entered an era where the ‘black-and-white’ picture of things might not be enough. We have to think beyond. One hears Rumi from a distance pacifying us, “Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there”.

Ahmad R. Kirmani


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