Life used to be so simple. Back then the world seemed a safer place, the future was more certain and the boundaries more clear. Now, as we hurtle through the 21 st century, we are facing unprecedented challenges and changes. Technology has been a massive contributor and, with this change, we have more choices than ever before. This article explores two different scenarios that show just how much our world has moved in the past 50 years.
The world in which we live now is vastly different to the place and space of the last 30-50 years of the 20 th century. And such a different world dictates different decisions, be it work, home, personal or financial-related. Everything around us impacts on every decision we make. Let’s take a look at two lifestyle scenarios, then and now…
Ann Smithson is born into a South African middle-class home in the late 1950s. It is post-World War 2 and, after years of upheaval, there is a sense of positive growth in the country. There is political uncertainty, but she is protected, and she grows up unaware of it. Three brothers and sisters follow over the next few years and life is simple: children run freely between each others’ home and Ann has what could be called an idyllic, carefree childhood. Her mom is at home and her dad is employed at the local bank. Every evening they have supper together, play board games and listen to radio programmes; and every year they head to the sea for a family holiday. Ann’s worldview is a tapestry of her experiences close to home.
At 18 she goes to teachers training college thanks to a government subsidy. On completion of her studies she marries her childhood sweetheart, Colin, and starts teaching at a nearby school. With their combined salaries they rent an apartment and buy their first car. She joins the pension fund and also takes out a small endowment policy that will pay out when she turns 45. Her dream is to then go on an overseas holiday or use the money for university fees.
Her children, Sam and Jane, are born two years apart at the local hospital. Sam and Jane attend a nearby nursery school and, later, the primary school where Ann still teaches. In the afternoon, the children play sport and have friends to visit. Life is busy and often the local eatery or fast food outlet becomes an option for a meal. This is so different from Ann’s childhood when the only choice was a single steakhouse or Wimpy for the monthly treat of eating out.
The children, now teenagers, want to join their friends on Friday evenings at the newly built mall for movies, ice-skating or a meal. Ann and Colin allow the children this independence, but stay close at hand in a nearby restaurant should they be needed. They have television, but their lives have not yet been touched by the cellphone.
They now own their first home, live comfortably and are able to plan that longed-for overseas trip to Europe. They both have a credit card. Television has helped them broaden their worldview and they dream of showing the children tourist highlights they have seen on screen or read about in travel books taken from the library. It is while on this trip they see the first cellphone in action – it seems amazing to talk to one another on a device not connected to a wall socket.
Life seems to get busier. Colin is under increased work pressure. The children are soon headed for university, though they stay at home. Each owns a cellphone to stay in touch with friends and family. Ann and Colin have also bought them a car each, and they all enjoy the home computer which has introduced them to the wonderful new technological phenomenon, the Internet. After their studies the children each take a gap year and, each with a credit card linked to their parents’ account, go off on a working holiday, ending with a six-week tour of 12 countries. Sam stays on in London. His sister decides to continue her studies; and lives at home while her parents dig deep and keep supporting her.
Ann and Colin have both been with the same employer their entire working life. They hope to retire within the next 15 years. They have both been paying into a pension fund and believe they will be able to retire comfortably with their house paid up. They long for a time when the money they earn can start to build up capital to fulfill their retirement dreams. Life has been secure and the next 10 years will complete a journey of work, parenting and the beginning of their retirement years…
Jane and Sam celebrate their 28 th and 30 th birthday. Jane is still living at home, has two qualifications and has worked in three different work environments. She is keen to marry her long-term boyfriend and they plan to start a family soon.
Sam is ready to return after five years working in London. He brings with him his Polish girlfriend and enough money for a deposit on his first home.
The Internet has radically changed the world of work and Sam is able to manage his work from a home office. His parents battle to understand this and often ask him when he plans to get a “proper job”. His girlfriend contributes by working as a waitress three nights a week as well as operating as a virtual assistant for clients who operate in South Africa and Europe. Their combined income allows them an extravagant lifestyle of eating out at least four times a week; short trips at least once a month and their own cars.
The Internet allows them to work at any time and with clients anywhere on the planet. This kind of work requires discipline and also the responsibility of taking ownership of their long-term investments. They have no secure pension fund and need to ensure they protect both their short-term and long-term working environment. This translates into income protection policies to insure against a situation that may prevent them from being able to work. Disability and dread disease are two responsibilities that they take seriously as part of their work portfolio. They also understand with the changes in medical technology they could both live to almost 100 and will need to build enough income and assets to sustain their life.
Work is also about adding new skills to existing ones. They do not see this as a negative as they love what they do. They are living their dream life.
Jane and her new husband are both working in the banking industry. It is a very different structure from the one her father worked in. Her company encourages a six-month maternity break followed by a return to work on a flexible package. Crèche facilities are available in the office. They have bought a home in a lifestyle estate and enjoy spending quality time with the children. They take them on holidays, locally and internationally, and also attend as many functions and events with them as possible. The children are cellphone-savvy from very young and seem to have so much more information and knowledge than their parents had at the same age.
Jane and her husband – and their friends – are called “helicopter parents” as they hover over their children to ensure their safety, constantly transporting them between activities.
There is a sense the world is speeding up. The future seems uncertain. Technology is driving change at a relentless pace. Jane and her husband hope to equip their children with thinking and creative skills that will allow them to work in a future that has not yet been designed. One way of feeling more secure is to assure they have enough life income protection for their children’s future, as they all navigate previously undiscovered routes.
Ann and Colin are now enjoying life without children at home. They are in their mid-50s and have just attended a “retirement transition” workshop. They learnt that life expectancy now is much longer than before, thanks to medical technology and that their current savings and pension plan may not be enough. They are discussing university courses they always wanted to do and new travel plans that involve possibly teaching English in an Asian country. This will allow them to travel and earn at the same time. They also need to look at their current investments and make allowances for planning and securing this future for themselves.
Are you ready?
When the history of our time is written, it is likely that what historians will regard as the most important event is not technology and its incredible innovations such as the Internet, but rather an unprecedented change in the human condition. This is because, according to writer and management consultant, Peter Drucker, for the first time ever, a substantial number of people have choices.
“For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it…Throughout history, practically nobody had choices… Now suddenly a large number of people have choices. What is more, they will have more than one career, because the working life span of people is now close to 60 years – three times what it was in 1900”.
It is up to us to ensure we are prepared for the road ahead, with all its twists and changes. The future is in our hands – we must just ensure we have the skills to steer it.