On Metaverse this week, we were joined by Alexandra Whittington, a futurist, public speaker, author and adjunct lecturer at the University of Houston, where she teaches courses on the technology’s impact on society and the future of human ecosystems. In Opportunities: Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future, a recent book Alexandra co-authored and edited, she explores what kind of reality we might face once this current crisis has passed. Alexandra has enjoyed a long career in the research and consulting space, and has participated in projects for companies including LEGO, Nestle and Huawei. Additionally, she has served as part of many associations such as the ‘Association of Professional Futurists’ – and has also been recognised as one of Forbes’ world’s top women futurists.
We began by unpacking Alexandra’s unique perspective on futurology which she discovered through an academic path as an anthropology major in university. Alexandra noted how the feminist perspective has been widely excluded from future studies, which emerged from the male-dominated military space. To fill this gap, Alexandra employs a feminist lens in her work, covering timeless, universal, feminine issues that have been largely neglected issues in the field, such as the future of the family and the home. She sees the family as a microcosm for society as a whole, and believes studying changing trends in family life individually has great potential in revealing what our futures may hold in store on a macro level.
This perspective is especially important when considering the long-term impacts of the pandemic. We discussed how this is an historic time, much like living through the Great Depression of the great wars, people are going to look back at what we do now and how we act. Alexandra noted huge demographic shifts that have both exacerbated existing differences in countries and created new ones. For example, childbirth rates in Western countries have plummeted, but have exploded in developing countries, since their overtaxed public health systems that covered women’s health and contraception have been overwhelmed by Covid-19. We also saw women pushed out of the workforce when children moved to remote schooling en masse, which was a huge economic shock.
In discussing how we move forward from the pandemic, Alexandra holds that, for capitalism to survive in the face of modernity, we will need to employ massive shifts. She discussed the potential of universal basic income (UBI) or “mincome” to buoy up the global economy by providing a basic social safety net of cash. This would revolutionise the fundamental role of “work,” eliminating the pressure of needing to work for a living wage so people would be free to pursue jobs that they love or entrepreneurial endeavours. We also discussed the unique challenges the generation being raised in this strange time faces: presently, Alexandra is working on a new book called Growing Up Corona, which looks at the sacrifices these children are being asked to make in their socialisation and education, and considers the positive impact they could have on our planet’s future.
Given Alexandra’s extensive coverage of AI, I was interested to get her thoughts on whether this technology is a force for good or evil. Alexandra believes we are somewhere in between the poles of “Big Brother” and “Big Mother”, where the first is A.I. of the Orwellian, dystopian surveillance-state variety, and second is the supportive tech used to improve your life, count your steps and help you make decisions. She noted that we are on the precipice of huge AI-driven changes, as in the next ten years, we are going to see AI productivity in the workplace explode. This will certainly replace some people’s jobs – which causes anxiety – but Alexandra also sees this as an opportunity for new training, careers and industries.
We concluded by covering some exciting new trends: Alexandra is especially excited about the move towards biophilia, or “love of nature,” in design. New tech is mimicking natural forms, such as 3D printing wood grain, which according to neuroscientific studies has beneficial, calming effects on the mind, and has a lot of positive potential for use.
I deeply enjoyed learning Alexandra’s distinctive approach to future studies: as an anthropologist by trade, she see futurology as the next chapter in the field, and as a feminist, she is committed to sharing hopeful guidelines of how to take our brave leaps forward in ways that promote a more just and equitable future. To learn more about her work and optimistic insights, take a listen to our full conversation here.