It is always good to start a New Year in a high. And, considering that I am all too aware of the fragility of any upbeat feeling, that should be okay. This isn't like 2010, when I knew I was doomed. In fact, the last time I started a year with this feeling was back in 2006, but indeed, that was a different reality altogether. Lots of things have changed since. My life is different; my demands are completely transformed. In January 2006, I was seeking adventure, all but ready to take on an USAID funded position in Beirut, notwithstanding the pleas from my family and friends; now, I am looking forward to a few more years in Suburban London, keeping my day job and working on some new possibilities within it. The irony is: In 2006, I was all too attached to my family, with my mother still around; now, I am living the the loneliest time in my life.
But, that apart, the world is also quite different. In 2006, Gordon Brown was still the Chancellor and was extolling the 'longest unbroken run of prosperity' in Britain. In 2011, that dream is all but over, and we are possibly staring on the face of a deep economic and political crisis in Europe in the New Year. Britain has decidedly entered the post-prosperity age, of politics and of economics, and the discourse about recession and gloom is dominating the public mood. The FT's new slogan - We Live in the Financial Times - proved all too prescient even for the City crowd, and one is desperately seeking a break of some sort.
As much I would want to believe that this is a part of a global power-shift, from Europe to India and China (a view I ardently subscribed to in 2006), I am now deeply suspicious. True, it seems that all the Middle Class professions have started their exodus to these emerging economies of three billion people between them, the countries themselves have not changed much: India has lapped up the new opportunities, but failed to do anything to alleviate poverty or root out corruption. Instead, such job-shift has helped these countries to protect the key problems and create myths around their business-as-usual. So, instead of 'economic development', as celebrated in the Western Media, the whole exercise has turned into an economic window-dressing, a sort of dependent development where the Middle Class signs up for an allegiance to global capitalism, but in turn gets more divergent from its own people, the billions of working class which is pushed into an unending struggle for existence. The omens are indeed not good: For all India's success story, trains between Kolkata and Mumbai, two of India's biggest cities, can not operate in the night because of the pre-dominance of the Maoist insurgents in the Indian heartland.
Returning to Britain, however, the hollowing of the Middle Class is clearly visible. In fact, there is a new term going around - the Squeezed Middle. This is an interesting shift from the Cold War days, if one cares to think. During the Cold War, the European Middle class was pampered with Public Sector jobs, a nanny economy and publicly provided necessities of the middle class life, health care, education and employment. This was the time when the Third World middle class was revolutionary, claiming their place in the world (and a chunk of the privilege pie). How the wheels have turned: The end of Cold War has left the European Middle Class without cover, and now, this recession has effectively torn down the last remnants of the Welfare States. It has, however, enacted another great transformation, a job-shift, primarily to Asia, buying out the Asian Middle classes through cheaper mortgages and ubiquitous mobile phones, and breaking their alliances with their working class people irreversibly. If the creation of the European Middle Classes happened with the 'Great Transformation', rise of the free market as opposed to Social markets, this phase is a 'Great Unravelling' for the Middle Classes in Europe. For the Asian Middle class, this may be the period of a 'great sell-out'.
In the middle of this, my dreams, rather belated, of great middle class stability look fragile and unreal. In fact, my state of rootlessness is more at one with my reading of the world around me. But, the stability I crave for is less defined by the space, but has more to do with the intellectual belonging. In all honesty, I have had my adventures, moving from one profession to another, with relative ease, so far in my life. I have done, mostly, what I chose to do. But while I enjoyed the playfulness of this career, this is part of the reason I feel so rootless. And, in a world of fast-evaporating middle class careers, this is a scary feeling. Howard Gardner makes this point in his excellent Five Minds for The Future: He says in the coming days, everyone must have a 'discipline'. If you don't have a 'discipline' or a 'profession', you don't stand much of a chance (at least in the West). Flitting around from one career to another, I did not develop a discipline: This is one thing at the top of my mind now.
So, indeed, I, as always The King of Fresh Beginnings, am planning a new career. One thing that I deeply love, understand and can work on for rest of my life: Technology. This is a lost love which I left for more earthly glamours and money of sales at the very start of my career. Resolving to return to work with technology makes me sort of feel good. Indeed, I resolved to work in a domain I know best - education - as have worked all these years within the field. I am almost returning to an old idea, of setting up an Online College, all over again: Only just it is more real and more achievable this time, particularly within the context of my day job. This is my search of a new discipline, which should hopefully turn out to be a relevant and productive one.
How do I fit my new career plans in the gloomy world I just described? The politics aside, for which I shall dedicate my free time and this blog now, the business opportunities in the West will reside in creating smart offers substituting the vanishing public services: Education Technology is one such thing. This is also the thing that the emerging Asian and Latin American middle classes need to make the global competition for middle class work more real. So, I see a fast-growing global market of education technology in all parts of the world (which may also help make my globe-trotting ambitions, a childhood dream that ended in being a shipwreck like Robinson Crusoe, come true). For my more political self, this is also something which can change the world: Ability to change the access to knowledge always did in the past. The inequality and subjugation in the world is built around inequality and subjugation based around access to information and knowledge. So, this is a discipline, an area of work, which can potentially put me at peace, and combine my work for a career, and towards my social commitments, rest together side by side.