Analysing the social outcomes of new technology
From fashioning a crude stone tool, to sending a satellite to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, technology has been both a driver and indicator of social and political standing. Indeed, entire epochs are named after the technologies they produced – the Iron Age, Bronze Age, to the Atomic Age and now, the Information Age – it has been those individuals and societies that embrace and understand these new technologies who tend to benefit most.
It is with this in mind that we see the launch of the “Real Insurance Class Systems Survey”, an analysis of not only the way new technologies are shaping our lives, but of the individuals who are reaping the rewards and those being left behind.
Technology as a social force
A society’s (and individual’s) ability to embrace or promote technological change is a reliable indicator to that society’s wealth and progress.
As we now find ourselves in the information age, are historical variations in a population still so prevalent? Who are the winners and losers and is it easier now to achieve upward social mobility than in the past?
A new social class system
From the survey, it is possible to now identify four emerging groups of individuals in Australia.
Startup Stars: Echoing back to the more stratified days of classes within societies, the Startup Stars most closely resemble the upper class of yesteryear with one important distinction – their dominance is built much less on inheritance and much more on successfully embracing and understanding new technologies and the opportunities they afford.
They are the in-demand professionals and entrepreneurs associated with emerging digital industries and work opportunities. In fact, 60 per cent claim to work in industries or occupations that were rare or didn’t even exist 10 years ago.
Unsurprisingly, they are also the most optimistic with 81 per cent stating that it is easier to move between social classes now than in the past. In fact, 71 per cent say they believe that they have personally ‘upgraded’ their social standing as compared to their parents, revealing a confidence that they are in control of their lives rather than the proverbial cork floating in the ocean and at the mercy of currents and tides.
Gen 2.0s: More family-oriented and humble, yet sharing the same optimism, sense of autonomy, connection with emerging technologies and achievement as the Startup Stars, the Gen 2.0s group differs primarily in terms of its views on class and the way they like to spend their time and money.
Typically, as the children of immigrants who have managed to improve their social and economic standing, Gen 2.0s are proud to have bettered themselves but are also very proud of their roots. Interestingly, multiculturalism appears to be becoming more prevalent with both Gen 2.0s and the Startup Stars with over 40 per cent of both groups speaking a second language at home.
Gen 2.0s see class as a reflection of occupation whereas the Startup Stars are more likely to focus on material acquisitions as indicators of class i.e. they like to externalise their social status more.
Therefore, it is unsurprising to see Gen 2.0s are more likely to save money, with 52 per cent stating that they save at least a small amount of money each month compared to 40 per cent of Startup Stars. This is also reflected in spending habits with 16 per cent of Startup Stars admitting to spending more than they earn compared to only 7 per cent of Gen 2.0s.
In terms of views on social mobility, Gen 2.0s are more pessimistic than Startup Stars with 70 per cent believing it’s easier to move between social classes compared to 81 per cent, which indicates a reflection of their more humble home backgrounds.
Sloggers: Forming a burgeoning group of the older Australian population, Sloggers are senior Australians who have to keep working to support themselves when they would prefer to work less.
As the research indicates, it would be fair to assume that this group has most closely witnessed the changes new technologies have brought to society but, unlike the previous groups who have embraced this new era, Sloggers find this to be much more of a challenge.
With their diminished financial power compared to previous groups, Sloggers tend to be more cynical and pessimistic in both their views on society and also themselves. While over 90 per cent agree that wealth and occupation are key indicators of class, fewer seem willing to try to improve their situation, be it because it’s simply not a priority for them or they feel that it’s too difficult, or maybe even a combination of the two.
Based on the survey, 57 per cent of Sloggers don’t think that they have personally improved their social class from their parents and only 42 per cent believe that anyone in their family has improved beyond the status of their parents. This is in stark contrast to Startup Star figures of 30 per cent and 58 per cent respectively.
Further reinforcing a sense of isolation, the research found that 86 per cent of Startup Stars feel they are career focused compared to only 44 per cent of Sloggers, demonstrating that many probably dislike their work and also that they don’t see their jobs as a path to happiness and fulfilment.
As much as Sloggers are clearly being left behind in society, the next group is particularly concerning.
Gestaters: Gestaters have the luxury of youth on their side. Typically, they are living at home comfortably with their parents after their teenage years but worryingly, have few assets or career aspirations and a generally pessimistic view of their place in society and their future.
Crunching the numbers, we find that 55 per cent don’t believe that anyone in their family has improved their social standing compared to 29 per cent of Startup Stars. The numbers for both groups are nearly identical when the same question is asked about their friends and colleagues (50 per cent; 28 per cent).
Similarly, the group ranked lowest when asked whether they believed that it was now easier to move between social classes than in the past, with only 65 per cent agreeing with the statement compared to 81 per cent of Startup Stars.
Each of the figures point to a sense of hopelessness and overwhelming negativity in the group, despite their youth and connection to emerging technologies. While it is fair to assume that some simply don’t regard wealth and career as important (and will go on to lead happy, fulfilled lives), it also points to a generation of lost ambition and potential.
So what to do now?
As a wealthy, developed nation we should always strive to provide people not only with the educational opportunities that will enable them to function best in a world driven by technological change, but with the belief that their efforts will be rewarded.
Looking at the survey, it is possible to assert that Startup Stars and Gen 2.0s understand this but that Sloggers and Gestaters not only see a lack of opportunities, but also a lack of belief that these are real opportunities for self-advancement.
That said, success looks quite different to each group. What we do know is this emerging class system not only point towards our growing cultural diversity, but also prompts us to rethink what ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ really look like. Clearly, Australia has a culture that thrives on technological advancements and other innovations, but beyond this, each social group has fostered its own way of approaching and defining success.
Certainly, such a rich and growing diversity of culture and social groups will continue to prove central to Australia’s unique national identity, cultivating not only a diversity of culture, but a diversity of thought.
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