I feel uncertain to comment on the blueprint without a complete reading, as what I considered problem may actually be solved somewhere I fail to cover.
But on what I have read, I get the sense that Jonathon Porritt attach the greatest effect on future on technological programs. Apart from technology, he also ‘traces’ political and economic reform. Porritt configures international protocols, protest on climate issues, and economic drives for new energy technology and so on. However, the blue-print for social structure and especially cultural change are not as detailed and compelling as the technology part of the picture.
Take the aging chapter for example. In this chapter, Porritt mentions several significant problems surrounding the increasing average longevity. One is employment rates and dependency ratio. For the issue, Porritt proposes gradual adjustment of people’s expectations on retirement age to accommodate the tensions in an aging society. Any other solutions? I don’t find any in the chapter. In a sense, Porritt does not give any solution at all, because he only says “everybody’s expectations had to change dramatically during that time” without saying how that is achieved without major economic instability and recession.
However, an aging society is almost the greatest concern for any government to reduce its country’s birthrate. Unbalanced economy will heightened social inequity and wreak havoc on social stability. Also, population problem concerns, as many other environmental issues, historical inequity in our international community. Developed countries reached population saturation much earlier, while developing countries are still in a much earlier stage in their economic development. Porritt’s claim in the chapter “defusing the population time bomb” that “those countries with high average fertility stayed trapped in poverty, with a massive knock-on impact on health, education, life expectancy and security” is, in my opinion, deeply problematic and prejudiced. I am not to deny the necessity to curb population growth that are unhealthy, but I am more with the environmentalist whom Porritt criticized for they “argued that population was ‘a distraction’ — that the real issues were poverty, injustice and over consumption in the West” than with Porritt who relates “fertility” with poverty and backwardness. Maybe Porritt is concerned with the unhealthy part of growth, but he should have treat the justice issue explicitly.
Another thing is the introduction of robots. I cannot believe but realize Porritt does not treat the possible problem of structural unemployment for the introduction of robots. Porritt mentions robots in the Older and Wiser chapter, too, as part of health care for aged people. Here he talks about how robots are “fine, but cannot replace community nursing” as health care then concerns fitness more than treatment. This can be a possible solution for robot’s doing human jobs: human turns from the basic work to more service-directed, human-ly work. However, such solutions are not explored in the book.
Finally, these changes that cause unemployment will probably cause an increase of leisure. And this can be considered the more salient absence in Parritt’s future: the absence of a new culture. While Porritt in his speech advocates to depart capitalist economy, he does not give a new spirit of time in the future. This spirit of time cannot translate into the pragmatic question what people do in their leisure time, or, if work is no longer the same concept as of today, what people work on since the introduction of robot and the decline of capitalism.
I do not think Porritt tries to tackle this problem, and the absence makes some of his future plans sounds unreliable. In the same chapter of Older and Wiser, Porritt describes that “half of all people aged 75 and over still live alone, and many do (sadly) still feel isolated. But the kind of chronic loneliness that characterized the first couple of decades of the century has largely gone. Older people today are nearly as connected via the online world as young people are. For instance, more than 70 per cent of people over the age of 75 are actively involved in online gaming of one kind or another.” Although internet connectivity should be significant in the new culture, the instance he gives is shockingly unimaginative and upsetting. If we relate Porritt’s solution for restriction on traveling, virtual reality, we should realize that the culture underlying this blue print is not just under-developed, but of serious concern for its emphasis on virtual communication, i.e., a replacement of the nature as environment with a digital environment.
Ecotopia envisions a non-capitalist society, and it works because, contrary to Parritt’s hyper-technologized future, ecotopia has a cultural paradigm that supports its economic and political structure. Ecotopia is able to reduce population while maintain its quality of living because it forwent the ways of production in our society: it gives in a great part of technology-progress. Unlike Porritt’s future where people may not have basic work to do, Ecotopians do exactly basic work. The ecotopia gets rid of the traditional division of work and leisure, and this is possible because they accept a gradual regression of economic production and population production. However, Porritt’s future does not seem to have any culture or spirit that may accept these. In fact, Porritt’s future appeals partly by its offer of greatness: its grand techno projects, China’s great story of rising as a world-leader on new energy, the fancy cities of wireless electricity and fantasy experience of virtual traveling. All these rid Parritt’s 2050 of the Ecotopia’s ways to work it out.
What, then, is the spirit of time of the mid 21th century? What is the popular perception of nature? Or, to ask smaller questions, what do children in 2050 play with? What do young people do to entertain themselves? If they do something different from people of our time, if they go hiking with friends instead of go shopping, there must be wide range of cultural changes.