chandler collins: Our Mobile Future

What will the future look like? Judging from my own research, the future will allow for more freedom while also forcing people to define themselves independently of their roots. The trends suggest that humanity will grow increasingly connected through loose ties. People look to become more individualistic and more mobile while many of the Western world’s foundational structures will be drastically altered.

My generation, the oft-hated Millenials, has grown up in a time of constant change. America has seen a drastic shift towards free-agent work as well as a cultural shift towards a society rooted in creativity. Our economy is moving “from an older corporate-centered system defined by large companies to a more people-driven one”. As our economy shifts towards the individual, society grows increasingly mobile. Shigehiro Oishi, one of my proffesors, has explored this growing residential mobility and has found that increasingly mobile, “rootless” people are more ego-centric and that in a residentially mobile, modern society “individuals come first and… society comes second”. On the extreme end of the “rootlessness” spectrum, extremely mobile people whose lives are “in the transit lounge” such as Pico Iyer find difficulty without a set societal hierarchy. They may find that their constantly shifting environment makes it difficult to tell who their true self is when they’re constantly performing the role of ‘foreigner’. Iyer encapsulates this problem when he writes “I have a wardrobe of selves from which to choose”.

I often run into the same problem as Iyer. In an effort to fit in, I put on a different identity depending on the situation. The downside of being a sort of social cuttlefish like this is that it becomes difficult to tell which self is actually you and which is just a reflection of your environment. In a way we’re all reflections of our surroundings to an extent, but it becomes even more pronounced when you find yourself acting in a way that the real me would never act. I was partly drawn to fashion because my physical wardrobe became a lab in which I could try on different subcultures – preppy, punk, futuristic – and see which ones I was comfortable in.

It seems modern society rejects the supremacy of the past and has begun to critically evaluate itself. First, people have started to shift away from the idea of company loyalty and have begun to evaluate their own career needs and desires. In my lifetime, I’ve seen this self-centric career ideology manifested in the rise of the Passion Hypothesis for finding a career. Countless times I’ve heard speeches given on “following your passion”, “chasing your dreams”, etc. and most of the time the speakers neglect to tell how one should go about finding a job they can be passionate about. The common formula now is “Passion + Desire = Happiness” when the real formula is more like “Passion + Years of cultivating human capital = Happiness.” With the rise in free agency in America, a fundamental characteristic of “life today is that we strive to create our own identities”. I think there will soon be an increased focus on how to create our own identities and finding (or creating) jobs that fit within those renewed selves.

I recently attended a panel that discussed finding careers in the arts sector and each person preached that many jobs today have to be made and not found. The Creative Class in the United States is larger than the traditional working class and has experienced rapid growth recently – in “1980 alone it has more than doubled” (Florida 9). This Class is set to continue its rapid growth to provide many of the jobs for my generation. As we look towards the future, we must begin to prepare now for jobs that may not even exist yet. I believe that finding the “perfect job” for many people requires constant acquisition of human capital as well as being in a place that fosters creative growth.

In my personal life, I’m having difficulty sifting through my feelings on the future. In this era of rapid growth and change, I feel that I’m unable to rely on the same methods employed by people before me to find happiness and job security. I’d like to find a job in the Creative Class, but this class seems to change itself overnight. As the world spins round and round, I feel I’m trapped in the eye of a hurricane trying to prepare myself to weather the storm. I relentlessly pursue human capital and form loose ties in the hopes that they’ll help me in a residentially mobile world. The economic foundations of the Western world are changing shape and I’m trying to find out where I’ll fit in once the new system is in place. While the world changes, I stay rooted here in Charlottesville.

As Iyer writes, “Unfamiliarity, in any form, breeds content.” Looking towards next year when I’ll travel to an unfamiliar land, I already long to be rooted again. So here I sit, not circling around the baggage carousel “waiting to be claimed”, but rather, sitting still while the world seems to spin around me.

A future defined by individuals is both liberating and terrifying. It is liberating in that an individual is defined by his or her own effort and his or her own sense of self. In this type of future, an individual isn’t dependent on a company to be happy or successful, yet, this future is also terrifying because one’s success is dependent on their own effort. In an individualistic future, if you fail then you fail. Without being tied to the safety nets of tradition and rootedness, every accomplishment and every failure is your own. You’re free to take on whatever form you’d like, but you run the risk of not knowing which form is the true one. I look forward to further exploring who I am and how I will continue to define myself in this new society.