Sunday, July 17, 2016

Paying tribute to Alvin Toffler

“Why We Need to Pick Up Alvin Toffler’s Torch,” Farhad Manjoo, Technology, State of the art, The New York Times, 6th Jul 2016. “Even as the pace of technology keeps increasing, we haven’t developed many good ways, as a society, to think about long-term change.

“Look at the news: Politics has become frustratingly small-minded and shortsighted. We aren’t any better at recognizing threats and opportunities that we see emerging beyond the horizon of the next election.

“Mr. Toffler, who collaborated on ‘Future Shock’ and many of his other books with his wife, Heidi, died last week at 87. It is fitting that his death occurred in a period of weeks characterized by one example of madness after another— a geopolitical paroxysm marked by ISIS bombings, ‘Brexit,’ rumors of Mike Tyson taking the stage at a national political convention and a computer-piloted Tesla crashing into an old-fashioned tractor-trailer. It would be facile to attribute any one of these events to future shock.

“Yet in rereading Mr. Toffler’s book, as I did last week, it seems clear that his diagnosis has largely panned out, with local and global crises arising daily from our collective inability to deal with ever-faster change.”

This writer can relate to Toffler in more ways than one. It was the wife who introduced him to Toffler, and “throw-away” society is one memory he has from the book of the then wife to be. And as a family we know throw-away society firsthand – like renting or buying or building homes and selling if not tearing them down. Compare that to the Filipino “ancestral home.” We would fit the contemporary label “citizens of the world,” committed and involved wherever it is we call home – but not in the traditional sense.

A couple of weeks before the Brexit referendum the writer was in the UK. And he had the nagging sense that it would be a win for the Brexit. The driver of the car service that met him at Heathrow was Chinese of Afghan-Indian descent. The lady at the hotel registration desk was Lithuanian while the waitress at breakfast was Romanian. But the driver that took him to the airport was white. And he was the one who poured his heart out. “It will be a Brexit win,” he averred.

“The Brexit vote has caused political turmoil in London, a collapse in the value of the pound, predictions of a recession and economic uncertainty across the country. American investors have postponed a visit to the North of Ireland, and the Nevin Economic Research Institute, a think tank, has forecast a slowing of growth across the whole of Ireland.

“This referendum had nothing to do with Ireland’s economic interests, or even with reform of the European Union. Instead, it was precipitated by a toxic mix of factional fighting and leadership intrigue within the British Conservative Party and the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant groups like the U.K. Independence Party.” [Brexit and Irish Unity, Gerry Adams, The New York Times, 12th Jul 2016; Gerry Adams serves as a member of the Dail, Ireland’s Parliament, for Louth and is the president of Sinn Fein]

And back in Sofia, the writer’s Bulgarian friends were in a jovial mood, bantering about Brexit and reminding him, “you’ve said a few times not to run around like a headless chicken”? In other words, wealthy nations aren’t exempt from shooting themselves in the foot.

But have we Pinoys ceded superiority, innovation and global competitiveness to them? Because we can't imagine being their equals? For example, investment and technology are not beyond our reach. It is just that we chose to be insular. And so our assumption is we have to reinvent the wheel? And not surprisingly we are the regional laggard. 

“Think less, think better.” Which the blog discussed in prior postings. We have to learn how to look outward and benchmark. Which is not to look for perfection because there is none but to pick and choose best practices and success stories of others.

There is caveat though. We can’t be comparing apples and oranges. Misery may love company but ours is borne out of underdevelopment while those in the West come from post-development, more precisely, post-industrialization.

Putting the cart before the horse – or ideology before reality – is a recipe for disaster.

Where developed and underdeveloped economies come together is in what Manjoo calls small-minded and shortsighted? This made the writer ponder more so while reading (and sitting in New York) an email from a colleague in Sofia. “We are working on the concept for our Corporate communication and year-end presents to our people and friends. Our choices are: ‘restart’ and ‘keep growing.’

“Keep growing. We . . . are growing, branching out, and evolving. It’s part of what makes us better, stronger, alive! We hope that we’ll inspire you to keep growing as well, whatever is your calling – or as a person . . . Our business has expanded to 55 markets. The best part is that now we say ‘Hello’ in 18 different languages every day.

“The aggregate area of all our facilities would put us right behind Nauru, Monaco and the Vatican . . . Communication is a vital part of what we do. Printing all of our emails just for a single year would closely match all the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica.”

How did the writer react? Let’s keep the science of growing wiser in mind. Growth = wisdom as in wise decision making. Growth raises the quality of information in the brain which translates to greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences, e.g., wise behavior and decisions. Growth gives the knack to take the time to gain insights and perspectives. And then would come the capacity to understand the needs of others. Growth brings meaning and contentment. [Clayton, Goldberg, Ardelt, Staudinger, Carstein, et. al.]

But we Pinoys seem to be programed to buy time – like generations – to come around to wanting to move forward progress-wise and development-wise? Yet the longer we stay as regional laggard, the longer we are deprived of the benefits of growth and development?

Let’s put that to a test. With the benefit of hindsight, it is fair to say we failed to recognize that energy or power and infrastructure are ground zero, a must-do from the get-go? That is the price we pay for being ensconced in “underdeveloped” mode, and missed the sensitivity to fine-grained differences?

Moving up the development ladder, we’re faced with another challenge and that is, to distinguish the options that will drive PH economic output and triple the per capita income of Juan de la Cruz against mere rhetoric if not ideology?

For instance, SMEs account for over 99% of registered enterprises and 2/3 of the workforce yet contribute less than a third of economic output. Can SMEs then be the priority option that will triple the per capita income of Filipinos – which is the aspiration of Juan de la Cruz according to NEDA? More to the point, are our SMEs geared to seek and drive innovation and global competitiveness?

A Western financial institution recently pointed out, the latest among the many that have made a similar pitch, that we must expand the drivers of our economy beyond OFW remittances and the BPO industry.

And the effort has been started for us by the JFC and their seven industry winners under the banner of “Arangkada Philippines.” But are we suffering from the NIH (not invented here) syndrome? That beyond all reason we have yet to find the wherewithal to move forward as a nation? Are we indeed under the spell of the elite class alternating every six years to rule PH with impunity?

We failed to prioritize energy and infrastructure, will we fail again to prioritize the industry sectors that will drive tripling the per capita income of Juan de la Cruz? Until we get a good handle on energy, infrastructure and industry, we are sadly just spinning wheels.

And the longer we stay as regional laggard, the longer we are deprived of the benefits of growth and development.

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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