The Coming Age of Imagination is a manifesto for how automation and a universal basic income will lead to an explosion of creativity throughout the world.
Universal Basic Income is a very old idea that is fast becoming the radical idea of our age. Every adult being paid a living wage, no strings attached, increasingly sounds like a sensible response to the disruption automation will unleash upon the world. Simply put, basic income changes everything.
Some like basic income because it will eradicate poverty; others see it as the only feasible way of avoiding a dystopian future where the robots have taken all the jobs. However my book will concentrate on a third perspective that has something in it for all of us – the creative impact on the world.
When we no longer have to worry about the precarity of existence, about money, we have the opportunity to be creative on a mass scale. Future growth begins at the point where creative brilliance and new technology meet and this book is full of insights and stories about the transformation of lives emerging from basic income experiments around the world.
The stories range from an artist’s experience of the basic income test in Finland, to how the romantic poets invented consumerism and how creativity can eradicate waste; how cities like New York, Glasgow and Berlin were transformed by their creative residents; and the working habits of creative people like David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Kurt Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami.
While Johnny Marr explains how artists create markets, we look at a future where there are no markets and everything is free. The relationship between creativity, innovation and commerce is revealed though the history of photography, and both neuroscience and ancient folk tales help us understand what happens when creativity flows through people, places and times. Craftivists change the world quietly, a craft jean’s brand gets a town working again, and creative scenes develop in all sorts of unlikely places, including BrewDog, a craft beer brewer coming on like Situationist punk pranksters.
Ultimately the book is about asking yourself what you would do if you knew you didn’t have to worry about the bills at the end of the month?
And it’s about how we get there.
What will you do with all the extra time?
What adventures will you embark up?
What grand projects will you dream up?
Where will you go and what will you explore?
Who will you meet?
What groups will you form?
What classes will you take?
What will you make?
Who will you help?
What moneymaking schemes will you hatch?
What markets will you create?
If we all worked less, what new work would we do with our spare time?
If we had the financial security not to be tied to one job, what jobs would we create?
Where will our imagination take us when we kick back, turn the music on and muse on?
When we have time to daydream, we dare to dream. We have ideas and we make ideas happen. Out of nothing we create something. Out of lots of nothings we create many somethings. These somethings represent economic, cultural and individual growth. If we didn’t spend so much of our time worrying about money, we could let our imaginations run wild.
If we don’t live in poverty, we worry about living in it. The fear of losing everything stops most of us doing the things we want to do in life. The precariousness of work makes us cautious.
Untold numbers live their lives without making the most of their talents, or even discovering them. Our best ideas slip through our fingers as we give all our time to earning the money we need to pay our way. We take no sabbaticals or prolonged leaves of absence to focus on our own projects because we can’t afford to.
We pay national insurance but our right to unemployment benefit is conditional on proving we are looking for work and taking the first job that comes along. Writing a business plan, a movie script or a book of poems is not an acceptable condition. If we go to university we rack up massive debts that we will spend years paying back.
We are trapped in a system that is obsessed by the short-term and has no mind for big ideas, grand plans or the dreams of everyday dreamers. That same system is stuck in the economic doldrums, incapable of creating any meaningful growth. We are like goldfish whose bowl has been sunk into a vast ocean, battering our heads against a pointless wall.
All is not lost. Three big ideas are circulating around the world that could change all of this.
The first idea is that automation could take us into an age where most of the jobs have been automated and the only work that humans need do is creatively rewarding and meaningful.
Full automation is not inevitable; it’s an idea. The fear of mass unemployment currently suppresses the rate at which we automate. At the same time, some of the more mind-blowing claims for automation prove to be overhyped and decades away when put under scrutiny. Work is changing though, and there are clear signs that an exponential growth in automation is imminent. The effect of that growth on the world will be transformational. According to some it is already creating a new sphere of economic life to sit alongside the public and private sectors – the free sector. The existence of a free sector could point the way to a world beyond the economic hopelessness of today.
The second idea is that every citizen should have, as a right, a basic income that is enough to cover their living costs.
Basic income is an old idea that is now being talked about everywhere. It is a utopian idea that could eradicate poverty once and for all and it is an alternative to the dystopian threat of automation and precarious employment.
Basic income would be transformational not just for the poor, but for al of us because it takes away the fundamental financial insecurity of life. It will change forever the relationship each of us has with work. Even if we work all our lives, we will do so knowing we have something to fall back on. Work becomes a choice, not a necessity. Basic income is also an idea and not inevitable. Despite a growing international movement behind it, the barriers to its implementation are vast.
The third idea is barely talked about but hard to shake off once considered. It is the idea that artists create markets. Creative thinkers, in art and science dream up the ideas that regenerate economies, communities and individual lives. Legislators, investors, analysts all have a role, but only after the idea has been conceived. Without ideas there is nothing to grow. New markets emerge when we find new ways to meet new needs. Growth starts not with investment but with creativity. Markets do need investors and products and services need to be manufactured and distributed but none of that matters without creativity at the start of the process.
It is also creative people who help the world see the potential in new ideas, it is creatives who inspire news ways of thinking about business and it is around creative people that eco-systems grow and scenes develop. Out of such scenes in art, technology, come great innovations.
Socially, creativity enriches communities, builds empathy and understanding between people and regenerates cities. Art and science allow us to imagine living in the world in different ways.
Individually, being creative gives purpose and meaning to our lives. We are all born with the capability to be creative and, once we tap it, we discover that the psychological rewards of being creative are life enhancing. Destructive behaviours, like addiction or rampant consumerism are often the consequence of trying to find a purpose that creativity can deliver more effectively and with less personal and social cost.
Creativity needs to be defined as original thinking in the broadest sense, not just the arts but science too. The most groundbreaking and original creatives today are the coders inventing reinventing how the internet works with Blockchain technologies and developing new global currencies, the very future of money, with Bitcoin technologies.
These three ideas are intrinsically linked. Freed up from mindless work, with more time on our hands and less insecurity about money, we will fill the economy with new ideas, build vivid, playful communities and improve our own physical and mental health.
An injection of new ideas will adrenalize markets and maybe even take us all a step towards a different type of system altogether, one where not everything has a price and value is measured in other ways.
That is why the coming age of imagination is a liberating idea.
I’m talking about the book at this event. It’s free, please come along if you can. Can you also please share in your networks?
i am now talking at an event organised by Tug Agency on the 12th of June and at a breakfast panel session at Crowd DNA on the 28th of June. I am hoping to get a slot at Bylines in August. In the meantime, if anyone knows of any other speaking opportunities please get in touch.
In Mateja Kovacic's article in The Conversation, robots that once existed only in science fiction are now at work in cities across the world and the reality is both more practical and more mind-blowing than the fiction.
In Tokyo is becoming robot city in the run up to the 2020 Olympics, to enact a global repositioning at the forefront of postmodernity. Robot taxis will whisk visitors through an…
I thought a quick progress report on The Coming Age of Imagination would be in order.
The pledges are coming in at a steady rate. I've been working through my database of contacts and each batch I send out gets a new wave of either pledges or promises to pledge. I have a few corporate clients I plan to approach when we are closer to the target.
I've been interviewed for an article about UBI…
These people are helping to fund The Coming Age of Imagination.