A number of forces are simultaneously pushing people towards two sides of a socioeconomic barbell. And the question of where you will go is increasingly coming down to your parents and your peers.
There are many reasons for the shrinking of social mobility.
Those close to you have always had an impact, but social mobility is falling in the United States, and I believe there are three dynamics playing on this effect.
Safety-net Democracies as an enabler.
Technology as a magnifier.
The pandemic as an accelerator.
Let’s look at some of the impacts of these three forces.
Video game usage is booming
Cannabis use is being mainstreamed
It’s easier than ever to start a business online
Online education is available for free, but only for those with the discipline to pursue it
Misinformation is rampant online, but it’s consumed and believed mostly by people who are struggling
Apps like Robinhood are gamifying investing, which affects young investors most
It’s easier than ever to use automation and AI to hire fewer people at a business
More young people are living with their parents than ever
Social media is a way to market your business—or to become depressed through overuse
Through the advancement of our society—with more tech, better video games, more online education, and the decriminalization of recreational drugs, we’re seeing much more impact from parental guidance.
In the Bay Area, for example, there are millions of young Chinese and Indian families—who range between being new immigrants to third-generation Americans—who have the same access to cannabis and video games as Americans who’ve been here for much longer, but they generally don’t partake.
Why is that?
Because they have been set on a success track by their parents, and they generally associate with peer groups with similar aspirations. These families are focused on making sure their kids get a good education, get a high-paying and high-status job—all so they can raise their own families that do the same.
Technology and the pandemic are magnifying peoples’ advantages and disadvantages.
For them, social media is a valuable tool. They get to share college experiences, vacations, and advertise their various projects. For them, automation and AI are wonderful because they make it easier to get high-quality services. They are able to get their food faster, they spend less time waiting for customer service, and they can even see their doctor and get prescriptions online.
Temptations like video games, social media, and cannabis (which is now legal) are not a significant risk to them becasue they are on a mission.
This is not the case for many multi-generational Americans who were not given the immigrant mindset by their parents. For them, staying at home with their parents, playing around on social media, using cannabis, and playing video games is becoming a new default state.
Parents without the immigrant mindset see that life is hard, and it’s ok that their kids still live at home. And is it really that bad if they use marijuana? It’s legal now anyway, right? And video games can be educational too, right?
And pretty soon their kids are 40, with no marketable skills, and no prospects. And suddenly Fox News is starting to make a lot of sense. There has to be some reason that they are suffering, and their kids are suffering, while some people seem to be doing better than ever.
In short, forgiving societies combined with high-tech are forcing people to the extremes, and COVID is accelerating the trend.
Ok, but now what?
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So what is one to do about this?
Well, it depends on who you are. Are you a parent trying to raise a kid? Are you in high school and wondering what’s in your future? Are you in your 30’s or 50’s wondering why you got left behind?
No matter what you are, I think you can benefit from seeing our advancement as a fulcrum for self-discipline.
Those who value education, planning, and sacrificing their short-term enjoyment for long-term position are going to thrive. And those who don’t have a plan, aren’t getting an education, and aren’t able to ignore video games and recreational drugs, are going to be left behind.
Their few job prospects will increasingly be replaced by automation, their romantic options will continue to dwindle, and they’ll become even more vulnerable to misinformation and conspiracy theories.
One group will benefit from a super-fast turnaround of a COVID vaccine, the other will abstain because they’re anti-vax
One group will use social media to market their influencer business, the other will doomscroll until they need therapy
One group will go to work designing and making video games, the other will spend all their time playing them
One group will do tons of online courses like Masterclass and Udemy to constantlly improve themselves, the other will use the internet for pure entertainment
One group will use virtual personal trainers and interact with their doctor remotely, the other group won’t exercise and will only use urgent care clinics and emergency rooms
So which are you? And which are your friends and loved ones? This is the question you should be asking yourself.
If you don’t like your answer there is good news. You only need two things to pull yourself into the successful group.
A decent helping of intelligence and luck are also helpful.
Knowledge that this is how the world works
The discipline to create a path out of your situation, and to follow that path
If you are someone who sees this, it’s your responsibility to help others see it. Don’t let your friends and other loved ones become part of the Suffering Class by default—just because you didn’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation.
People are confused about the effect of technology and the pandemic on the Suffering and Thriving classes
It’s not that technology or the pandemic is pushing people up or down
These forces are acting like a magnifier to what already exists, pushing society into a barbell shape
If you’re in the Thriving class, help people who are on the Suffering by Default track to see the other option
This model is a bit simplified, obviously, as there are many fulfilling professions that don’t require a great education and don’t command a great salary. I’m not saying that if you don’t have a degree and aren’t making lots of money that you’re necessarily going to become part of the underclass. What I’m saying is that if you don’t have a plan to avoid that outcome, it is very likely to happen. Again, you can avoid that in multiple ways: the immigrant approach is just the safest with the highest chance of success.