The digital age transformation is well underway and most people aren’t prepared for the changes taking place.
This transformation will force sweeping changes throughout society over the next decade. And these changes will take place at what I refer to as digital fault lines. They are inflection points. Grey areas that form from technological and social changes which will cause major shifts in the structure of society. How we live and interact with one another will change as a result of digital changes.
Fault lines are immense and meaningful technology trends that will take place over the next 10 to 15 years and define the digital age. We can expect incremental changes in these areas will cause exponential impact on society.
At first glance, they might appear insignificant on their own. But when combined with the other key fault line changes underway, they create a transformational synergy.
The definition of synergy: When two or more things interact so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
This essay is an introduction to several emerging digital fault lines and how they will cause changes that will most impact and most reshape society over the next decade. Most importantly, this essay shows how each of these trends impact one another and reinforce inevitable change. It shows you the new narrative that violates the old.
The Fault Lines & Key Digital Age Trends:
This essay will provide narrative context for each of the following digital age trends:
- The Exponential Age – The internet changed the means of modern production and economic value drivers, and its value is growing at an exponential rate.
- Remote Work & The Tech Enabled Exit – You can now live and work from almost anywhere. This impacts why and how we decide where to live. And its impacting governments as well.
- Nationalism vs Neo-Medievalism – Late Industrial, early Information Age policies and institutions are chaffing against the Digital Age’s emergent decentralization of communities and loyalties. This creates self reinforcing conflict.
- The Sovereign Individual is born from decentralization, remote work, and the fragmentation of traditional institutions. It’s a new class of people that governments will increasingly try to attract or attack.
- Startup Cities – Sovereign Individuals are forming new digitally native, online communities using experimental governance models like DAOs. And they’ll use these DAOs to create new physical world institutions and cities.
- The Metaverse – All of these trends reinforce the approaching Metaverse Singularity – the runaway evolution of the internet which has far ranging implications for social interaction and governance.
- Transhumanism – How we live and interact between the digital and physical world is changing because of digital and physical enhancements such as second brains, biohacking & longevity science.
- Space & Multiplanetary Humanity – We are on the verge of becoming a multiplanetary species. This will reinvent geopolitics on a fundamental level.
When considered alone, these fault lines can bring sweeping change to society. But when combined, they are fundamentally reforming society. What we value, how we interact with one another, and what we can hope for and aspire to in the future are drastically impacted by these trends working in concert.
Here are the details for the 8 fault lines and how they’ll combine to change the world.
1. The Exponential Age
The first and most important fault line is that we are in the early stages of the exponential age. At the root of this change is that the things we value at a societal level are changing as a result of the internet. With the maturation of the internet, we experienced unprecedented access to information, to networks of people, to places, and things.
The exponential age and the mass adoption of the internet gave rise to Information Capital Assets. It democratized access to the means of digital production and it introduced the application of Metcalfe’s Law as a benefit of global network effects.
To put it plainly:
In this digital age, all you need is a smart phone and internet access to gather information resources, produce information products, and distribute them on a global scale. This creates a massive and exponential opportunity for social mobility. Now anyone can create and sell assets from anywhere in the world. This provides anyone with internet access an opportunity to build wealth and security.
Here’s how that works.
Per Metcalfe’s law, a network’s value is proportional to the square of the number of users. So the more people that join a network the greater the total value of the network. And we’ve seen this become a reality with the internet.
From the early 90’s through 2020, the internet expanded at a rapid pace with just over half the global population coming online. Vast portions of the global economy have become reliant on the digital nature of the world. And because of Metcalfe’s law, there’s been an exponential expansion of value created for every person that joins the internet.
But here is the kicker – as of now (early 2021), only half the world’s population has consistent internet access.
Over the next decade, the technological infrastructure being built is capable of bypassing the traditional barriers to internet access for the remaining half of the population. Meaning that as satellite internet providers like Starlink achieve scale, and decentralized infrastructure like crypto assets mature, we can expect the second half of the population to come online.
Exponential growth in the digital economy will continue to accelerate.
Information Capital Assets Are Critical Value Drivers in the Digital Age
More people joining the network will add value to the ecosystem. But the nature of the digital economy is such that much of it’s value is created from information based assets.
Information capital assets are similar to physical assets but also represent digital property or resources that can produce future value. Examples include websites, content portfolios, social media accounts, digital storefronts (like Shopify), digital assets like bitcoin and non-fungible tokens, niche podcasts, video blogs, curated lists, avatars, and gaming items. Even digital newsletters are also considered information capital assets.
Think of the internet as a network of humanity’s globalized knowledge which gives us streamlined access to information. The potential audience size can grow significantly once connected and distributed on the internet. Informational capital assets gain value primarily by making them accessible to the global network.
On their own, these assets may not hold much value. But society is becoming an immersive, interconnected global economy. And in an immersive, global, and digital world, the demand for curated and niche information assets will grow at an exponential rate.
So we know the network is growing and the value of information assets in the network increases as the network expands. But it wasn’t always simple to create and distribute information assets. The world recently experienced a renaissance in the creation of the accessible tools of production and distribution of information assets.
Bypassing Gatekeepers With Democratized Access to No-Code Tools
Prior to the widespread adoption of the internet, information was organized like most things in the late industrial and early information age. ie: Information was organized by a few credentialed (trusted) industry leaders and distributed for mass consumption. This created organizations like colleges and media institutions that functioned as gatekeepers to information flow. You went to them to receive “quality” and “trusted” information.
Credentialism was an easy way to standardize the mass production and consumption of information assets. This was a useful way of organizing the few available digital skilled workers in a way that benefited the most of society.
But with the mass adoption of the internet and the smartphone, that model of information flow changed with a new trend of software tools. These tools give everyday people (with little to no programming experience) the ability to build technology products for themselves. It also empowered users to create and disseminate their own information products and assets.
This trend is called no-code.
No-code is software as a service designed for users with little to no coding expertise to customize their own digital products. Think of it as highly customizable boilerplate software for non-technical people.
It’s a prefabricated set of drag and drop features that users can select in order to customize their products.
At the core of the no-code movement is User-Generated Content (UGC) which in the context of this essay, no-code empowers the creation of user generated information capital assets. It’s the key to the no-code platform business model. When the customers also develop and share content on the platform it’s referred to as UGC.
Summarizing the Exponential Age Trend
So to summarize the exponential age trend – the internet is expanding rapidly which increases the value of information capital assets. And as the digital software and hardware ecosystem matures, the exponential growth of digital age value is accelerating. Anyone with access to the globalized human network can now create and distribute valuable information to the network. And this is laying the foundation for massive social change.
2. Remote Work and The Tech Enabled Exit
We’re in the adolescent years of the information age. The digital age is entering the teenage lifecycle of the broader information age. Like a teenager, society is going through an awkward transition from purely physical reality, to a digitally enhanced existence. Work that has traditionally required in-present labor can now be completed online via remote work. This is made possible by the expansion of the exponential age trends referenced in the section above.
Remote work now enables knowledge workers to reprioritize their wants and needs. If you can work from anywhere, you might decide to relocate for many number of reasons.
During the COVID pandemic, remote work meant working from home because of lockdown procedures. Remote workers were influenced by the outbreak and the government reaction to it. Many decided to move out of populated cities to avoid exposure to people. Or in some cases they moved to an area in which the school district decided to stay open. In some cases, they selected locations with better laws for hiring personal teachers for micro-schooling.
But after the pandemic, these same workers are no longer tied down to any specific location because of work or government policy. Therefore, we can expect remote worker’s priorities and their living preferences to change. They may look for a lower cost of living, to live near a beach, to leave a local government with policies they don’t care for, to avoid crime, or simply to be closer to family.
With remote work, freedom of movement is becoming a luxury good.
Taken out of context, this trend may seem less significant. People will move and that likely doesn’t seem like a big deal. But combined with the exponential age trends, we’re starting to see remote work have a greater influence on government institutions and their global policy choices, and it’s causing a fragmentation of loyalties and needs.
3. Nationalism vs Neo-Medievalism
In the backdrop of these significant changes, there has been an ongoing alteration of the geopolitical landscape. An evolution of freedom and politics in this transitional age.
Over the 2010 to 2020 decade, there was a retreat by nation-states from globalization and as a consequence nationalism is on the rise in response to several key global events.
- The 2008 Great Financial Crisis – Started in the US, the interconnected nature of the global financial system spread the crisis around the world – raising questions about globalism
- Euro Zone Crisis 2010-2012 – the Euro Zone Debt Crisis of 2010 was a direct result of the global financial crisis wrecking foreign reserves used in support of national banking systems – more pressure on integration
- Brexit 2016 – Although there were many underlying reasons, a major contributing factor for withdrawal was the eurozone crisis – integration starts to breakdown
- Donald Trump’s Election 2016 – It was a divisive election and driven by nationalists seeking to elect a leader that cared about economic hardships created by globalization. Reinforcing signs of policy shifts around the world.
- 2020 Pandemic – Lockdowns and social isolation are the antithesis of globalization. The outbreak has reinforced growing xenophobia and placed pressure on nations to secure more localized supply chains and a sense of self reliance.
These distinct events led to populist movements that put pressure on national governments to implement protectionist policies. And these policies conflict with a globally integrated economy. We’ve started to see nationalist policies that push for localization of supply chains intended to create local jobs and economic resilience. A push for monetary and fiscal policies that benefit local economies at the cost of global integration. And a general distrust is forming of global tech companies.
The Digital World Flourishes
But during this 10 year timeframe, the internet flourished. Mobile smartphones and the subsequent on-demand economy boomed. Access to the global encyclopedia of information was available in the palms of our hands. And it was not only information that became widely available but also social communities formed along an infinite number of niche topics on a global scale.
These communities benefit from the expansion of the exponential age. And as these social communities grow in size and influence on the web, they create a sense of neomedieval tribalism.
It’s a modern adaptation of medievalism where non-state organizations or sovereign authorities compete for authority over groups of people. These organizations can implement rules and establish processes on the group that follows them. Sometimes, these rules come into conflict with one another because they come from overlapping authorities.
Overlapping political hierarchy was common in medieval times when the regional feudal nobility, the church, and national level sovereigns were forced to coexist. Each organization had rules and authority over their constituencies. Sometimes the church was in conflict with the nobility or a sovereign over the control of the people. In some cases, this conflict of authority led to the fragmentation of power.
An interesting parallel is forming may in the digital age. The emergent decentralized niche community model of the exponential age versus the incumbent nation state, mass consumption, and credentialed class.
Ok… so what? How do these conflicting political trends feed the digital age narrative?
Globalism vs Nationalism Creates A Narrative Erosion
In the digital age, global commerce leads to a reduction in sovereign authority. In part, this happens because of the golden trilemma, the idea that in order to participate in the global economy, “democracy, national sovereignty, and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.”
So as nations open themselves up to global commerce they invite competing interests and create a decentralized power dynamic similar to the medieval age. We began to experience this trilemma as globalization was on the rise.
Now, as we transition from the late industrial age to the digital age, we are in an in-between state.
We’re experiencing both a rise in nationalism from traditional organizations while simultaneously seeing individual preferences shift towards neomedieval tribalism. On a global scale, tribal preferences conflict with traditional government institutions. This sets the world up for narrative erosion.
The methods of government and societal organization of the late industrial and early information age are failing in the digital age. And the fallouts from this narrative erosion are leading to conflict and a sense of future shock. The people and jobs that rely on past societal structures create a populist push for nationalism. While digital age workers push for neomedieval and globalist institutions. The needs of these two divergent classes of people coming into increasing conflict with one another.
As this conflict grows – we can expect to see more us versus them narratives. It will become common to ostracize minority groups as scapegoats for societal problems. ie: it will follow similar historical models like the rise of the Soviet Union and the Jews and WWII. Anger and confusion over social issues will become increasingly common as a result of this society wide narrative breakdown.
The narrative erosion of the information age creates an interesting global environment. As nations pursue nationalist policies, they naturally ramp up competition with one another.
When you combine competitive national governments with a rise in digitally tribal groups, and then add digital infrastructure from the exponential age, plus remote work and the tech enabled exit, you get an environment that creates an entirely new social class.
4. The Sovereign Individual Class
The internet and the global digital economy are causing industrial era nation-states to lose some of their power. If an individual can now easily live and work anywhere in the world, they become more discerning about where they choose to live.
As a result, a new societal class structure is forming in place of the industrial era blue collar/white collar divide. It’s now a location independent knowledge working class vs a location-dependent working class. This new class structure includes a group of people known as Sovereign Individuals, digital savvy workers capable of generating location-independent income.
The Sovereign Individual will emerge as the beneficiary of the digital age society. They are globalists that benefit from digital based opportunities of the internet economy. Seeking out location independent sources of income and assets. This group is increasingly willing to shop around the world for nation-states with preferential policies. Embracing a global and mobile lifestyle to achieve personal sovereignty.
As remote workers realize they can reprioritize their personal needs, they will leverage this ability to conduct a tech-enabled exit. Through this “vote with your feet” practice of “tech enabled exit”, governments will begin to adapt their policy offerings to attract this class of people or be forced to adapt to their absence. Governments will become increasingly likely to adapt given the rise in nationalism. It creates a globally competitive environment where nations compete for top talent, capital, and resources.
In this environment, the Sovereign Individual class will gain previously unavailable qualities of life.
But here is the key inflection point and why this class is a fault line.
Given what we’ve seen from the globally ubiquitous internet, these individuals are forming digitally native communities. They are not operating as solo entities. Rather they are forming groups around common ideals, leveraging global decentralized infrastructure, and free financial systems to form groups outside the control of traditional institutions.
These neomedieval tribes are forming decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) which will ultimately be used to raise capital and buy land to create startup cities designed with policies embracing the digital age.
5. Startup Cities & DAOs
In the digital age, new cities will start as online communities and organizations that are built upon common goals and ideals. Over time, these communities will grow and begin to interact in the physical world eventually forming startup cities.
Simply put, a Startup City is the formation of a new city. Founding a city seems like an uncommon practice these days because most land has been inhabited for many years. And rather than form new cities, people typically move back and forth from preestablished cities, suburbs and rural communities. But in the digital age, it’s now possible for communities to form online, establish common goals and principles of governance, and form new cities in physical locations.
A recent example of a startup city is Prospera, a Charter City located in Honduras that caters to digital and remote workers.
Startup Cities are being discussed with greater frequency because of all the meaningful changes brought about in the digital age. If you can work anywhere in the world and are reprioritizing the things that are important from where you might live – you may find a like minded community that wants to form their own city, town, and even one day, a nation.
So how might a Startup City emerge in this Digital Age?
Sovereign Individuals will leverage the emergent tech of the exponential age, the neomedieval fragmentation of loyalties, and take advantage of the democratized means of information distribution via social media.
It starts with an influencer catalyst. Someone or a small group of people that has a vision for a better community. They form a common bond online and seek to resettle in a location that is more closely aligned with their location based preferences. (as has been the case with the recent tech community exodus from San Francisco to Miami)
And because of the digital age transformational trends, we can expect to see a divergence amongst the types and needs of Startup Cities that will emerge. Cities formed primarily to serve the location-independent worker, the location-dependent worker, and the seemingly left behind workers with pre-digital age skills. And we’ll also see cities that try to find a balance between the needs of these divergent groups.
6. The Metaverse
Throughout the course of societies transition into the digital age one thing has been constant. And that is the growth and evolution of the internet and our relationship with it. We increasingly spend more time online, frequently interact with each other digitally, and develop unique online personas. This has led to the formation of an immersive digital environment that is referred to as the Metaverse.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different explanation of what exactly the The Metaverse is. I describe it as the next evolution of the internet. An always on, come and go as you please, and globally interactive place you can spend more and more time in. What was once more of an information superhighway is now becoming an increasingly immersive digital experience. It’s where digital society is heading.
Popular science fiction began to take this notion of a digital place you could spend time and transmuted the idea into pop cultural references. The Metaverse is seen as a digital reality that you can immerse yourself in through cutting edge virtual reality technology. In truth, the definition of the Metaverse is a little all over the place.
But through this transformative understanding of the internet and the worldbuilding fantasies pop culture developed around it, the early foundation of what today is referred to as The Metaverse began to form. It’s functionally what empowers the creation of startup cities.
How to Think About The Metaverse & Why it Matters
The way to think about the Metaverse is as a digital, internet-based universe that runs parallel to the physical world. The internet is the early iteration of this universe and as time has gone on, we spend more time interacting with it.
Additionally, as technology improves, this universe comes closer to overlapping the physical world. We spend more time interacting with it, uploading elements of our lives to it and building relationships in it.
This phenomenon has huge implications. What happens in the physical world now impacts the digital world, and vice versa. The longstanding consequences of this phenomenon are going to fundamentally change society and how we interact with one another.
Consider that despite the rise in nationalism, we are seeing the emergence of the Metaverse that operates outside the jurisdictions of traditional governments. A place where access is being democratized and the entire planetary population will soon have access to. A place where you can earn income, develop communities, and form organizations that can purchase land in the physical world.
The Metaverse is the iteration of the internet that empowers remote work and directly leads to the creation of the Sovereign Individual class.
Everything that is happening in the Digital Age is driving society towards a more immersive Metaverse. All the main digital trends will lead us here over time.
But why is it important?
The more time we spend online the more that digital life influences culture. As the digital means of production increase, your ability to earn money online increases. And new business models are emerging as a result. For example, the Play to Earn model.
So think about it this way, we are approaching a point where you can earn money in purely digital settings that can more than pay for any lifestyle in the physical world. And the ability to earn online removes previously present geographical and infrastructure based barriers. We are quickly getting to a point where traditional institutions no longer serve this digitally native society.
We take the internet and what it means for granted. But here is the stark reality: if you have a smartphone, you have access to the entire human knowledge base in your hand. You can almost instantly access any amount of information at any time. This has changed how we live and operate our lives.
Because we have access to so much information, we are able to improve our lives like never before. This has led to a renaissance in transhumanism. The ability to bypass our natural evolutionary limitations using technology. As the exponential age expands, so too will our comfort with leveraging technology to improve upon our humanity.
One such example taking place this decade is the study of longevity science. Longevity treatments are experiencing an influx of interest and capital. We can expect that R&D may have serious breakthroughs which will greatly impact society this decade. Breakthroughs in human life extension over the next decade will raise important philosophical questions.
We can also expect digital transhumanism to emerge in greater detail this decade.
Take the concept of the 2nd brain as a key example. The 2nd Brain is a concept I came across from Tiago Forte and his Building a 2nd Brain course.
“We feel a constant pressure to be learning, improving ourselves, and making progress. We spend countless hours every year reading, listening, and watching informational content. And yet, where has all that valuable knowledge gone? Where is it when we need it? Our brain can only store a few thoughts at any one time. Our brain is for having ideas, not storing them.
Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience. It expands our memory and our intellect using the modern tools of technology and networks.
This methodology is not only for preserving those ideas, but turning them into reality. It provides a clear, actionable path to creating a “second brain” – an external, centralized, digital repository for the things you learn and the resources from which they come.”
Why is this important? Because it’s a form of digital transhumanism.
Throughout time we’ve sought to improve ourselves through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. But increasingly, we use of other technologies to provide increased performance. The ubiquitous power of the mobile smartphone with constant high speed internet access is enhancing our abilities further. You can now use the internet as a literal 2nd brain. A place to store ideas, memories, and useful information that can be recalled with a few clicks of a button.
And although it may sound a little crazy – this concept of an external second brain is a precursor to a cybernetically enhanced humanity. This has massive long term implications and is worth following.
8. Space And The Multiplanetary Human Species
The final trend that will greatly influence the Digital Age narrative is the expansion of space travel leading to a multiplanetary human species. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Varda Space, and many more companies are successfully privatizing the business of space exploration. And as they do so, they greatly decrease the cost of space travel and production.
Private satellite internet will bypass restrictive nationalist policies of controlling the internet. In some cases, restricting the control of the oppositions access to the internet. This reinforces the nationalism vs neo-medievalism trend by providing decentralized digital infrastructure.
As costs of space travel reduce, the more experimentation will be completed. This includes space manufacturing, resource acquisition, and ultimately colonization of other planets and moons. As colonization happens, it will reinforce the startup city trends of the digital age. Ultimately, DAO’s will form interplanetary expeditions around common goals and ideals, leveraging a range of growing interplanetary travel options.
A multiplanetary species impacts the entire geopolitical landscape of Earth. A multiplanetary species will disrupt our concept of time zones, our resource management, and reinforce the gravity of tech enabled exits. Space travel will also reinforce the formation of the immersive Metaverse as interplanetary connections increasingly take place in more immersive and virtual settings.
Digital Age Transformation – Connecting the Dots
The digital age is bringing sweeping change as these distinct trends converge. To get out in front of this change – build, buy, and leverage information capital assets. Seek out remote oriented work among the myriad of emerging business models. Understand and navigate the changing geopolitical landscape. How tribalism is rising with a backdrop of digital and decentralized non-governmental organizations. These changes give rise to the Sovereign Individual class and the early entrants into this class are the ones that will realize the most value from the exponential age.
As the sovereign class emerges it will do so against a backdrop of tribal nationalism and this competitive global landscape will give rise to the startup city. Powered by DAOs. Early participation in these DAOs will empower participants to have a potentially large scale influence on the digital age physical and digital hybrid communities. These communities will be truly integrated with the Metaverse and will be best positioned to maximize the exponential value of the digital age.
As these digitally native cities emerge we’ll start to see the arrival of a new type of transhumanist singularity. These new digital citizens will be well positioned to live well in the digital age. And as their immediate needs are met they will look to experiment with what is possible for expanding the human capabilities in a hybrid digital and physical world. An age of transhumanism will be born.
And while these changes are underway, we will experience a renaissance in space travel. This travel will radically change how we manufacture goods, extract resources from our solar system, and will alter our philosophical perspectives as we become a multiplanetary species. Don’t like what’s happening on earth? Form a DAO, fund a space expedition, and relocate to a distant celestial body.
Hunting For Value in the Digital Age
Gates Law: “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.”
These changes wont all take place overnight. Of course they won’t. And I’m not making a claim that they will. But I am saying these changes will begin to rapidly accelerate over the 2020 decade. And as they accelerate the opportunities for individuals that are in touch with these fault lines will begin to appear.
Questions worth answering:
- How can you learn to understand and adapt to these changes? And how would you educate your friends and family?
- How might you invest in companies that form along these fault lines of growth?
- What skills might begin to emerge as critical in the hybrid digital and physical worlds of this future?
- Where should you consider relocating to in preparation of the startup cities that will form via DAOs?
Every Monday, I write and curate a publication called The Sovereign Individual Weekly. It provides a new narrative that describes society’s shift into the Digital Age.
The goal: to give you the facts and tools necessary to successfully navigate an increasingly digital life. I cover topics and narratives you can’t fully appreciate because you’re in the thick of it. Subscribe to learn about the digital transformation.
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Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash
2 thoughts on “8 Technology Trends That Define the Digital Age”
Simply brilliant. So clearly explained and well thoughtout. Thank you for sharing!!