At the moment, the world seems out of control. A virus which we’d never heard of before appeared suddenly and is wreaking havoc on the lives of billions of people throughout the world. International travel has stopped, restaurants, cafes and shops have closed. The once busy streets are silent and businesses have retreated to operating as a distributed network of people work from homes around the world. For even the most resilient and flexible of us, this is a challenging situation.
However, despite this global dislocation, there are some key things we can do to turn this crisis into an opportunity and I don’t mean setting up bootleg gin joints and secret bars called cougheasies!
For many, it can feel as if we’ve completely lost control of everything. However, that’s not the case. I don’t for one minute underestimate the challenge we’re facing, both medically and economically, but if we only focus on what we can’t control, like all of the masses of people gathering on the beach in a huge disregard for the social distancing rules, then we’re doomed to end up depressed and destroyed as a result of this current global crisis.
This is not the first massive crisis in history, nor is it the worst, nor will it be the last. But for many, it is the most challenging thing that has happened to them in their lives and the lack of control over events that have just suddenly consumed the world can be really hard to deal with. The fact, however, is that we can’t control most of the things which happen in our world anyway and the more we focus on what we can’t control, the more difficult and frustrating it becomes for us, as the risk is that we will become angry and resentful. We’re seeing that now with people in shopping centres taking their anger out on people who are doing their best to serve the community. If you’re the type of person who gets angry over a supermarket employee over the lack of non-essential items like toilet paper, then you’re a selfish idiot. You clearly struggle with all sorts of other things in your life already.
However, toilet paper obsessed idiots aside, the fact is that if we only focus on all of the negative news stories, over which we have no control, it’s going to make it harder for us to get through and come out of this in a good way. Rather than looking at and focussing on all the things we can’t control, use this as a great opportunity to focus on the things we can control. We can control how we treat others. We can control how we approach each day. We can control our own hygiene and social interactions. If we have the technology, we can setup and can control our own workspace. We can also control how we look for opportunities in this crisis. What goods and services are needed now? What skill set do you have to be flexible and adaptable to be able to help? What service gaps are there in the community? Are there vulnerable people or groups you could help to support? Is this the greatest opportunity in years to be spending more time with your family, playing board games and talking and sharing this time together?
Rather than becoming frustrated by everything that’s wrong, much of which there certainly is at this point in time, by focussing on what we can control, this gives us an opportunity to examine our busy modern lives and see what’s really important to us and improve our ability to not only get through this crisis, but to come out the other side stronger and more resilient to take on whatever else is thrown at us into the future.
Over the next days, weeks and months, what’s your focus going to be?
I know it’s been a year longer than we had hoped, but now, despite the current global issues, which reminds me of the Billy Joel song, ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, we’re back for season 2 of the Xperiential Education podcast!
This season, we cover all sorts of great programs from art, to science, to risk management, to outdoor ed, to a really wonderful student-led medical program and a few things in between. The depth and breadth of the podcast and our guests, highlights how important it is for students today to learn to be adaptable problem solvers.
Season 2 is brought to you by Xcursion Risk Management, for all of your risk management training and software needs for running great experiential education programs.
For more info, guest suggestions and other feedback visit:
Everyone loves a good drama. At work, the gossip around who’s dating who is far more interesting than doing your job. Newspapers and media outlets rely on bad news to sell papers or in digital terms create ‘click bait’ so you click on the article. Often, in both cases, the headlines don’t match the actual story because if they did, people wouldn’t read them. It’s far easier to get someone to pay for a paper with the headline “Virus Outbreak! 95 Year old Dead and Infections on the Rise.” Rather than, “55,000 people have already recovered from the Virus many only experienced mild illness.” This is not to understate the issue at hand. Yes it is concerning and yes we need to do something about this to slow and/or stop the spread. However, the impact this has had on outdoor education alone is massive, with countless school cutting all programs, no matter how remote or disconnected they are from the fact that children are not really being affected. The level of perceived risk is through the roof, the level of actual risk for most people remains relatively low.
I saw this again on the news last night. ¾ of the whole news was about the ‘massive’ jump in cases. The ‘sick and elderly dying,’ the panic buying, the dark days ahead and all of this negative crap which gives the average person the impression that the zombie apocalypse is here. For most people, given the popularity of the show, the Walking Dead, they’re reacting as if a zombie virus or Ebola has gotten loose and is wiping out 80-90% of the healthy population. The fact is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that fear and panic are driving this and hyped up by the media, is driving the world economy into recession.
Ironically, like a fine print disclaimer at the bottom of some ludicrous advert, one of the later stories in the news was basically, ‘Oh by the way… if you wash your hands, don’t touch your face and mouth after contacts and don’t have prolonged close contact with an infected person, the risk of catching this is really low. The number of cases of this in the country and around the world are testament to this.
Added to this, most people are not dying. They’re experiencing mild ‘flu-like’ conditions and recovering. What’s the problem? The problem is that everyone loves the drama and focuses on the negative side of the drama, rather than looking at the whole problem in context. The world is not going to be completely overrun and shut-down by this virus. It’s not wiping out the next generation of young people and healthy people, but mild viruses which don’t kill lots of people, don’t make good news stories.
On 30th Oct 1938, the radio show ‘War of the Worlds’, by Orson Welles first aired. This sparked wide-spread panic, with people thinking they were being attacked by aliens. Now we might laugh at this now, as we know it’s a story, but at the time, that felt so real as it was coming through their airwaves.
The media has a lot to answer for in this. They’re far from reporting the facts and this has been so over-editorialised and hyped up that the fear and panic they’ve put into the community could have a really long-term negative effect. This will all blow over given time. However, how many businesses are going to be wiped out? How many fights are going to break out over nothing? How much panic is ok before the media is taken to task over this, which, to be honest, they won’t be.
If you look back in history, the world has survived many things. However, fear and panic is so contagious that the impact it has on a mild crisis can and does turn everything into a major catastrophe. We’re experiencing runs on banks, stampedes in stadiums, riots over food and supplies, when the supplies aren’t at risk. The timeless words of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ echo loudly through this current world crisis and we should always remember:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
The full poem can be found here:
It is time for us to take stock and see this for what it is. It is not the world ending pandemic that will turn everyone inside out. It is a virus, which spreads quickly through close contact and poor hygiene and the effects of which are generally mild with most people recovering. Let’s not lose our heads. The world has gone through worse and there will be worse to come, but standing firm when everyone else is losing it, is so important for the world right now. We need more people to have level heads and respond to this current issue accordingly.
For some stats on the current virus check out:
For some crucial tips on surviving a zombie apocalypse check out:
Ok, so I’ve been watching all of the hysteria over the Coronavirus. Whilst this is no doubt a highly infectious virus which has spread quite rapidly, we also should put this into perspective as to the effect of this virus. Most sufferers are not dying from this. Most are recovering quite well, as with any other cold or flu. There is a mortality rate currently between 1% and 4%, depending on country, age and healthcare standards. In terms of a monumental threat to life as we know it, it’s really not that bad.
Therefore, why are so many people going crazy? Why are the supermarket aisles stripped of toilet paper and tissues? Why are people having punch-ups over things which you could live without? It’s weird, isn’t it. It often takes a crisis for us to remember how stupid some people are. The whole notion of people being able to think for themselves seems to go out the window and is replaced with this insane ‘mob mentality’. This fear and anxiety is far more contagious and dangerous than the virus itself, as people then turn on each other for no real reason.
The media hasn’t helped either. Whilst it’s good that it’s being reported, as are all bad stories, the media just latch on (kinda virus-like) and suck the life out of the story. I saw one media outlet which I won’t name, (but they have a track record of idiotic headlines and stories written and aimed at angry bogan 10 year olds). That organisation is running an infection counter on its website, as if it’s some sort of doomsday clock. I think this is horrendously irresponsible and only fuels the fear of those toilet paper toting hoarders.
From a risk management point of view, I understand the hand sanitiser, even the paracetamol to fight off the infection, but what the hell are you going to do with car-loads of toilet paper? We don’t import it, so it’s not as if it’s going to be stopped and be sitting on a dock somewhere. If I were going to go hysterical and start hoarding things, I’d be going for tinned food, bottled water, some fuel, gin, tonic, limes and a few good books to read. The TP is really not even on the list. So why is this the thing for which people have rushed out? To be honest, I have no idea! It really makes no sense at all, but it’s fascinating behaviour to watch how irrational people can be when fear sweeps over them.
Whilst in the past we would talk about the fight or flight mechanism we have built into us, perhaps that needs to be extended to the fight, flight and flush. Whilst the coronavirus is a concern, as is any communicable disease which can kill people, the far more dangerous thing at this point in time is the fear and anxiety which is being fuelled by media and mob behaviour.
Before we all rush out, knock over a few old ladies in the desperate effort to buy a roll of toilet paper, take stock of the reality of the situation. The virus can be prevented and avoided by social distance and ensuring you have good hygiene and wash your hands properly. Doing this will help stop the spread of this virus. Here’s a great video from the WHO about that exact thing:
This year sees the banning of mobile phones in many Australian schools. This is an initiative which is something that everyone should welcome with excitement. Whilst some technology is beneficial, the fact is that we’re seeing a massive increase in mental health issues, many of which can be linked with social media addiction and a complete disconnect from reality in which young people growing up with smart devices can find themselves.
Whilst many bleeding heart civil libertarians and anxious parents might be wailing and decrying the ban as over the top, the fact is that children don’t need a phone at school. For that matter, they really don’t need a phone at all. I’ve written a number of articles around this and the problems that phones are causing, of which we’re only just starting to see the impact.
In terms of taking risks, I recently wrote about finding the one reasons out of ten for doing something versus the ten reasons for not doing something. I think the same is relevant to this problem. However, the opposite seems to be true of the decision-making process. Parents hold onto the one reason for their child to have a phone and that’s ‘in case of emergency.’ However, how often is there an emergency where there’s nobody else around to ask for help? If we then delved into the ten reasons why you shouldn’t give your child a phone, we would find the potential negative impact to be huge versus this supposed ‘emergency’ which is most likely not going to happen.
However, without going into all the ins and outs of what might or might not be reasons or justifications for giving a child a phone, let’s look at what’s been the impact at school.
Peer-pressure! This is probably the number one driver of why children end up with phones. ‘Because everyone else has one’. This is not a great reason in itself, but it massively fuels the peer pressure which children face each day.
One of the main impacts at school however, is the level of distraction that a smart device causes and the subsequent lowering of children’s attention spans. If you’re trying to engage students in learning, then having something which distracts them and constantly provides them with a dopamine hit versus your maths lesson, you’re not winning anytime soon. In general terms, it takes fifteen minutes for you to get into an activity. Each distraction or change of task, then takes another fifteen minutes for you to get back into that activity. Hence, in an hour lesson, you don’t need too many distractions to have wasted an entire hour.
There’s the social impact. If break time is filled with time spent playing games on the phone or engaged on social media, this significantly reduces the child’s ability to develop friendships and meaningful relationships with real people. All they see is a filtered view of the world and this filtered view is toxic and destructive.
From my experience, often children will claim they’re talking with or messaging their parents during break times so it’s ‘ok.’ This firstly is a load of crap, as most teenagers wouldn’t be constantly messaging their parents and secondly, if they are, their parents need a slap across the face for being so stupid. Stop trying to live your life through your children. If you have nothing else better to do than message your kids all day, then go and get a job, or volunteer somewhere. There’s lots of need in the community, so make yourself useful!
Having said that, most parents don’t do this and the children are just making it up as an excuse. The fact remains however, that it’s a disconnect with the environment, space and purpose of education. For those people who say, well it’s part of life now, then I think they’re missing the point as to how damaging this part of life is. In the 19th century, opium was a widespread part of life. That was not something which was a wonderful progression in the development of humanity, neither is this. Phones and technology are tools to be used to benefit communications, work and create some great efficiencies. However, at the same time, like firearms, they’re a dangerous tool in untrained hands and that’s the reality of this technology with children.
A phone manipulates and controls their behaviours, dominates their attention and rescues their ability to cope with the real world. Removing the phone, not only from schools, but from children in general until they have the skills, maturity and abilities to use it as a tool and not have it use them as a tool, is vitally important to their long-term health and well-being.
The Australian school phone ban is great! It’s a big step towards modernising education and making it relevant in the 21st century. Let’s hope this ban expands to all schools in Australia and across the world. If you can’t go six hours without a phone, then you have far more problems than that supposed ‘emergency’ for which the phone was originally intended.
In life, we can always come up with ten reasons for not doing something. The negative talk of most people determines why something shouldn’t be done more often than why it should be done. In general, people don’t like to take risks and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, taking risks is how we grow and develop. If we’re so risk averse that we’re not willing to try anything new, then this really doesn’t allow us to reach our potential on any level. Yet when most people encounter something new or different, they will run through in their minds all the reasons why it won’t work, rather than all the reasons why it will.
This is common at work and in people’s social lives. The comfort of knowing the outcome is a wonderful thing to be able to hold onto as it gives us certainty, which is always comfortable to have. However, this certainty can often hold us back from interesting and exciting experiences.
One really good example of this is abseiling. Over the years, despite this being a really safe activity to do, abseilling has been the most challenging activity I’ve seen for many students and teachers alike. You can see them talking themselves down, even before you get started. Some people won’t even put on a harness because they’re afraid of heights, rock falls, ropes breaking, slipping back, falling off the cliff, being dropped off the cliff, the rope being cut, the anchor giving way, the double anchor giving way, looking stupid or afraid whilst on the rope. Despite this huge bunch of negative talk, what’s the one reason you should forget all of this and just go for it?
Now I can’t answer this for anyone, but what’s important is that we encourage people we’re working with to find the one reason for doing something. This might not be easy, as the easiest thing to often do is nothing, but where does that get us? It disempowers people and means they will never be able to live up to their potential.
The irony of all this is that often by not doing anything, or taking any risks, people end up with a false sense of what real risks are and often the risk of doing nothing is far greater than the risk of giving something a go.
When you’re setting up an activity which might have a high-level of perceived risk and a high-level of resistance from participants, why not chat with them about the benefits of taking a risk on something. Use a tangible example of that as well, to ensure they can see how and why finding the one reason to do something, versus the ten reasons not to. This is massively beneficial to their own personal development and growth.
There will always be plenty of reasons not to do something in life, but if nobody took any sort of risk, then we’d still be living in caves. Even if something doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, taking that risk can mean we end up having a wonderful and unexpected experience and learn and grow from this. This is followed by other experiences we have as a result of finding that one reason why, versus the ten reasons why not.
Take a risk today! Try something new and different and surprise yourself as to how wonderful that new experience can be.
Over 50 years ago, the first year 9 residential outdoor ed programs started to emerge. It was a good idea! Nobody likes year 9s. (14-15 years old) They’re moody, annoying, think they know everything and don’t pay any attention in class. Consequently, sending them out to the bush somewhere where they were someone else’s problem was a genius idea. Why not send Year 8 as well? In fact, let’s send any students that regular classroom teachers struggle with! It would probably make their lives better.
Rather than address the fact that ‘main stream’ education is a complete waste of time, getting rid of students from the school is a much simpler solution to a far more complex problem. However, I’ll avoid going off on too much of a tangent for the moment in why our whole education system is broken and focus on the real issue. Sending year 9s away is now a huge waste of time.
Granted, everyone still loves to get rid of their year 9 students. I’ve never heard a single teacher say, “Oh I’m going to miss having my year 9s here.” No, the resounding sound of champagne corks popping throughout the school can still be heard every time a bus departs for a year 9 campus. Parents equally love the chance to make their dysfunctional year 9s someone else’s problem and spend time travelling or just enjoying going out for romantic dinners again. Which is all very nice, but to what real end?
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a year 9 residential program, most of them are structured around a rural or remote setting in which both outdoor pursuits are undertaken, as well as an academic program. Many that I have come across are just boarding schools in the bush, so not really outdoor Ed programs as such, but a seemingly great way to hide and lock up your year 9s from the outside world.
Having worked on year 9 residential programs for many years, they’ve either been too long, too short or have lacked clarity and purpose. The students, in my experience, have only really benefited through osmosis and the true educational value of a residential program more often than not, was completely lost on them and the school. Sure, it was a good piece of marketing for the school and you could dump a whole year group somewhere else for a bit, but what was the point? Other than getting all students into a regular daily routine and doing a few jobs, very little else in terms of longer lasting growth was ever achieved.
From all the years of running programs and expeditions with year 9s, I was convinced that we were running them for the wrong year group entirely. The concepts of goal setting, leadership, teamwork and sacrifice are somewhat foreign to the self-centred, self-focussed year 9s. More often than not, you barely shifted the dial in their lives. They simply lack the maturity to truly benefit from a residential experience in which expectations are high and independence is the key theme. Sure, they still get something out of it, but let’s be honest. Take anyone away for an extended period of time and something will happen. Therefore, why not rethink this flawed concept and move to a year 10 program instead?
One year makes a huge difference in the level of maturity and adolescents’ ability to appreciate, engage with and learn from a residential experience. If you want to introduce concepts such as leadership, introduce it with students who are starting to have some idea of what that means and an understanding of its implementation and benefit. Too often I see teachers insert the word leadership and they have no idea and understanding themselves as to what this really means. For year 9s who struggle with the concept, it can be overwhelming and confusing, or else set them up with the idea of how great they are… when they’re really not.
However, Year 10s (15-16 year olds) are at a tipping point. If you want to have a far greater impact on a young person’s life, it’s going to be during this year. Much of the unruly, lame attitude and behaviour of year 9 has been dispensed with and now, they’re far more open to self-reflection and growth. You can realistically approach them and the residential program with a far greater focus on being independent, critical thinking risk takers and problem solvers than you can with year 9s. Working with year 10s gives you a far greater opportunity to help them build character, explore what’s important to them in life and focus on leadership and life skills in preparation for their senior years, thus setting them up for life.
The difference in maturity in these two year groups is stark and the results would be too. For year 9s, you spend 80% of the program battering them around the head with rules and program structures to help stop them from doing dumb things and making stupid decisions. When they finally get it, you’ve only got 20% of the program left to be able to do anything useful with them. However, with year 10s, you have the potential to reverse this and instead spend 20% on structure and 80% on the experiential learning and reflection.
To continue to run year 9 residential programs is a phenomenal waste of time and missed educational opportunity. As the world changes and we need to up-skill students with a far more diverse set of flexible, adaptable critical thinking and adaptable experiential skills, we need to look at ways of maximising the impact of this during their time at school. Why waste all that time, energy and effort on rule enforcement with a year group that will struggle to truly understand and embrace the opportunity before them? Instead, it’s time we ditched year 9 programs and move them to year 10. As a result, the long-term benefit to students and the community will be vastly different and truly set students up for success.
In Australia, we’ve just experienced the most horrendous bushfires in living memory. The size and scale of these unprecedented fires has shocked the world. In the 1980s we had musicians performing at the live-aid concert to raise money and awareness for the famine in Ethiopia. Today we have some of those same musician (and a whole stack of others) raising money for us, a first world country with an extremely high standard of living.
Whilst contributing factors to the fires include a long running drought, this was well-known for some time and the complete lack of preparation and any sort of pre-emptive large scale response has been nothing short of pathetic. Whilst this is not a criticism of the rural fire service, as they’ve done everything they can to put the fires out, this is a criticism of the complete lack of forethought in preparation to respond to what so many people predicted was going to be a horror fire season. Why don’t we have a standing fire fighting force with sufficient aircrafts on hand to battle these fires when we know they happen every year? Why don’t we have thresholds for triggering a military response in these scenarios? Why did it take so long for anything to happen on a federal level until hundreds of homes were destroyed, lives lost and hundreds of millions of animals wiped out?
Is this a case of fundamental incompetence at a federal level? Is the current government so useless that if they were to plan anything for a scenario like this, they may be seen to be admitting that climate change is real and the magic clean coal fairies of future power production utopia they currently believe in don’t actually exist? The fact is that so many narrow minded bafoons in federal politics have banged on about the ‘safety’ of the economy and ‘dangers’ to our prosperity by acknowledging climate change and if they did then it could cripple our way of living.
Well news flash idiots, the magic fairies of clean coal don’t exist, humans are having an impact on the world’s climate and by denying it and doing nothing we’ve been smashed by devastating fires which have already significantly impacted on the Australian economy and will continue to do so for years. Sadly the federal government will continue to do nothing, other than some pathetic window dressing or an expensive and pointless ‘inquiry’ into a major issue that has not only impacted our way of life for months, the impact of the destruction of native animals, habitat, farm animals, pastures and our international tourism industry has a far greater impact still to come. The impact on healthcare services is also unknown as the air quality on peoples’ respiratory systems is still unknown and the cost of managing the PTSD which will come from the shattered communities and those first responders who have been on the ground for months trying to put these fires out and protect life and property.
For a government who claim to be ‘good economic managers’, they have failed dismally in any basic risk management of the economy and the well-known environmental powder keg of bushfires of which they were warned months earlier in April 2019. This complete incompetence has already costs billions, lives and irreparable damage to us as a nation and for what?
As a country we’ve failed ourselves and this has to be a tipping point for real action on climate change and understanding the impact the modern world has on the natural environment. Nobody wants to live in an apocalyptic desert world fighting for the last glass of water or gallon of gasoline, but weeks of living under dark and dirty orange skies being rained upon by ash has left me feeling like we are heading in that direction. If we just keep pretending there’s nothing going on and nothing to see here then the Mad Max future will be upon us faster than we could ever have imagined. The federal government may believe there’s no such thing as climate change, but at the same time, they also have no idea of the political climate change that has just happened to them in an instant in Australia.
Sadly it always takes a massive disaster or catastrophic failure like this for people to take action. Let’s just hope this is the wake up call we need and it’s not just another thing that will be soon forgotten and dealt with through political spin. The climate is changing, it is impacting on our way of life and if we don’t do anything about it, it will devastate our economy and way of life, not to mention the complete destruction of the natural environment. It’s time we all started to actually do something about this because nobody wants to live in a world in which you simply can’t breathe.
For me and many others in Australia, the transition from Christmas to the New Year has been incredibly stressful and disconnected from what we would usually think is a wonderful holiday period. We’ve finished 2019 and started 2020 having experienced some of the most horrendous bush fire conditions anyone has ever seen and at such a large scale.
Whilst some of the most catastrophic days have past, there remains a clear and present danger in terms of fires. However, with any risk, it’s in the assessment and active review of that risk that we’re able to effectively manage those risks.
In recent days, I’ve heard of a number of schools cancelling their entire outdoor education programs. I have absolutely no idea what idiotic thought process was involved in these decisions. In fact, it’s worse than that. If you have people running these programs who are willing to take them all out of the field on such a thin premise, then those people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an outdoor ed program, let alone a school, as it doesn’t demonstrate any level of reasonable thought nor leadership on what has been a devastating concern, yet at the same time, not an insurmountable risk.
Being able to understand the difference between perceived risk and real risk is important for those running an outdoor ed program, or any school excursion or activity for that matter. Certainly, parent perception is a risk, but it’s not a dangerous risk, it’s more of an unpleasant risk in the grand scheme of things. However, if you clearly explain decisions based upon real evidence and have professional, well-trained and experienced risk managers running your programs, then this is not a real risk at all.
On the surface, it would appear that schools have cancelled programs because of this perceived risk and perceived parental opinion, rather than any real risk. The real risk in all of this, is that it reinforces the fear that many students might have about the outdoors and it’s much easier just to give up than to actually manage the risks at hand. As camp is the only thing many students remember about their schooling, sorry to say kids, for some of you 2020 won’t be very memorable.
Whilst we should never underestimate the dangers which come with bushfires, it’s important that as an industry and educators, we don’t waste an opportunity for students to learn. With all outdoor education in Australia, the level of real risk is quite low and when it’s managed and run by experienced professionals, the prevalence of injuries and significant events is also very, very low. Why then would a school ignore the industry’s high standards and simply cancel everything? Are their risk management systems and staff so inadequate that they’re incapable of managing an environmental risk? Or have they taken advice from idiots who have never worked in the field before?
Even though we can’t be blasé about safety nor the potential real risks involved with bushfires in the summer months, we also can’t afford to be so risk averse that it damages a student’s experience and builds fear into them about the outdoors and the natural environment. Throughout my career in outdoor education and risk management, we’ve had to pull the pin on a number of programs because of a change in conditions or circumstances and you could see the elevation of the level of risk heading to the point of an unacceptable risk. Therefore, it was time to adapt to the circumstances and change what we were doing. However, every time we did this, it was based upon real risk management and operational thresholds that have not changed the way in which we would, nor should view the current situation in Australia. Our risk management systems are progressive and leverage all of the available information, from public sourced services, news reports and real-time information on the ground. Basing decisions on good risk management practices is always critical to the success of your programs, no matter what. These fire events have not changed that in any way, shape or form and the core principles of good risk and program management remain the same.
The reason why we manage risk in a professional and systematic way is so that we can make well-informed decisions based upon current circumstances and conditions and despite the impact of major social and environmental events, we can continue to operate in a safe and professional manner. The reverse is also true, when people don’t understand how to effectively manage risk, they make ill-informed and rash decisions which either result in serious injuries or ridiculous decisions such as cancelling everything because those responsible for these programs don’t have the skills, knowledge or confidence to pro-actively understand and manage the risks involved.
Just last year several people were injured in a pre-Christmas shopping centre crush as an ill-conceived giveaway promotion went horribly wrong! Many people also die on our roads travelling at this time of the year. Do we cancel Christmas? No that would be stupid… and so is this.
When I was growing up, I used to play a role play game (kinda like Dungeons & Dragons, but set in the future and with slightly fewer elves and goblins). The stories were set in the dark future of 2020, which predicted we would all be living in a world of high-tech, yet at the same time, low-life society that was dominated by a very poor, gritty underbelly below the flashing neon lights and corporate high-rises that dominated city scapes.
National governments had been replaced by rich and powerful corporations with their own private standing armies. You either had a high net worth, were a corporate drone or street hustler. There was literally nothing else. The main way you made money was to take off-the-books jobs for corporates and or criminals helping them to play out some sort of larger master plan or hidden agenda. Occasional an AI would try to escape their programming confines and try to take over the world, most people had cybernetic parts from chop shops and your brain could easily get fried whilst you were on the internet, but other than that, everything was great!!
Thankfully, in 2020 the world isn’t looking or feeling like this very dark future. However, what are the chances that this sci-fi world will become a reality? How effective are we in our harnessing of technology to improve life for everyone, rather than just increasing the net worth of an elite few at the cost of the world and society as we know it?
It’s always interesting to hit a milestone of literature and look at what has or hasn’t come to fruition in that time. For example, if we look at 1984, thankfully we don’t live in a totalitarian communist state… yet some people do. Video surveillance technology is becoming increasingly used to identify and track people’s movements and actions. This can be used in a beneficial way for preventing crime and terrorist activities. However, it can also be used to track and control populations as well and root out any dissent. Whilst we’re well past 1984, big brother is well and truly watching.
If we look at a bit more of a lighter side of predictions, Back To The Future is a classic 80s movie starring Michael J Fox, which suggested that by 2015 society was going to be much cleaner, cooler, cars would fly and we’d all have customised shoes that did themselves up and hoverboards. Well on this one, we do have brands proving great customisation on their clothes and products. Hoverboards do exist, but they’re total crap and nothing like those in the movie and cars don’t fly. Drone companies are working on a kind of flying car, so it’s plausible for this future, but just a little further off than 2015.
Now fast forward 5 years to the dark cyberpunk future of a totally connected world where corporations and AIs dominate society. Are we close on this? Is it plausible, or just pure fiction? Thankfully, we don’t have the dark cyberpunk world quite yet. However, how close to the sun are we flying?
With the release of the ugly (and definitely not shatter proof) Tesla truck in some ways we’re far closer to the dark world than we know. Whilst this is just an iconic piece of clever marketing that’s been pulled from science fiction, there are a few worrying trends towards the dark cyberpunk high-tech and social disparity world of the future.
Let’s take a look at corporations. Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple are just a few obvious examples of enormous corporations with more cash, power and influence than many sovereign nations. The trend towards integrating humans seamlessly into the internet is something which many people want and cybernetic companies are working towards. We already have a world of phone zombies walking around. I’m sure if they could have tech implanted, most people would jump at the chance.
Housing affordability is also at record low levels, creating an increasing wealth gap, which will only be accelerated by the disappearance of jobs through mass automation and increasing unemployment. Are we just going to be running black ops jobs for corporations? Are corporations going to become so powerful and governments so weak that in lieu of any real direction or leadership, corporations slowly and quietly take over? It’s happened before with the East India Company, so what’s to stop it from happening again? All of these are as plausible as governments by nature are slow moving and cumbersome, which is probably a good thing despite it being frustrating. With the digital age, they’re appearing even slower to react and respond to social and economic issues which could have a lasting effect and lead to change which we might not like.
Another concern is AI! Artificial Intelligence has the potential to change human life and nature in such a positive way. We’re seeing a lot of it now with the automation of both simple and complex repetitive task. The benefit of this could be that it can create ways of life which reduce the need for us to work as much and improve the social time everyone has together by automating so many processes and systems and removing the need for people to do a lot of the things we do now. Far more leisure and social time will be the replacement.
Conversely, we’re at a tipping point where there is also the ability to destroy most employment and create this dark world in which everyone must hustle for survival, run by corporations who built the AI that runs everything. It’s a massive contrast, but two very plausible and possible futures. In the dark cyberpunk future, AIs continue to try to escape their programming having become far too ‘intelligent’ and even self-aware.
The other disturbing feature of this dark future is that humanity has irreversibly destroyed the planet’s natural climate and we’re left with sprawling cities, acid rain and desolate waste lands… Hmm! Not a giant leap from sci-fi to reality as we’re not doing too well on this front. Despite the cries of many people, generally invested in coal, that there is no such thing as climate change, the fact is that we’re seeing a shift in the patterns of weather, seasons and the most random of weather events. Whilst not quite the desolate wasteland of Mad Max just yet, it’s something we need to make sure we address before we let it get that way.
Despite it probably being really cool running dangerous hacking jobs for mega corporations, it’s probably a good thing that we’re not at that point yet. The dark future is a scary possibility, but if we understand the risks involved in this and do something about it now, it’s not just an inevitable mess in which we’ll all be net-running cyborgs with more body enhancements than a Beverly Hills housewife. Instead, let’s aim for a future where information and technology is cheap and accessible for all and we’re not battling for survival in the Apple/Amazon wars of 2029.