Preparing for the Post-Industrial World

As part of my job as a research associate at the University of Southern Denmark, I was one of the main organizers; Next Scandinavia was not involved.

Science and technology are changing our societies at a tremendous pace - or are they?

If they are, how should we deal with it as societies and what should politicians be aware of and do about it?

In order to find out, 40 scientists met at the Lorentz Center in Leiden for a week. We also engaged 30 students of science communication and society in order to communicate our results. We are now working on a whitepaper for the scientific community and on how to best reach and help the policy makers.

Read more about the workshop and our ongoing work at

Almost all the participants at the workshop; scientists from a broad range of fields, people from the arts and the students of science communication and society.

To the very left in the white shirt, professor Steen Rasmussen who was the main organizer, behind him, professor Jos van den Broek who runs the science communication program and organized the students, and behind him Norman Packard, the third organizer.

Some of the scientists and their presentations can be found on

Some unusual contributions

Everybody at the workshop contributed in their own unique way and we had managed to bring together an extremely interesting group of people with very diverse kinds of knowledge.

On the one hand, I do not want to single anybody out, on the other, I would like to share how diverse the group actually was: Below are three contributors, all rather unusual at a scientific conference.

I think we got everybody to think outside their normal boxes and everybody dared to leave their comfort zones. I am very grateful that we managed to do that.

Wael Ghonim - Thursday skype

Our first session Thursday morning was a skype with Wael Ghonim, Egyptian activist and founder of Parlio, about social media's role, possibilities and risks concerning activism and the fight for democracy.

Wael it just too cool and everybody was both moved and encouraged by his presentation.

Thank you Wael, for taking time to share your insights with us at the workshop!

Zarqa Nawaz - Muslim comedy

Later Thursday, Zarqa Nawaz who has bridged a number of gaps between Muslim immigrant and Canadian culture through comedy, presented her story and her work. Without a doubt the funniest presentation at the workshop, but first of all very enlightening and an eye-opener to all. 

Thank you Zarqa for crossing the Atlantic to meet with the scientists and for adding this rather unusual part to our work.

At the last session at our workshop was a discussion with Kristina Persson, the Swedish Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation (5th person from the right, black jacket, white shirt).

Before the session, Persson had spoken personally with several of the scientists, one of the students had interviewed her, and she had participated in the working group on changing narratives.

Urbane Change

Booklet about the future of cities

The Nordic City Network just had its annual meeting, this time in Aarhus, Denmark, and besides a presentation about the future of cities, they also asked for a booklet they could hand out to their participants.

The booklet is in Danish and my presentation was in Swedish - a pleasant surprise to the Swedes, Finns and Norwegians, and the cause of a funny, surprised look on the faces of the Danes. It all went very well, and the feedback on the book has been amazing.

An English version of the book should be on its way soon...

Tomorrows’ technology

My colleague Steen Rasmussen and I just had our first article published in The Conversation.

Photo by Humanrobo, CC BY-SA

Tomorrow’s technology will lead to sweeping changes in society – it must, for all our sakes

Throughout history, whenever new technologies have emerged that change our means of production and ability to communicate they have tended to transform society. The rapid technological development of the past century – in biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence – holds the promise to do the same for our current, post-industrial world.

Our political institutions, the rule of law, human rights, the banking system, our education system – and even capitalism itself – are products of the industrial age. We have learnt to navigate the industrial economy as individuals, and as societies we can exert some control to define its shape and limits.

But what comes next, in a post-industrial world? Even in the past decade, digital products and services, the internet and mobile technology have changed our lives. This is the result of accumulated advances over the past 50 years; there is much more to come. For example, recent studies indicate that digitisation is likely to replace about half of known jobs within 20 years.

Read the full article

Challenges of the secular society

The Nordic countries are among the most secular in the world. This has allowed us to achieve great personal and other freedoms and we are among the most prosperous societies in the world. But could there still be something we are missing?

Photo by Vaishnava108 / creative commons

Spirituality and religion around the globe

This summer a fan of my books recommended that I watch the film Baraka. It is an extremely beautiful film showing landscapes and spirituality from many places around the globe.

At first I just found it fascinating. Then it struck me: with very few exceptions, only men appear in the film.

The more feminist side of me thought: How typical! The women have to stay at home and work and take care of the household while the men can go to the temple and have fun and get a kick out of doing all kinds of rituals.

But quickly I realized that it is a typical pattern: In general, it is the men who define most religions. But is it only men who practice religion? Or is it that only men's religious practices are worth filming?

Robust societies

Then it struck me: I asked the wrong question.

Rather than asking "Why do we only see men practicing their religion?" we should ask "Which are the most stable societies in the long run: the ones that occupy men with religious practices and guide their thoughts towards rewards in another reality, or the ones in which there is no spiritual guidance and religious community, and where each individual male must find his path in life on his own?"

Women traditionally take care of their children and generally don't need heavenly rewards in order to do the right thing here and now; crying children have let their mothers know what is needed of them throughout history.

But to keep thousands upon thousands of testosterone-laden men calm and on the right track in the city states of the Bronze and Iron Ages may not always have been easy.

Enter priests, rituals, collective trances, hierarchies to be climbed by abstinence and moral virtue, celibacy, self-torment, feelings of guilt, promises of numerous virgins in the afterlife, dietary restraints, etc. and wouldn't that just be the perfect recipe for social calm and a long lasting society with few inner, violent conflicts?

Modernity and its young men

Post Enlightenment, Darwin and secularization it is hard to tell people that heavenly rewards will await them if they behave well and follow certain rules and practices.

Rather, in order for people to follow any kind of rules in the modern, industrial and postmodern, post-industrial society, the rules must make personal sense, and only if certain behaviors pose dangers to others can we put constraints on people's personal freedom.

Unfortunately, while throwing out the religious rituals and spiritual practices that kept people, especially the men, emotionally aligned with the interests of the greater society, we also lost the language for morality and talking about what is good and bad behavior.

Sports are the only field in which it is still OK to demand that people follow certain rules that constrain their personal freedom and for which they will get a reward. Actually, it is the main point in sports: If people followed individual rules, it wouldn't be worth playing.

The problem with - or rather: the poverty of - sports is that it only has a limited language and a one-dimensional outlook on life. It only knows about winning and losing, fighting and achieving. It doesn't deal with existential questions or personal development at an emotional and/or moral level. There may be individual coaches who are great human beings and who can guide youngsters towards good values, but the more commercial sports have become, the less the focus is on the development of young minds.

A failure of the Nordic countries

One failure of the Nordic, postmodern, secular societies is the number of gangs and subcultures, religiously extreme or plain criminal, that attract a lot of young men.

Maybe it was worth considering how, within the framework of metamodernity, we can re-establish ways of reaching these young men and offer them meaningful, hierarchical, challenging communities in which they can develop morality and a language for personal and spiritual growth, and in which they can align themselves with the greater society.

Sports seem to be the default answer whenever these issues come up, but after hundreds of years of cultural evolution, is that really all we as a society have to offer?