THE DAWN OF A NEW MILELNIUM
The 21st century and beyond will belong to China. This will be the age of Asian Tigers and Dragons.
MILLENNIUM SPECIAL REPORTS
PETER C. NEWMAN
When Bay Street bankers sound like Himalayan gurus, you know the world is turning upside down.Welcome to the eve of the 21st century. As the new millennium approaches—it’s now a scant 36 months away— everyone has become an armchair futurist. Yet, as Yogi Berra so wisely observed, “the future isn’t what it used to be.” While some of the events and trends that will dominate the new millennium are already in place, most are beyond our imagining. Of those trends we can identify, and expect to continue, a few are comforting, some are exhilarating, and many more are nightmare inducing.
The diagnosis of “pre-millennial anxiety” will become commonplace, yet at the core of this anxiety there will remain a great, even growing, excitement at being alive. This is human nature after all, as the late-19th-century American satirist Ambrose Bierce observed in The Devil’s Dictionary under the entry for “future”: “That period of time in which our
It’s kind of like the early days of the universe after the big bang, when gases were congealing and galaxies were forming. No one is really sure how it will all sort out, and it’s not yet clear where Earth is. —Tony Comper, president, Bank of Montreal, commenting on the millennium, in Canadian futurist Don Tapscott’s new book, The Digital Economy
affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.”
As we move into the next century, a new way of living will take hold in this country. On Dec. 31, 1999, Canadians will feel the traditional flow of their lives being cut; what comes later will be very different from what came before.
Instead of remaining yoked to the civic virtues of deference and self-denial that held us back for so many generations, Canadians will follow an ethic of personal fulfilment that stresses self-reliance, autonomy, questioning of established authority and orthodoxy, and the pursuit of a better quality of life, rather than a higher standard of living. Canadians will worship ideas, not heroes; will possess a lively sense of personal limits; and will come to rely on character instead of personality. l ife in the 21st century will be what each of us makes of it, not what some government,
corporation, church, or even family, wants us to become.
These trends are already in place, but the turning point of midnight, on Dec. 31, 1999, will provide these new attitudes with the necessary catharsis to establish them as generational values. Life unfolds according to a sequence of markers. Most of these way
points are personal, but public events—some more momentous than others—become the seedlings of a new collective culture: the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the D-Day landings in Normandy, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Montreal’s Expo 67, or the magical goal by Paul Henderson that beat the Soviets at our national game—all, in their own way, helped define Canadian culture. To that list must now be added the dawn of the new millennium.
When one year ends and another begins, people become both concerned and elated— worried about the change the future will bring, yet exuberant about the possibility of new beginnings. The annual ritual of death and renewal is magnified 1,000 times at the turn of a millennium. The immediate change will be more psychical than physical. Nothing will feel the same, because the millennium will have placed borders around our experi-
ence, no less real than the borders on a map. We will refer to events in the landscape of our memory as being either premillennial—as if the year 1999 were in some distant, hazy days of yore—or as post-millennial, referring equally to the day’s headlines (or Web flash) and events up until the year 2999. All that is past will have become prologue to the 21st century.
Unless the warnings of some prophets, pundits and political scientists come true (of the three, the prophets have by far the best record for accuracy), this fresh approach will not stop history in its tracks. On the contrary, the last couple of decades have witnessed an unprecedented acceleration of history. In Europe, national borders that were defended against invaders since Hannibal have fallen to be replaced with the European parliament as well as half a dozen new democracies. Ideological borders have been erased, their physical manifestation being the symbolic destruction of the Berlin Wall. The near-disintegration of Canada was the biggest domestic story, with Quebec appearing ready to raise an ideological and geographical curtain of its own.
Quebec, incidentally, will not leave Canada during the next
millennium, realizing that to settle its claims of nationhood would be far too risky and expensive an undertaking, but that negotiating them is perpetually profitable. A thousand years from now, Ottawa will have become so desperate to come up with a solution that instead of the current Plan B scenario, Plan W will be “under active consideration.” By then,
there will only be three years before the next millennium—and only three letters left in the alphabet.
In the past decade, our system of two national parties, which between them have governed Canada since Confederation, was tested and found obsolete. Such bedrock institutions as the Red Cross, the Canadian Football League, the Catholic Church, the Canadian Forces, the monarchy, and most other touchstones that once regulated our lives were discredited in various degrees. Gone with them was the certainty of being able to depend on the past as a guide to the future.
Even the rate of change is changing. Its pace will cause Canada to spin around even faster on its axis. In Lester R. Brown’s 1996 essay, “The Acceleration of History,” the president of the Washingtonbased Worldwatch Institute observed that people born since “1950 have seen more population growth in their lifetimes than during the preceding four million years. . . . The world economy is growing even faster. It has expanded from $4 trillion in output in 1950 to more than $20 trillion in 1995. And in just the 10 years from 1985 to 1995, it grew by $4 trillion—more than from the beginning of civilization until 1950.” Warned Brown: “The pace of change in our world is accelerating to the point where it threatens to overwhelm the management capacity of political leaders.”
Despite the massive political and social shifts we are bound to experience in the coming century, it is the lightning advances in science and technology that will most profoundly affect our lives. In the next decade, genetic engineering will begin to approach a miraculous state of grace that will eventually allow us to program much of the life we wish to lead—though the ethical implications of this new science have yet to be decided. Disease will not be eliminated, but the contours of our wellness—or lack of it—will be foreseeable, and medicine will be able to handle predictable problems. Inherited illnesses will be eradicated by injecting new genetic codes into developing embryonic cells.
Scientists are also developing so-called antisense therapies that block certain malignant cells from developing, which may prove to be the best way of defeating cancer, AIDS, herpes and other chronic illnesses. Tissue transplants will advance cures for diabetes, muscular dystrophy,
Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
As more human reproduction takes place in test tubes or artificial wombs, sex will become purely a recreational activity. On the molecular biology front, the limits of diagnosis will take incredible leaps. “I know people,” wrote American futurologist Graham Molitor recently, “who are | developing a small card with 10,000 micro-wells I on it. You’ll be able to treat it with a drop of blood, | and in a few hours have the results for 10,000 dif| ferent disease diagnoses.” I
The intuitive leaps and cross-pollination of 5 ideas that make scientific discoveries possible will be a pronounced feature of the 21st century, the result of global communications becoming as cheap as political promises, as fast as quicksilver, and as simple as breathing. The most significant scientific breakthroughs will happen in computer technologies, which have made the communications revolution possible. Personal computers will accept voice commands and move information around the Earth, digitally and via satellite, at the speed of light. According to Bill Gates, the computer revolution merely provided the platform for the real revolution just around the corner—reformation of a worldwide communications network. “We’ll communicate with it through a variety of devices, including some that look like television sets, some like today’s personal computers, some will look like telephones and some will be the size and something like the shape of a wallet,” he
has written. “And at the heart of each will be a powerful computer, invisibly connectto millions of others.” The effect of this change will be so wide-reaching, he adds,
that the computer will be more than an appliance: “It will be your passport to a new, mediated way of life.”
Gates has also described in some detail the requirements for a virtual reality body suit, which would deliver one million to 10 million “tactels,” or pinpricks of sensation, across the body’s surface. This would trick the skin in much the same way as rapidly changing still photographs trick the eyes into believing they are watching “moving” pictures. The result would be felt as a single continuous sensation, allowing users to experience their “virtual” bodies in cyberspace. “It will probably first be used to help people with
physical disabilities,” Gates has predicted.
Because of the size of its acreage, Canada is bound to be on the leading edge of the communications revolution. During the next decade, this country will be rewired with fibre-optic networks that will carry most forms of communication, becoming the 21st-century version of the vanished continental railroads. At the same time, artificial intelligence—an oxymoron for our times, given the scarcity of the real stuff—will become ever less artificial and ever more intelligent. Computers will not only learn how to think but how to learn, independent of human guidance. The microchip will take its rightful place among history’s four greatest inventions—the others being fire, the wheel, and hotel room service.
But it is the Internet and its many siblings that will have the most devastating effect on Canadian society in the next century. A fully operational, universal digitalized information highway (of which the Internet will occupy but a single lane) will destroy much of the personal privacy we now enjoy. (Lock up your daughters and hire a hungry pit bull to guard your Web page.)
Not since Johannes Gutenberg printed his Mazarin Bible with movable type in 1455—rendering the mass distribution of the written word possible—has there been a communications revolution as profound as this. While both opened up new fields, in one crucial respect the information highway runs in the opposite direction from the Gutenberg revolution. Where cheap and plentiful Bibles allowed medieval folk direct access to the word of God, the Internet will allow people mediated access to the Almighty, or at least his digitalized equivalent. The deus ex machina will be the machine itself, providing its users with such credible “virtual” reality that it will challenge the attraction of the “actual” reality around them.
The virtual marketplace will eliminate the need for “real” real estate agents, bank clerks, travel agents, stockbrokers and almost all other workers in the service sector whose employment is based on
simple buy and sell transactions. These will be far easier handled at pit stops along the information highway, but this raises the most complex legal problem of policing cyberspace: how will electronic transactions, expected to reach at least $100 billion early in the new millennium, be taxed and regulated? A panel of Toronto jurists debating the issue recently decided that the only effective way to maintain legal control of cyberspace may be to punish tax dodgers and unethical business users with the ultimate sanction: banishment from the Net. (Perhaps they will be allowed their own virtual but separate reality, much as British prisoners were once sent to Australian penal colonies.)
Between now and the last day of December, 1999, at Rotary luncheons, Canadian Clubs and fund-raisers across the country, speaker after unoriginal speaker will declare that the 21st century will belong to Canada. They will be wrong, just as Sir Wilfrid Laurier turned out to be wrong when he said the 20th century will belong to Canada. The next millennium will not belong to Canada—or to anyone else, east of Hawaii. This will be the age of the Asian Tigers and Dragons, the ripening of China as the world’s dominant power.
In the scant four years from 1991 to 1995, the Chinese economy grew by a staggering 57 per cent, raising the per capita income of its 1.2 billion citizens by more than half to about $680. China will become the world’s largest economy by some time early in the 21st century—surpassing the United States as a generator of wealth— with many of its urban citizens enjoying higher standards of living than the richest Americans and Europeans. The few remaining legacies of communism will be dumped and Greater China will include not only Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao, but its moneyed and powerful diaspora. Shanghai, whose skyline already challenges that of Hong Kong, will emerge as the commercial headquarters for the People’s Republic. A recent Canadian visitor to that city reports a construction binge unequalled anywhere, with 85 major new office towers reaching for the sky. As China’s business mandarins come to dominate world commerce, that country’s politicians, writers, artists and scientists will become internationally recognized, just as Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and Khrushchev were during the flowering of the Soviet empire; or Mickey, Minnie and Goofy were during Pax Americana.
An integral part of China’s industrialization will be an accelerated emphasis on education. China already has at least 200 million more high-school graduates than North America, and anyone who visits any Canadian campus quickly realizes how significant the Asian presence has become. (Examination results reveal that their quality is even more impressive than their quantity.) As these young men and women return home to join the cadre of earlier foreign-educated graduates, Chinese society is bound to become increasingly liberalized and freewheeling, its citizens not afraid to voice their rights and grievances. Exposure to Western society will raise the demand for political freedoms, but even more so, for cars, televisions and home appliances.
Escalating tensions could become unbearable between the bulk of China’s largely rural population, which has lived through a halfcentury of Communist rule and remains Maoist, and the newly educated urban class, which worships long limousines over the Long March. An astonishing 200 million peasants are expected to be uprooted from their communal farms over the next decade by current market reforms and the chronic shortages of arable land. They are moving into China’s overcrowded cities and no one knows how these internal exiles will earn their way in places that can’t handle their existing growth rates. At the moment, nearly 100 Chinese cities are already bursting with more than a million inhabitants, and their current birth rate will add the equivalent of Canada’s entire population over the next two decades.
Meanwhile, demographers agree that the Earth’s population will increase by nearly 100 million per year in the early part of the next
The chasm between the rich and the poor is bound to grow even wider
century. Most of this growth will take place in what is now smugly called “the Third World.” If the industrialized Western democracies (including Canada) were to admit only 10 per cent of this growth bubble, this would amount to admitting 200 million people by the year 2020, transforming the industrial powers beyond recognition.
Not too many years after we celebrate the millennium, Canadians will discover that the Old Canada with its WASP ascendancy is not merely obsolete, it will have ceased to exist. The white Anglo-Saxons who once ruled this country will become a visible minority; roast beef and Yorkshire pudding will be reduced to one of those exotic ethnic dishes that people munch on Parliament Hill every Canada Day. Despite its growing ties with Asia, both of blood and money, Canada will remain on the eastern periphery of the Asian region, and it may well count this as a blessing. Of the eight billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by 2025, the five billion who live in Asia will produce at least a quarter of the world’s goods. According to Riccardo Petrella, until recently the official futurist of the European Union, much of Asia’s population at that time will be hived into 50 cities with 20 million inhabitants each. The environmental and social problems this will cause are beyond imagining.
Petrella, whose official title was head of the Futures Assessment in Science and Technology (FAST) program at EU headquarters in Brussels, makes some brutal predictions. He visualizes a world dominated by “a hierarchy of 30 city-regions linked more to each other than to the territorial hinterlands to which the nation-state once bound them. This wealthy archipelago of city regions—with more or less manageable populations of eight to 12 million—will be run by alliances between the global merchant class and metropolitan governments whose chief function will be to support the international competitiveness of the global firms to which they are hosts.” (Petrella, now head of The Group of Lisbon think-tank, lists Vancouver as the only Canadian city to qualify as a 21st-century city region, though his rankings include Montreal-Toronto-Chicago as a “super region.”)
The most frightening aspect of Petrella’s vision is that beyond the walls of these wealthy enclaves, he foresees what he calls “impoverished lumpenplanets,” where “peasants uprooted from the land by free trade try to eke out an existence in violence-ridden megaurban settlements of 15 million to 20 million or more.” That these
marginalized classes would turn to crime (smuggling drugs, children, transplant organs and illegal immigrants) is obvious. But because these downtrodden classes will have access to CNN (by then, the Conrad News Network), they will have a media window on the prosperous city-states next door to them—much as the television images of life in the decadent West helped to persuade East Berlin’s residents to raze the wall.
Even if this depressing scenario proves to be wildly exaggerated, in the next millennium the chasm between rich and poor is bound to grow even wider. At the moment, the world’s 358 billionaires, according to the United Nations, control more wealth than 45 per cent of the Earth’s population. As this imbalance becomes even greater, social unrest will increase. In response, the upper crust could share its wealth—but more likely its members will retreat behind guarded and gated fortress enclaves, where they will live in safety—and perpetual fear.
The climate of fear will feed another growth industry—personal security. Along with such everyday defences as watchtowers, dogs and armed response teams, the protection industry will expand into sophisticated aerial surveillance. The newest gadgets will include satellite images and helicopters with infrared cameras that can detect the heat from a burning cigarette. The proving ground for such equipment is the Los Angeles Police Department, which already operates four Aerospatiale helicopters with 30-million candle-power spotlights to turn night into day, and a separate fleet of Bell Jet Ranger whirlybirds that can ferry SWAT teams into action at a moment’s notice. It is only a matter of time, in the corporate world of tomorrow, before such services are privatized and offered to the highest bidders.
If all this weren’t scary enough, seismologists predict that Tokyo and Los Angeles, both built on geographic fault lines, stand a good chance of being flattened in the first half of the next century. Apart from such acts of God, nature’s battleground will be the great freshwater river systems.
The motor of economic growth was once fuelled by oil; in the next millennium, the precious fuel will be water. According to the World Bank, chronic water shortages affect 80 nations and 40 per cent of the world’s population. The demand for water doubles every two decades and much of it isn’t where it’s most needed. The main flash points in the water wars will be the militant demands for freshwater diversions from the rivers Jordan, Mekong, Ganges, Indus, Tigris, Nile, Zambezi, Danube and Rio Grande. Indeed, in a little-noticed watershed, the government of Mexico submitted an unusual loan request in May, 1995, to the United States. Unlike the widely publicized loan following the peso crisis of the previous year, however, the request was not for dollars but for water—some 100 million cubic metres, enough to supply Metropolitan Toronto’s needs for nearly three months. It was a chilling indicator of things to come: as Sandra Postel, director of
Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding will be reduced to an exotic ethnic dish
continued on page 53
the Global Water Policy Project in Cambridge, Mass., has written, “only water scarcity threatens the three fundamental aspects of human security—food production, the health of the aquatic environment, and social and political stability.”
She quotes an old Inca proverb: “The frog does not drink up the pond in which it lives.” That wisdom is now forgotten in the Americas, and the water shortage will be felt closer to home. A1987 presidential task force predicted that one-fifth of the United States will suffer from severe water shortages by the millennium—which was then 13 years away, not three—and supplies have been drying up ever since. With 10 per cent of the Earth’s freshwater supply— more than any other country—
Canada will come under enormous pressure to share its liquid resource with the American West Coast and midwestern states. Canadians will be tempted to abandon resistance and sell off their last bargaining chip. The thirst for water, not a French-speaking homeland, will be the greatest threat to the Canadian state in the coming century. Many years too late,
Canadians will learn whether the contentious, and confusing, water clause in the Canada-U.S.
Free Trade Agreement was really about the American right to drink bottles of virgin spring water, or to drain Lake Superior.
Business in the 21st century will flourish, as free enterprise adapts to its global playground and takes over from an exhausted and largely bankrupt public sector. Apart from taking all the profits they possibly can, the main obsession of the transnational corporations will be how to minimize their taxes. With governments cracking down on tax havens, corporations will flee into a kind of never-never land, a tax-free Shangri-La of their own invention. How will governments levy taxes on firms whose owners live in one country, build a factory in another, sell their products in a third, and invest their profits in a fourth, while not claiming corporate residence in any of them? Carl Gerstacker, a former chairman of Dow Chemical, once fantasized about purchasing “an island owned by no nation” that would serve as “truly neutral ground,” so that people could “operate in America as U.S. citizens, in Japan as Japanese and in Brazil as Brazilians.”
Outsourcing and co-sourcing will be the orders of the day. The vertically integrated company will go the way of the dodo bird, as companies fragment their operations and share resources with their competitors. The pacts among Canadian banks to share the cost of developing electronic banking are one good example. The life cycles of new products will become so brief that there will be no time for most new items to be manufactured by the companies that developed them. Instead, companies that achieve technological breakthroughs will license them, even to their fiercest rivals, and collect
royalties. The average lifespan of new consumer electronic products will be reduced to 60 days.
A curious new phenomenon known as the “bimodal factor” will kick in, prompting very large and very small companies to flourish, while mediumsize enterprises disappear. The trend has already taken root on Bay Street, where the giant bank-owned brokerages are booming and promise to grow even larger, while niche-driven boutique investment houses are also doing well. Of the midsize firms, only Midland Walwyn survives. This trend will spread to every type of business, from auto manufacturing to computer software development.
The search for jobs will grow even more desperate in the 21st century, with Canadians (perhaps even Buzz Hargrove) finally realizing that the era of lifetime employment is truly over. By the millennium, most Canadians will either be overworked or underemployed, with as many as eight million involuntary entrepreneurs working out of their homes or shared offices. The labor force will be further skewed as the country’s traditional demographic balance is overturned. Canada will have more pensioners than children as early as 2020.
In a dramatic reversal of the I Industrial Revolution, which £ pushed a craftwork society into the machine age, people will once again be thrown back on their individual talents and resources. That transition will be exhilarating, empowering and tough. Even working at home will come under pressure, as Third World entrepreneurs, with clicking computers and burning modems, offer to complete freelance assignments at a fraction of the going North American rates.
The closer we get to the year 2000, the clearer it will be that change has become the only constant in our lives. The millennial marker will grant us a pause in that long toboggan ride known as life north of the 49th parallel, a moment in time to focus on the future and assimilate the past—to find meaning in what we’ve been, so we can decide where we’re headed.
To survive the pressures of the next millennium will require rare inner fortitude. The sense of individual vulnerability and collective ennui bound to taint daily experience can be reduced only through the strengthening of our inner spiritual resources. The indispensable lesson we must learn, on the cusp of the 21st century, is to remain open to new experiences, so that instead of worrying about the details of an unpredictable future, we allow our lives to unfold with hope and exhilaration. Only by claiming our own future—and that of our immediate families and communities—will the human spirit prevail.
On that midnight clear, three years from now, we may share a moment of mutual understanding. Amid our inflated hopes and fears, we will remember the fire storm of change that swept through our lives in the past two decades—and we will raise a glass of bubbly— “To the good old days—” □