Why do things have to change all the time?” is seemingly one of the laments of the modern age. Many of us do it, often in moments of exasperation, when we find we can’t make a bit of technology or an online process work properly. Or, perhaps, someone has gone and changed something without telling us how or why.
In fact, complaining about change has been common in all ages, although the pace of change today doubtless strengthens the power of the question. Asking how things change is a question that has occupied the minds of both great thinkers and ordinary people alike.
Does history have some motive forces that can be discovered through careful study? Or is history just one thing after another without any particular pattern or rationale?
In Victorian times, it was commonly thought “great people” made history. Men like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon rewrote political maps through conquest. Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Charles Babbage (the father of computers), Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt and many others changed the world through their discoveries and inventions.
Organisations like Rotary that wish to champion ways to make the world better look for inspiration and guidance from those held up to be the geniuses of their time. In a modern context, think of Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who have left indelible marks. Almost always they are forceful, dynamic, visionary people, who developed a vision and set about fulfilling it.
Many had or have a very strong sense of their own destiny. Churchill was like that. So was Franklin D Roosevelt; Bob Hawke, too. They were respected, but not always loved, for their strength of character, determination and steely resolve that they could succeed by sheer force of will.
Those qualities didn’t necessarily make them easy to work and live with, as a careful study of the lives of great people generally shows – Mother Theresa and Florence Nightingale included.
Ask what changes the world today and you will get a variety of answers. Human innovation and human greed are two sides of the same condition. The wishes of small elites in powerful countries who control resources, institutions and political leaders always has some currency.
And there are endless variations of conspiracy theories about who “really runs the world”.
Rather than pick a single group, others see the current world as a place where very many people, including those with more power, money, resources, insight and influence than ordinary people, are all struggling to make sense of it.
Why? Technology, in a word. Technology is evolving so fast that no one person is in control (if that were ever true anyway), and if we are coping in one area, many others are simply beyond us. How many of us use our very powerful mobile phones to their full potential? Very few, but that won’t stop most of us from buying the next, even more powerful phone, when there is a qualitative leap forward.
The same applies to other technologies. Many first used computers in the early 1990s. Now everyone has at least one such device, and the internet is like the air around us; it is just there and seems always to have been so.
There’s more to come.
Late last year, the international banking giant Credit Suisse listed the speed of technology disruption as one of the big challenges facing citizens this decade.
“This disruption is being driven by the convergence of at least four technologies coming of age: smartphone, 4G and unlimited data; 3D printing; battery storage; and machines being able to replicate human tasks.”
You could add to that block chain technology, which is a continuously growing list of records, linked and secured using cryptography to defeat tampering or amendment. And then there’s artificial intelligence… but you get the point.
Rotary and Rotarians are not alone in struggling to keep up with technology and in trying to apply new techniques to our ideals of service, fellowship and development. Much has been written and said about the expectations of the current generation emerging into the workforce from our educational institutions.
And some very good people have puzzled over and debated what all these social and technological changes mean for our movement and our clubs in future.
Generational shifts are one such change confronting clubs across the world. Young people expect what is said and done in clubs to be like what is said and done in their workplaces and in their social lives. That means gender equity and gender respect, acceptance and promotion of diversity, collegiality, cooperation, and living out the values of their generation in our activities.
Secondly, it means embracing and using technology the way the new generation uses it: not an object of wonderment or bewilderment, but as an enabler; something to be used both functionally and for fun. It is to be used as a matter of course. Communication is instant, not laboured.
As Henry Ford, a man who was no respecter of history once said, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.” In Rotary, that’s our challenge.