The MetaCity Concept (1980)
This essay is not about the future. It is about an idea, a concept- that can help to bring a certain kind of future into being. It is not a "paper" prepared for a convention or convocation, and it is not intended at this time for publication. It is not addressed to an anonymous audience but rather to those individuals and representatives of those organizations who are prepared to contemplate and creatively react to a contribution to our need for new and bold economic and social theoretical concepts. The ideas expressed in this essay may strike some people as "far out". Thinking about the future is necessarily "far out," for the demands made upon all of us by a rapidly changing technology and an increasing pressure on finite resources requires that we engage in responsible but bold and innovative thinking. And while these ideas may seem far out, we must remember that the future is very close in. The concepts we discuss in this essay could be reality within a generation. In order to put our concepts in a meaningful context, it might be useful to briefly state some of the presuppositions that lie behind our thinking.
Our most important assumption is that the industrial era is over, at least for the highly developed nations. What we are now experiencing is not the "Third' Industrial Revolution as it is sometimes called but manifestations of the post-industrial age. Just as production was the key to the industrial era, so it seems that communications in all its startling and seemingly infinite varieties and forms, will be the key to this new age, which futurist Robert Theobald has called, "The Communications Era." What Theobald is calling attention to, of course, is not a mere change of names, but rather a change of modes, mindsets, of basic social and economic systems. The shift exciting, revolution(r from the industrial to the post-industrial period will be as confusing and disturbing as was the shift from the pre-industrial into industrial society, two hundred years ago. This means, as Theobald points out, that just as agricultural and mercantile-commercial attitudes and theories did not work for the emerging industrial age, so like many of our concepts and methods that we inherited from the industrial past will not work in the Communications Era.
Not only must our modes of thought and methods of operation change to meet the challenges of the new era, but also so must our expectations. The first phase of the Communications Era, say the next 30 to 50 years, will no doubt see unprecedented technological developments, which certainly hold out great promises to better the lives of everyone on this globe. However, we would be wrong to anticipate that this period will repeat the unprecedented post-WWII growth. It certainly seems doubtful that America will experience the doubling of the GNP or at any rate the doubling of the leve1 of personal income that many economists were predicting as late as a few years ago. There are many reasons for this - the crippling burden of defense spending, the need to continue to write the environment into our cost accounting, the need for heavy investment in securing sound water policy, food production, adequate new energy resources, space and undersea exploration and the new telecommunications systems.
We face the rebuilding of our cities and the imperative to provide some sort of economic stability for the developing nations of the world. Behind all of these imperatives lies the magnitude of the historic corner the world turned in 1973, when, after two hundred years of declining or stable energy costs, the price of energy began to soar. When we recall that cheap energy was one of the prime ingredients in the whole spectacular march of industrialism, we soon should realize that, until we move to renewable energy resources, we are facing a period of real constraints. America will certainly not run out of energy. But the high price we will have to pay, regardless of what energy strategies we pursue, will make it difficult, if not impossible to maintain the kind of consumer society and economy which characterized the last phase of the industrial era.
This does not mean that the developed nations need anticipate a dismaying drop in the standard of living. Indeed, the new computer and telecommunications technology .can provide us with the sorts of opportunities which were only half formed drams dreams during the "great days" of the post-World War II boom. But we will have to make the cultural adjustments, under take considerable shifts in values, in order to appreciate our new opportunities to become consumers of communications based opportunities rather than a seemingly endless glut of material goods.
The extent to which we are able to maintain some high level of material comfort in the developed nations while providing the developing nations with means for economic advancement, it will be necessary for us to make the most efficient use of our economic potential. Many old methods, deal to the industrial era will no longer provide us with such efficiency. Indeed, the concept of the nation-state as the natural economic unit never has been all that efficient, as witnessed by western imperialism, direct and indirect and such transnational economic groupings as Comecom and the EEC. We need new international economic structures and institutions, which while being non-imperial and non-exploitative, can bring peoples from all over the globe into new patterns of economic cooperation.
Finally, while we anticipate that democracy and capitalism will continue to evolve, as they did throughout the industrial era, they continue to holdout significant promise for human development and freedom. Meanwhile, the economic theories that the communications era will demand have yet to appear. Now, we can only dimly perceive the implications of the promise of social and political decentralization which the era hold out to us, we feel that it is important that any new concepts for future development should be based on free people and free markets.