Message to #DAVOS17 – Netopia Has the Answer

The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution was the main topic of the World Economic Forum in Davos, in case you spent all of last month under a rock and didn’t notice. Netopia has discussed this plenty, the idea that automation comes to white collar jobs. The point is that we can decide how we want to use the opportunity of automation, it’s not decided beforehand. So great then, that the brilliant minds at the WEC come together around this topic. One report talks about the new skills that will help your career in the fourth industrial revolution (from now on, I’m just going to write 4IR, ok?). Spoiler alert: things like Critical Thinking and Emotional Intelligence are on the rise. And Creativity. I’m not sure those are actually skills, but they’re important for sure. Unsurprisingly, Netopia has some issues with this line of thought, however. First, it’s about adjusting to technology, rather than making technology work for mankind’s purposes. That is techno-centrism, no patience for that. Second, it focuses too much on the individual and too little on a joint vision. Of course, each person has to be responsible for her own future, but that allows plenty of room for working together. In fact, the very idea of going to Davos to discuss issues like these suggests that there is more to it than every man for himself. (Netopia’s speaker invite was somehow lost in the mail, but we will be happy to overlook this little accident next year should the organizer care for some bold and compelling opinions on digital topics.)

The World Economic Forum concerns itself with such things as growth and jobs: 4IR can be great for growth, possibly create jobs but just as likely take away jobs faster than new ones arrive (depending on how businesses want to use the efficiency increases), but the main issue may be that it drives increased division of the labour market – white collar jobs replaced by simpler service jobs. The former insurance clerk finding new employment at the coffee shop. As professor Scott Galloway once put it “The smartphone economy is going to be great for jobs, but terrible for wages”. Is there no hope? Of course there is! All we need is to find an industry that grows and thrives with the digital markets, that creates well-paid jobs with good quality of life. Ideally an industry where Europe is a front-runner, has plenty of talent and a strong track record. “What industry is that?” you ask impatiently. “The creative industry!” Netopia replies. This is where Europe shines, where cultural diversity is a strength and not an obstacle, where public education and welfare systems allow talent to bloom, where Europe’s heritage is a source of inspiration and the stuff of new expressions, where new technologies are developed and digital opportunities embraced, where freedom of speech and freedom of enterprise are prerequisites for success, where the democratic tradition becomes a business advantage, where influx of new perspectives and cultures add to the competitive edge. Sure, there are great movies from USA, cool games from Japan, literature from South America, hit songs from Korea, world music from Africa, culinary tastes from the Middle East and er… swimsuit fashion from Australia. But Europe can match or beat the world in every area. And Europe’s creative talent travels. Sure, Hollywood may have greater commercial success than Europe’s film industry, but there are many European film-makers and actors who contribute to that success. The creative sector employs more than six million people in Europe and many more in neighbor industries. It grows constantly and as 4IR releases more resources it can accelerate that growth. It creates plenty of export revenue, private investment and tax income. With digital connectivity, European games, movies, music, books, apps etc can grow with the global market. Jobs are fun and rewarding, though some parts of the sector has challenges with job security. Growth in the creative sector is very friendly to the climate and the most important natural resource – creativity – grows more the more its harvested. And the growth creates lots of jobs, because creativity (as the WEF report noted) cannot be easily automated.

Look this way, European policy-maker! The creative sector is the answer you seek, the cure for your nightmares, the hope for Europe. I would even go so far as to say it might save us from Brexit considering how the Cool Britannia success story rests on these thoughts precisely. So stop making policy for digital freenomics, and stop selling out the creative industry’s resources by undermining freedom of contract and intellectual property rights. Make the digital markets work for the creative sector, not against. The European consumer deserves great European culture. Play your cards right and that’s where that European consumer can find his or her next paycheck too.