Generation 6 - For the Benefit of Society and the Environment

Blog post by Pernille Kræmmergaard, December 2023
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«Sammen skal vi navigere inn i den digitale transformasjonen og forme fremtidens samfunn».

This is how the Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre opened the gathering for top leaders in the municipalities of Rogaland as they concluded their one year-long Training in Digital Transformation with us, led by our country manager in Norway, Eirin Folde.

Støre continued, "Vi vet i dag at vi ikke vil jobbe på samme måte om 10, 15 eller 20 år som vi gjør i dag. Jeg er egentlig teknologioptimist. For å si det slik: Jeg frykter ikke ny teknologi, jeg frykter gammel. Samtidig er Norge et kunnskapssamfunn, og vi skal tenke kritisk og handle etisk. Vi skal ta i bruk ny teknologi, og vi skal sette grenser. Det er et politisk ansvar."

I completely agree with him on that. But how should we work in the future, and what level of digital maturity is necessary in both organizations and society to fully leverage digital opportunities? These are also questions I have been addressing in connection with my work on my upcoming book. The book focuses on how organizations and leaders mature digitally through the generation ladder, how we address different generational gaps, and ultimately, how we reach the provisional top level: Generation 6 and the mindset that becomes relevant here.

I will share with you these initial thoughts and reflections on Generation 6 and its corresponding mindset in this column.

In Generation 4, the mindset focuses on constantly fortifying the strategy with the right partnerships. While in Generation 5, it becomes crucial to closely link core expertise and technologies, enabling the development of personalized services and products that citizens and customers perceive as relevant and desirable.

Generation 6 and Society 5.0

The leap to Generation 6 is significant, but not necessarily more challenging than previous leaps. However, Generation 6 brings about substantial changes to what has so far characterized digital development and serves as a response to some of the problems it has brought to society: overwhelming amounts of data, significant issues with data security and ethics, the right to privacy, and digital divides between the digitally savvy and the less secure.

In Generation 6, the centralization on large platforms will be replaced or complemented by decentralized and equal voluntary networks. Your company or organization will no longer be able to harvest data from customers and citizens. They own their data, which they will share with you as long as they deem it a good idea. Transparency—true transparency, not just "here are 53 pages of fine print, read it all if you can"—and traceability will be requirements from external parties. The decentralized development will be supported by AI, making communication across and between different devices easier.

In Generation 6, our physical world merges with the virtual in a seamless, interconnected society where the well-being of individuals and the planet takes center stage. This is what the Japanese government dubbed Society 5.0 a few years ago, and it is now Japan's official societal strategy.

Society 5.0 is something I'd like to delve into for a moment, as its vision illustrates the kind of future that Generation 6 can contribute to creating. Or, in my terminology, the digital mindset of the generation.

Japan faces many challenges. Almost one-third of its population is over 65 years old. Traditionally, Japanese society has valued its elders, and the care for the elderly has fallen on the children, especially the eldest son. It has been common to live three generations under the same roof, usually in rural areas, and taking care of the family's oldest generation has been considered an honorable task.

However, the Japanese are living longer and longer. Caring for parents for possibly decades is becoming less economically sustainable. At the same time, there are fewer children in families—the Japanese birth rate is among the world's lowest—so the aging of society will continue. The young and younger Japanese also don't aspire to stay in rural areas but increasingly move to cities, leaving the oldest generation behind, necessitating Japan to introduce public elderly care. A concept like "kodokushi," lonely death, reveals that cultural and social norms are undergoing change.

The economy is stagnating after decades of economic growth. There is a labor shortage, and it is clear that economic growth has come at a high cost to the environment, nature, and climate.

While Danish society differs from Japanese society, the challenges are similar. Indeed, only about one-fifth of Denmark's population is over 65, but an aging population is evident, and it doesn't take many business headlines to notice stories about a labor shortage.

What sets Japan apart is its political response to these challenges. The vision is, as mentioned, Society 5.0, where human well-being is at the center, and advanced digital technology is integrated everywhere to create a more inclusive, sustainable, and human-centered society. They seemingly master the ability to be "digitally visionary" and operate with a longer horizon than what is traditionally practiced.

The concept of Society 5.0 builds on our general societal development.

  • Society 1.0 is the hunter-gatherer society, a developmental stage to which we, as humans, have adapted. In 98-99 percent of our species' evolutionary history, we lived as hunters and gatherers, and some societies still do.
  • Society 2.0 is the agricultural society, where we settle more permanently in one place and begin cultivating the land and breeding animals. This transition occurred approximately 10,000 years ago, and in many places, it remains the dominant societal structure.
  • Society 3.0 is the industrial society, marked by the invention of machines and engines, assembly lines, and factories. This characterizes all societies today, and the logics of industrialization—mass production, standards, and linear production—are deeply embedded in our societal model.
  • Society 4.0 is the information society, where digitization and automation of processes, along with the exchange of vast amounts of information, are made possible thanks to technologies like the internet and computers. Society 4.0 streamlines Society 3.0 but does not fundamentally alter it. The mindset remains linear, and the primary purpose of technology is still predominantly economic.

Society 4.0 faces the significant challenge of an overwhelming and opaque amount of information. Furthermore, increased digitization and automation have led to social unrest, as some demographic groups struggle to use these technologies, and the structure of the workforce is changing. Data security and privacy are particularly threatened due to the increased volume of data, which is not always handled ethically and responsibly.

Japan's proposal for Society 5.0 is a society where humans are at the center, and advanced digital technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things, robots, and big data are integrated everywhere to create value for individuals and society. It's a society where technology is embedded everywhere, not solely for the sake of technology or economic growth. Technology should enhance quality of life and be integrated into all aspects of life—from elderly care to urban planning, food production, health, and social cohesion.

Where Society 4.0 is connected, Society 5.0 is coherent. It's a holistic vision that blends cyberspace and our physical lives, strengthening both the individual, communities, and society.

While Generation 5 is a step forward on this path, Generation 6 is part of the vision. It's the society we can choose—if we want to. It's refreshing to see a government choose a positive and inclusive vision instead of focusing solely on regulation and anxiety.

The Danish inclination to regulate is paradoxical, considering Denmark has been a frontrunner in digital development. We have a solid foundation—world-class digital infrastructure with broadband and 5G, a robust robot cluster, and successful tech entrepreneurs.

However, we have neglected to develop the skills to use this infrastructure. Denmark doesn't lead in digital competencies, and international studies indicate a lack of specialists. My analogy is that we've built a highway but haven't quite learned to drive on it. We lack the digital mindset—the strong vision of what we want to create with technology.

Society 5.0 is currently a utopia, but digital maturity in Generation 6 can make it a reality. Let's hope this is the direction the Norwegian Prime Minister is thinking of when he talks about the future of Norway. Let's also hope that our Danish Prime Minister will be inspired by this visionary thinking about the future society and the use of digital technologies.

I will continue my work on Generation 6, launching in the new year and to be included in my new book coming out in the spring.

Thank you for reading in 2023. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.

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