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“21 Lessons for the 21st Century”: Book Review


Living in the age of rapid technological progress is challenging from various perspectives. This claim is explained by the fact that the ongoing process of creating new solutions intended to make life easier occasionally leads to the emergence of problems. They are related to numerous spheres, such as politics, economy, healthcare, or education, whereas their full understanding is complicated by the impossibility to predict the outcomes of corresponding inventions.

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One of the authors examining the specified issues in relation to technology is Yuval Noah Harari, and he comprehensively describes their possible consequences. In his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” Harari addresses the gap in the literature on the topic deriving from the neglect of mechanisms triggered by new conditions. His ideas allow grasping the meaning of technological disruption for different fields and, subsequently, are useful for the readers willing to adjust their lives to the conditions of the present-day world.

Technological Disruption

Information technology and biotechnology continuously transform various aspects of human existence. The process, which started with the invention of the Internet and the creation of antibiotics and vaccines, affects the nature of all societal affairs (Harari, 2019). It is frequently referred to as technological disruption and partially correlates with the current crisis of liberalism caused by the lack of more effective alternatives.

Moreover, the rise of artificial intelligence and big data at the present stage of humanity’s development leads to many political and economic challenges (Harari, 2019). They transform the nature of people’s work by reducing their role and significance for the outcomes and altering the notions of liberty and equality (Harari, 2019). The latter is unpredictably evolving under the influence of substitutes of human labor. They become less important in the job market and diminish the responsibility of workers and policy-makers, evoking concerns of the population.

As a result, citizens view the future as completely unpredictable and stop attempting to forecast the consequences of their actions. They have much less trust in adopted algorithms for performing different tasks and worry about the decreasing efficiency of democracy in its present state (Harari, 2019). This indifference does not allow for improving the quality of their lives while contributing to the perceived irrelevance of community members in critical affairs (Harari, 2019). Indeed, the emerged problem is detrimental to their well-being, and the lack of measures on the elimination of the mentioned side effects of automated work indicates the inability of participants to plan for the future. It can be largely explained by the absence of motivation, which adds to the pessimistic outlook of the majority of people.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Ongoing Technological Progress

Since its birth, technology has been both a positive and negative force in society, as can be seen from the ongoing transformation. It allowed people to gain more control over different aspects of their lives, restructures economies and societies to enhance the efficiency of their activity, and even reshape themselves (Harari, 2019). Nevertheless, all these benefits are complemented by significant drawbacks, which have not been addressed yet. First, the creation of digital dictatorships implying the power of elites adds to the increasing irrelevance of the rest of the citizens and thereby does more harm to their roles than exploitation in the past (Harari, 2019).

Second, the possibility to design brains or extend lives seems advantageous, but there are no tools to prevent the potential mental breakdown (Harari, 2019). Third, the delegation of finance distribution at different levels to machines can lead to the failure to understand monetary flows (Harari, 2019). Therefore, humanity is not ready for artificial intelligence and other technological solutions because there are no mechanisms allowing the prevent corresponding crises.

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In the future, technology can be either positive or negative, and it depends on the efficiency of efforts in eliminating the identified problems. The complications in this regard are conditional upon the fast pace of the development of this field compared to the slow processes of addressing risks due to the complete unexpectedness of results. Meanwhile, at present, people not only tend not to trust the technological solutions but also demonstrate growing concerns regarding the existing societal institutions.

They lose faith in liberal democracy and secular humanism despite the seeming improvements the inventions can bring as the political leaders ignore the accompanying problems. According to Harari (2019), neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump discussed the disruptive impact of technology on jobs. Instead, the latter focused on building the wall, thereby distorting the actual source of challenges (Harari, 2019). Since individual development and power are not emphasized by the politicians, citizens are unwilling to believe in the instilled ideals.

Political Challenges and Possible Responses

The threat posed by the progress in the fields of infotech and biotech can be eliminated by modifying the patterns of interactions between political actors and institutions, and citizens. In other words, conducting identity politics, including nationalism, religion, and culture, seems to be a better option from the perspective of values, which should be reinforced (Harari, 2019). According to the facts presented above, liberty and equality are the two concepts adversely affected by the rise of technology. Their restoration in society implies the elaboration of measures aimed at increasing the participation of people in community life and the establishment of a favorable environment for professional growth underpinned by an appropriate political course. Therefore, politicians’ emphasis on the country’s internal affairs is more beneficial than conducting global initiatives.

At the same time, it is clear that they are to be implemented in the context of globalization, which seems impossible to avoid. Hence, another solution to the problem might be a combination of methods intended to improve citizens’ well-being through supporting values and ensuring compliance with international regulations regarding technology adoption and use. This approach is likely to take more time to implement, and the predictability of such a plan remains relatively low.

However, it still can be viewed as an alternative while admitting the limited efficiency of the proposed decisions. Its feasibility can be explained by the fact that humans are always better at inventing tools rather than using them wisely (Harari, 2019). Since political interventions in their application process are inevitable in the long run, the double orientation of this nature can also be effective.

The Impact on Knowledge and Education

Another area allowing to trace the impact of emerging technology on human lives is education. In the past, people did not face similar challenges as those deriving from progress in this field and, therefore, happened to be unprepared for it. For example, they did not have access to large amounts of information and, consequently, did not need to process it and distinguish the useful knowledge from the facts, which can be omitted (Harari, 2019).

In addition, the data were restricted, censored, or, simply put, blocked (Harari, 2019). As a result, the understanding of knowledge, truth, and justice was based solely on scarce materials, which distorted reality. At present, such measures are impossible to implement due to the flood of information, which is intentionally modified to mislead (Harari, 2019). Therefore, the transformation of people’s awareness of different events is connected to technological disruption.

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Moreover, education challenges are complemented by the impossibility to predict which skills will be needed as the requirements rapidly change over time. It evokes confusion in students who have to cope with the amounts of data to process and try to decide which subjects to study to find jobs in the future (Harari, 2019). They cannot efficiently synthesize the received information due to the absence of corresponding abilities and the lack of efforts on their promotion within educational facilities (Harari, 2019). In the future, this situation can lead to the emergence of a gap between people with comparable degrees or qualifications. The ones with developed critical thinking skills will have more chances for promotion in the workplace, and this outcome will lead to the growing discontent of their less successful peers.


In conclusion, technological disruption defines the majority of political, economic, and societal processes. It transforms the previously common values, such as liberty and equality, and makes it hard to predict the future of humanity as a whole. While bringing apparent advantages, including the increased control and efficiency, the advancements in this field also result in digital dictatorships, the possibility of mental breakdown, and unclear finance distribution. The situation is complicated by the neglect of political leaders, and the best solution is to reinforce national identity. As for people’s knowledge and education, this area is also adversely affected by technology, which complicates the studying process and creates a gap between them.


Harari, Y. N. (2019). 21 lessons for the 21st century. Penguin Random House.

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