A decade of discontent is coming.

2024–2034: the decade that reshapes society.

Joan Westenberg
12 min readDec 20, 2023

Marc Andreessen is a name synonymous with Silicon Valley success. The venture capitalist, billionaire and Twitter influencer has spent 30 years shaping our technological world. And he is currently promoting the novel idea that only the elite are concerned about tech acceleration.

Andreessen’s Tweet might look like a defence of emerging technologies against perceived elitist scorn. A (marginally) deeper examination reveals a calculated strategy. Andreessen is intent on reshaping the discourse surrounding AI and VR, steering the backlash away from these technologies and the elites propelling them. To this end, he and his contemporaries have started to adopt the rhetoric of anti-elitism, attempting to recast scepticism towards AI and VR as a form of elitist bias, conveniently sidestepping its recognition as a widespread, legitimate concern among the broader, non-elite populace.

The core issues that Andreessen refers to in his tweet — diminishing social connections, crumbling infrastructure, and the widening gap between the elite and the non-elite — are not addressed in meaningful, human-centric ways. Instead, he offers cheap virtual approximations as a pacifier, a kind of digital placebo, to divert attention from the need for tangible solutions.

The erosion of genuine social connections in the wake of digital media is not being countered with initiatives to strengthen community ties or enhance real-world interactions. Instead, under the purview of Andreessen and his cohorts, we’re seeing the development of AI-driven social platforms and VR experiences that simulate human interaction, providing a semblance of connection without the depth and richness of genuine human relationships.

Declining public infrastructure and the lack of access to quality experiences for the non-elite is being sidestepped by the introduction of virtual alternatives. Instead of investing in public spaces, cultural institutions, and community programs that are physically accessible to all, there’s the shallow answer of virtual spaces and experiences. While flashy and while servicing the dictionary definition of innovative, it only serves to deepen the divide between those who can afford real-world experiences and those who can’t.

Andreessen’s acknowledgement of this is proof of a growing awareness within the circles of the actual technocratic, billionaire, and political elite — a group to which Andreessen belongs — of the escalating dissatisfaction and opposition to their hubris. Their response? To tactically reposition themselves as the purported champions of the common person’s interests, positioning their critics as the ‘real elites’ harbouring baseless fears.

Andreessen’s ludicrous astroturfing is utterly divorced from reality: the trepidation surrounding AI and VR isn’t springing from the ivory towers of the elite. It’s rooted in the everyday concerns of ordinary individuals watching these technologies increasingly intertwine with their lives. The non-elite that Andreessen so condescendingly offers to pacify with AI girlfriends (I kid you not) ain’t passively observing AI; they’re deeply anxious about tangible issues: the prospect of job loss against the march of automation, the erosion of privacy in a world dominated by AI, and the terrifying ethical quandaries posed by unchecked technological advancement.

Unease is growing in every corner of the globe. It’s a slowly simmering discontent, a product of myriad social, economic, and technological forces that have been at work, often unseen, over the past several years. It’s a discontent growing in the shadows of our hyper-connected, digitally dominated world, where the glittering promises of globalisation and technology have somehow failed to materialise for most of humanity. Small conveniences and shiny tech upgrades have been used to pacify the masses while the world’s elite grew wealthier, more powerful, and more hubristic.

Public consciousness is increasingly grappling with the implications of AI’s evolution, and the primary concern is the impact of AI and automation on the job market. As AI systems become more sophisticated, they can perform tasks previously in the domain of human workers. This shift will displace jobs, first in manufacturing, customer service, and creative fields — and then in all industries. While new jobs will undoubtedly be created in some sectors, there is growing anxiety about whether these jobs will be accessible to the wider population, especially those whose skills and experience are tied to industries at risk of automation.

The power to harness and analyse vast quantities of personal information has placed significant influence in the hands of tech companies and governments, who have utterly ignored the dangers of surveillance and the loss of personal autonomy. The amount of personal data collected and analysed by AI systems is staggering — and entire generations are beginning to ask questions about who controls this data, how it is used, and how its potential for abuse is being mitigated. These are generations who are watching data leaks and asking why the powerful elite have not taken steps to protect the data they covet and steal.

It’s easy to dismiss these concerns as the panic-prophesying of an intellectual class. The same propaganda we have been fed about every technological, social and financial displacement. But the reality is that the people at the coalface who are left impoverished and abandoned — whether by factory closures or the coming white-collar apocalypse — are never the billionaires. Never the pundits. Never the academics. They’re the working classes, deemed eternally replaceable, expendable, unimportant NPCs. They’re you. And they’re me.

I’m not an elite. I didn’t grow up with much. I don’t come from family money. I’ve scraped and clawed to be where I am today, and I still don’t have a meaningful fraction of a fraction of the money the corporate, political, technological and media elite throw about. I don’t have power. I don’t have influence. I don’t have a comfortable professorship. I’m an independent working writer and journalist who has bills to pay in a cost-of-living crisis I did not create.

Neither am I an AI decelerationist. I pay for and use ChatGPT pro, and a myriad of other LLM and AI tools. I’m not against the proliferation of these platforms and protocols. As a technology journalist, the new world we’re anticipating is thrilling.

But I’m strongly and firmly opposed to the blind arrogance, the heavy handedness and the dismissive attitudes of the elite. That class, that controls the development and deployment, politicisation and regulation, limitation, expansion and monetisation of AI, of banking products, of climate destroying fossil fuels, would like us all to believe that they are a benevolent force for the common people. This is fundamentally false. They are wielders of wealth and influence who do not mix with those whose lives they intend to upend. And they will not fight for any quality of life for those without access to equal wealth.

Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

What happens from here will be shaped by whether or not the elites, across the political spectrum, across the technological and ideological spectrum, can recognise that they are standing on shaky ground. Whether or not they start to listen instead of preach. Whether or not they act to repair the damage they have done to the workers, the middle classes, the younger generations, the economy, the planet itself and the very notion of progress. If they cannot, if they will not, the damage that has already been done will be enough to undo us all.

That damage is the result of the elite in every sector, in every corner of society who have been content to grind down the general populace for their own selfish — and intractably large — gains. For too long, technology has sat alongside other mechanisms and failures of power, from financial instruments, political lobbying and careerism to wealth hoarding and environmental betrayal. These elements are always interconnected. And it has created a growing chasm between the elite and the general populace.

This clear and pronounced economic divide is a testament to a systemic imbalance that has long been brewing. The ever-widening gulf between the wealthy and the struggling masses is not a matter of numbers on a balance sheet; it shows a tear in the very fabric of our societies. The concentration of wealth and opportunity in the hands of a select minority has not only deepened the chasm between the rich and the poor but has also ignited a simmering sense of injustice and resentment across the broader population.

The ideals of upward mobility and equal opportunity, cornerstones of the liberal democratic economic system, now appear increasingly illusory to the average person. The narrative of hard work leading to success and stability, which once inspired generations, rings hollow in the ears of those who find themselves working harder than ever and still unable to gain ground. The middle class, the backbone of economic growth and stability, is under siege. The erosion of this vital segment of society is a financial loss and a fracturing of the dream that has long underpinned the social contract in many organisations.

In the heart of urban centres, the story is particularly grim. Here, the cost of living continues to soar, driven by an inflated housing market and stagnant wages. Despite their best efforts, young professionals and families are increasingly finding themselves priced out of the neighbourhoods and communities they once called home. The implications of this are profound, not just in economic terms, but in the sense of community and belonging. The dream of owning a home, a key marker of success and security for previous generations, has become a distant, sometimes unattainable aspiration for many.

The pathways to financial stability are becoming more elusive and complex. The traditional routes of education and steady employment, reliable avenues to a comfortable life, are no longer guarantees of financial security. The job market has become increasingly volatile, with the gig economy replacing stable employment for many, offering little benefits or long-term safety. While heralding new efficiencies and innovations, the rise of automation and AI poses a significant threat to traditional jobs, adding another layer of uncertainty to an already precarious economic landscape.

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

This growing economic divide has already delivered individual hardship, but we are now on the edge of a systemic failure to provide equitable opportunities for all members of society. The repercussions of this divide are far-reaching, affecting everything from health and education to social cohesion and political stability. As the rich grow richer, often sheltered from the consequences of economic policies favouring their interests, the poor and middle class bear the brunt of a system that seems increasingly rigged against them.

The climate emergency, the most critical challenge facing humanity today, is the result of the collective failure of global leadership. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and increasingly urgent warnings from environmental experts, the response from those in power has been a negligent dismissal. This lack of decisive action is a failure to protect or even understand the concept of natural assets, and it represents a profound betrayal of future generations.

At the heart of this crisis, this expanding mountain of s**t, is a glaring disconnect between the immediacy of the threat as understood by scientists and environmental activists, the sluggish, bureaucratic response of many governments and corporations, and the lip service paid to the planet itself by the billionaire class. The younger generation, acutely aware of the dire consequences of inaction, has been vocal in demanding change. They have taken to the streets, organised global movements, and used social media to amplify their message. Their activism, driven by a deep sense of urgency and a genuine fear for their future, is still just a wave breaking on the rocks of complacency and short-termism characterising modern elites.

This is not a difference in perspectives. It is a fundamental clash of values. Young people across the globe are growing increasingly frustrated with what they see as the short-sighted and self-interested decisions of often older, interminably wealthier individuals who, despite holding most of the political and economic power, appear largely insulated from the immediate impacts of climate change. This frustration is compounded by the pervasive influence of powerful lobbying groups and industries with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, always at the expense of environmental sustainability.

The effects of climate change are already being felt around the world. Extreme weather events, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and droughts have become more frequent and severe, causing widespread devastation and displacement. The loss of biodiversity, the melting of polar ice caps, and the rising sea levels are no longer distant threats but observable realities. And all we get in response are missed opportunities, half-measures, and broken promises.

In an age where societal fault lines seem more pronounced than ever, the wealthy elite employ the deliberate amplification of ideological differences, identity issues, and culture wars. By fostering division and discord among the general populace, the elite effectively diverts attention and energy away from their mechanisms of control and oppression.

The play is as old as the printing press: while communities are embroiled in battles over ideological and cultural differences, their collective capacity to address more fundamental issues of economic inequality, environmental degradation, and the consolidation of power is significantly weakened. The relentless focus on divisive issues serves as a smokescreen under which policies and practices that further entrench elite power can continue with reduced scrutiny.

These culture and identity wars are waged on multiple fronts. Traditional and social media play a crucial role in perpetuating these divisions. Sensationalist reporting and echo chambers on social media platforms amplify extreme views, drown out moderate voices, and create an illusion that society is more polarised than it truly is. The constant barrage of divisive content fuels a perpetual state of societal unrest and distracts from the insidious actions of those at the top.

Our lives are influenced, dominated, crafted and controlled by an elite who are disconnected from and indifferent to the needs and realities of those outside their rarified sphere. The status quo is untenable.

As these economic, social, and environmental challenges intertwine, they form a potent catalyst for change. A new narrative is emerging. It’s a narrative of discontent, not just with specific policies or leaders, but with the systems and structures that have shaped the modern world. It’s a discontent that crosses borders, cultures, and generations, signalling a profound shift in global consciousness.

The trajectory set by current global dynamics points towards a period of seismic upheaval that could irrevocably alter the social order. The looming years will be a time of change, marked by dramatic confrontations between the masses and the elite, particularly in technology, economics, and environmental policy.

In AI and emerging technologies, the backlash is poised to be explosive. The growing unrest over automation and AI’s impact on jobs will likely escalate into a full-blown revolt against the tech elite. Mass protests and strikes could become the norm as workers from various sectors unite in a global movement to challenge the unchecked advancement of AI. We will witness unprecedented activism aimed at imposing stringent controls on AI development, leading to misguided mass demands for a possible halt or severe slowdown in AI and VR innovation that could have been prevented by a tech class with less arrogance and even the remotest connection to reality.

The economic divide, already at breaking point will ignite a firestorm of civil unrest. The disillusionment of the middle class and the working poor will fuel a radical shift away from traditional capitalism. We will see a surge in revolutionary economic movements advocating for extreme wealth redistribution, the dismantling of corporate power, and perhaps even the rise of new economic systems that challenge the very notion of capitalism. This period could witness some of the largest global protests in history, targeting financial institutions and the ultra-wealthy.

As the climate crisis intensifies, environmental activism will likely reach unprecedented fervour. If governmental and corporate inaction continues, we could see a militant reformation of the ecological movement into extremism. This will involve violent forms of protest and direct action, leading to significant disruptions of global commerce and governance. The desperation to combat climate change could push nations to adopt drastic and controversial measures, leading to international conflicts over resources and environmental policies. And in my opinion, it is inevitable that the increasingly bloody rhetoric around environmental disaster, combined with an understandable sense of deep loss and helplessness will lead to the first instances of significant climate terrorism.

The elite’s use of cultural and ideological divisions as a means of control will eventually backfire spectacularly. As people become more aware of these tactics, as federated and free social media grow, as digital literacy increases, we may see a new level of global unity, cutting across traditional lines of national, cultural, and political divisions. This newfound solidarity could lead to a powerful collective movement that demands sweeping reforms across social, political, and economic spheres.

The 10 years ahead will see dramatic, radical change. The potential for large-scale upheaval and the reordering of societal structures is significant. We are already witnessing the dismantling of long-standing institutions and the rise of new paradigms. The struggle between the status quo and the forces of change will be intense and will redefine how power is exercised and distributed globally. These are the opening lines in a pivotal chapter in human history. A decade of discontent is coming.