What are some bad futures for teaching, learning, and campuses? With this post I’m continuing my series of educational dystopias.
3. Gilded Age 2.0
This dystopia is a world of extreme inequality. After the mid-twentieth century’s reduced imbalance of wealth, the new Gilded Age is a new age of inequality, led by the 1% and especially their own 1%, as described and foreseen by Thomas Piketty. The name echoes that of an earlier age of American economic oligarchy.
Unlike the cyberpunk dystopia, which also has high inequality, Gilded Age 2.0 offers solid political stability. States help maintain social order through a variety of tools and services, ranging from powerful bureaucracies, a guaranteed national minimum income, and surveillance.
The 1% make a show of conspicuous consumption, made especially conspicuous by digital media. Social order also depends on a degree of gerontocracy, most notably in practical politics and culture, due to demographic trends (decreased 1-18 population, increased seniors). Capital tends to accumulate with age, and family holdings tend to grow in size and influence; in Piketty’s neat formula, “The past devours the future.” (Capital, 571)
The world of work has shifted to emphasize service industries, as manufacturing declines and the information economy employs relative few people. On-demand computer-mediated human service enterprises loom large, such as Club Alfred. Automation is widespread, leading for the first time to widespread under- and unemployedment. Those out of work are politically pacified by public funds and media consumption. The latter teaches messages of stability and knowing one’s place.
Colleges and universities have begun to mirror the larger society. Faculty members, for example, are 99% adjuncts. Campuses focus attention on wealthy students for practical, cultural, and political reasons. Given privatization of higher education funding, student debt has grown to exceed home mortgages in size.
Technology in education has developed specific forms by socio-economic standing. Face to face is what the 1% and their children receive, as a lack of visible technology indicates a status. Elite schools offer liberal arts education. The middle class enjoy distance learning, while MOOCs are available for everyone else. The bachelor’s degree is widely respected as a mark of quality service.
Leading academic programs map on to social conditions. Therefore we see institutions emphasizing majors in finance, human resources, and political science.
What does it mean to be an eighteen-year-old in the new gilded age?
These fresh high school graduates follow the 1% closely, especially through new media, sometimes identifying with them. They have contributed to the sharing economy by age 10. And the “Middle class” is as historically distant to them as are the Crusades.
Next up in our dystopia series: the bubble bursts.