As we move into a future that will be unlike anything humankind has ever experienced, many feel displaced in some way, uncomfortable refugees of the digital age. If history repeats itself and human behavior is its enabler, what comparison, what point of reference, could provide insight and understanding to our current experience, and perhaps inform us how we should orient ourselves for the journey forward?
It is, with this question in mind, that I asked myself, should we consider ourselves modern-day explorers seeking adventure in undiscovered lands? Pioneers setting out to build a new life over a distant horizon? Or, are we Nomads in search of the next oasis of opportunity?
Explorers seek adventure and fortune in distant and uncharted lands. But an explorer’s goal is to return home with a greater understanding of what lies beyond. However, looking into the future, for us, there will be no returning to the familiar, nor the ability to gather an understanding of what lies ahead. Pioneers, by contrast, have a destination in mind, a plan to settle and build a new life when they arrive. While these two analogies may sound romantic, spirited and appeal to our sense of nostalgia and adventure, they also fail to capture our current circumstance. We are heading into a future that will be vastly altered from anything we have ever known with no ability to turnback.
Relentless changes have a corresponding impact on our behavior. Today’s pace of change is not only constant, but expansive to the point of being holistic. This all-encompassing transformation extends far beyond how our economic, social and political systems are organized. It eliminates traditional career paths and forges new ones; it redefines how we store, access and process information, and as a result, how we communicate and educate. It reframes our understanding of community and culture by eliminating the geographic boundaries that once defined and limited these spaces. The changes are so profound that they incorporate how we think and feel about ourselves, our place in the world, and thus, our individual sense of purpose and value. And above all, it has jettisoned the place we once called our comfort zone.
Consider the word “disruption,” which we hear continuously these days. In many ways it has lost its meaning, or at least its relevance in today’s chaotic times. After all, in order to experience disruption, one must first experience stability. But ask yourself – when was the last time you felt stability?
Because the preceding decades have been so prosperous and relatively stable for most of the industrialized world, we were taught that we should, if we adhered to the norms, expect a comparatively comfortable lifestyle, a good education and career, all to eventually retire and live out our days in relative comfort. But that is the surprising problem with long periods of stability, they give us the false impression that the human journey is complete, that we have arrived, and the risk and uncertainty of the human adventure is behind us.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, throughout human history, periods of stability have been merely waypoints on our journey and our recent experiences are no different. Once again, humankind finds itself in perpetual motion, striving day-to-day, seeking the next oasis as it appears on the distant horizon. Today, we are all Nomadic Opportunists.
It is easy to assume that being nomadic means lacking direction or purpose. Quite the contrary, being nomadic focuses our attention, our effort and defines our intent. This is not to say it is a comfortable lifestyle, far from it. But it is an engaging one. And upon reflection, it quickly becomes clear that everything humankind has ever achieved, from the lifestyle you currently enjoy to our understanding of the Universe, has been a result of our nomadic quest for undiscovered opportunity.
The oasis that we have occupied for generations has changed and we are being forced to move-on, purposeful seekers in search of the next oasis of opportunity. What that opportunity will look like, how far off, and how long we will be permitted to linger are all unknown. What we can be sure of, is that we have always been nomadic opportunists and the adventure continues…