Praveen Vajpeyi, Creative Director of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, wants millennials to visualize a more accountable and transparent world and then create it.
This interview is the first in our Fall series, in which we examine the responsibility of designers to help build trust into a system in which technology works behind the scenes, often invisibly, to organize our lives. As designers, we are a hopeful bunch. By asking the right questions, we believe that we can create ethical and relevant experiences that improve rather than limit our lives. In this case, we wanted to consider the role of young people in shaping a better future.
Designit: What are the most pressing issues of our time?
Praveen: Everything under the umbrella of the environment is urgent: climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the exploitation of the soil, and the impact of the degradation of the soil on farming. Second, there are serious socioeconomic and racial divisions dividing our society. You’d expect more integration by now, but instead more housing is split between socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and gated communities.
Designit: How did things get so imbalanced?
Praveen: Hyper-globalization made everyone connected, which helped reduce inequality across countries as multinational companies did well; they used the distribution of labor to bring better goods and services to the masses. But this has led to inequalities within countries. So what we’re seeing now is social disenchantment. Here in the U.S., some people want to bring jobs home, others want to redistribute growth in ways that address the needs of the middle class, and some are pushing to cut public spending altogether.
Designit: Are millennials ready to build more transparency and accountability into a system that has created so many divisions in our society?
Praveen: Millennials are highly activated, they have a social voice, and they have a sense of collective responsibility. They’ve grown up in a connected economy and a connected world. They’ve always had access to global information. They value a conscious yet experience- and fun-filled lifestyle. They are not only interested in their work but in the environment, in sustainability, and in consumption patterns. Young people are conscious of different lifestyles and they question the notion of what gender means. Importantly, they’re eager to bring a voice to the masses. But it’s up to them to learn to invest in the right things, to make the right calls ethically, and to change these power structures that are burdening society.
Designit: What kind of future do millennials envision?
Praveen: One shift we’ll see is a questioning of the notion of work and what it means to work. Work patterns will change. As more and more of the work we do is delivered by machines, the kind of work that cannot be automated becomes more important. What’s not quantifiable — things that have no ROI — include caring for one another and creative work. I wonder if the idea of work as something you get paid for is beginning to break down. Are there other ways of looking at work? Will it always be transactional, with money as the currency, or will we have cryptocurrency instead? There are different ways of looking at this, but it’s important to ponder what our competencies are going to look like in the future.
Designit: Millennials are a huge demographic force in driving change.
Praveen: That’s right, the most significant social transformation of the global economy is the silver economy. The number of people 60 and older will double by 2050 — from 962 million in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 — and the median age will also increase. This population is growing faster than all younger age groups. Medical advances have pushed life expectancy out, which impacts consumer goods, social care, healthcare, labor markets, social protection, and housing. Now, millennials comprise almost a quarter of the world’s population. They’re coming of age in a time when the population is aging, so they will be the ones investing in society, generating change, and finding ways to improve the lives of older people.
Designit: What are some of the design concerns for older people?
Praveen: We are now healthier and happier as we age. But does happiness look different after you’ve worked for 50 years of your life? Previous generations didn’t have to ponder this. What if, in your last years, you give back to your community and to society in different ways? This is where design thinking will really be important. How do we change our lifestyles and shape new experiences through investment in senior-centric consumer goods, health-care services, senior housing, wealth management, and pension solutions? We must support the ageing population, and help them live fulfilling lives.
Designit: How well are we positioned for change now?
Praveen: We’re in the fourth Industrial Revolution! As we continue to invent labor-saving machines, we should be asking more questions about the impact of our innovations on people. . What do we do with time liberated by labor saving technology? Three-day work-weeks? Technology at the service of humans is set to remain a key topic in the years to come as digitalization paves the way for innovation. How will self-driving cars affect truckers and cabbies? Will sophisticated management software eliminate or improve the jobs of administrative staff? How are robots changing operations and design in factories? What are the implications for workers, consumers, and commerce in general? The more questions we ask, and the more transparency we build into the system, the better positioned we will be to handle change.
Designit: What should we prioritize in education?
Praveen: First let me say that our education system is geared towards the first industrial revolution. We’re not teaching students to be successful in a very different world — to prepare for jobs that have not yet been created, for problems that will inevitably arise, for adapting to technologies and services that have not been invented. Working with intelligent machines is one example.
Right now, technology is external — we work with technology. In the future, technology will be threaded through our work. So, we have to look at our relationship to one other, our relationship to machines, and the relationship between machines — how they relate to one another. Artificial intelligence is about figuring out how to leverage automation and robotics to get people out of low-skill jobs. We should be training students to use technology to visualize new ways of problem-solving, decision-making, communicating, collaborating, living, and working.
Designit: Can you be more specific?
Praveen: We should teach data visualization and analytics, communication technology, and rapid prototyping. Wearable interfaces already exist, and they’re going to keep evolving. More advanced gesture control, augmented reality, and 3D bio-printing are all in the works. If you want to accomplish something in our economy, you will need to be an extremely high-skills worker who can respond to innovation, especially in the biotech and health sectors.
Designit: Are wearable interfaces our future?
Praveen: I like to think of this possibility as post-humanism. To me, that means the brain and computer together become the interface. But what does that look like — what is the next step of quantifying yourself using technology? Maybe that’s when we start embedding “organs” of technology within ourselves. Or when we take a pill that tells us what’s going in inside. All of this affects our thinking about the world, and it has a big effect on the world. Designers will have to take a strong position and figure out how to build ethical interfaces so people don’t have to worry about ceding control.
Designit: How will this change the way we relate to each other and how we feel?
Praveen: Technology has already dramatically changed how we interact. Sherry Turkle has said, with concern, that “the feeling that no one is listening to me makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us.” So while video chat, for example, lets us get more deeply connected to one another, it is because we have gotten used to being alone. We need to expect more from not just technology but from one another and from ourselves.
The suicide rate has already risen more than 27 percent from 1999, so it’s critical that technology helps us solve some of those problems of atomization — of loneliness and isolation. And the people who lack access to technology will suffer the heaviest psychological toll as more communication moves online. In the best possible world, technology should not be merely a commodity but a tool for creating opportunities for face-to-face contact and to share experiences. If we don’t inculcate a deeper sense of community, our relationship with the broader world will keep shrinking.