Reversals are inconceivable when we're caught up in moving forward with conviction, determination and familiarity. Reversals come as a big surprise whether they occur at a personal level in a process of integration, or at a global scale in a process of emergent complexity. As I explored in Offline Online Inline, Marshall McLuhan was fascinated by our collective blindness to the changes coming over us. He perceived that people caught up in the mainstream paradigm could not see the signs, notice the effects or predict the transformation underway. He valued artists, prophets, the next generation for living on the edge of society and being able to foretell and forewarn the oblivious masses. When McLuhan included the pattern of reversal in his Tetrad of media effects, he had in mind reverting to a tribal village mode of interrelating and a pointless mode of perception. He expected us to lose our point of view, our individual perspective about all of us and our detachment as we became immersed in what we know call digital media and platforms. He would not be surprised by Gen Y's multitasking, messaging and playing online games all night.
One of the sets of reversals I'm anticipating relates to the post-scarcity economy that Michel Bauwens continually explores and the 21st capitalism that Umair Haque writes about often. Economic analysis can explore distinctions like value creation vs. value destruction, exchange-value vs. use-value, authentic vs. artificial scarcities and premises of abundance vs scarcity. These reversals I'm foreseeing introduce some other variables such as job design, social capital, psychic income and sufficiency.
The industrial (a.k.a. scarcity, zombie, 20th century capitalist) economy designed jobs for production results and fit people into those slots. When individuals demonstrated skill gaps, weaknesses or a lack of talent, training and accountability measures were applied to eliminate the person's problem. The premise of fitting the person into the job remained unquestioned. The typical lack of results from such "improvement efforts" merely brought on the same accountability measures applied to training departments and human resource functions. Shared expectations about fitting people to jobs validated this approach and justified it's abuses. Personnel problems (turnover, low morale, loss of motivation, burnout, lack of initiative, office politics, apathy, etc) merely proved that people had deficiencies yet to be corrected or accountabilities that needed to be tightened. There was an underlying story advising managers to automatically "turn up the heat to get results while getting those who cannot stand the heat out of the kitchen". The reversal here will turn down the heat and fit the job to the unique person in it who reliably functions as a charismatic leader with a vision, values, particular passions and a significant purpose in being there.
The industrial economy expected people to enjoy themselves away from work and then buckle down at work. Managers could practice deceit, deceptions and manipulations so long as the workforce encountered honesty, integrity and transparency off the job. Workload could be oppressive, unfair and abusive while the workforce could let off steam by taking a break, abusing their bodies or going on a yearly vacation. The products and customer service could do a disservice to buyers, require hard selling to push prospects into submission and get steadily cheapened by cost savings measures so long as the workforce could really care for others, serve their communities and feel good about their efforts away from the job. All this spurred the deep investments in social capital and child rearing in each community's after school activities, fraternal organizations, volunteer projects, religious fellowships and civic involvements. The reversal here will yield social capital from investments in contributing to and benefiting from peer production, peer property and peer governance.
The industrial economy generates a huge cognitive surplus, as Clay Shirky calls it, that has enabled the phenomenal quantity and quality of Web 2.0 contributions. Employees are not sufficiently challenged, understood, utilized or respected at work to capture that dynamo of resourcefulness on the job. Employees expect to "do time serving their sentence", be disengaged, get mismanaged and endure the hardships by becoming tough. The only options are to game the system or get gamed by the system that looks to take advantage of every sign of softness, cooperation or vulnerability. The reversal here will get work done by transforming it into non-zero-sum games worth playing around on the job, where everyone wins and looks out for each other.
The industrial economy thrived on fueling insatiable needs for mass consumption and ostentatious materialism. By keeping people feeling insufficient, inadequate and defective, they would continue to alleviate those awful feelings by compulsive shopping and showing off their acquisitions, escapades and expanding stockpile. By extending massive credit to unworthy borrowers, business operations and investors, this house of cards was taken up to new heights of human folly. This shared psychology of "never enough" inevitably yields the burst bubbles, credit shortages, loss of consumer confidence, and under employment of the current global recession. The reversal here will provide everyone with a feeling of profound sufficiency that results by earning a massive psychic income from making a difference in other's lives with one's own self expression, continual learning, personal reflections and deepening understanding of other individuals.