50 years is a long time in business – and society

As the free online course, ‘Discovering Business in Society’, begins on FutureLearn, Professor David Boughey of the University of Exeter reflects on how the world has changed over the last 50 years – and what those entering the workplace today can expect in the next 50.

By United Press International, photographer unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

50 years until I retire. That should be the assumption for young people starting their careers today. And for everybody else, it should be a salutary reminder of the many changes that can happen in business – and society – in half a century.

What did the world look like 50 years ago?

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the world marvelled not just at sporting prowess, but also at the speed and efficiency of Japan’s brand new electrified Shinkansen and their iconic bullet trains.

The modern, electronic age was upon us. In the USA, the world’s largest company – the telecoms provider, AT&T – employed over 730,000 people and had just announced the launch of the first “see as you talk” picture phone. As long as you were prepared to use the specialist phone booths connecting (only) New York, Chicago and Washington – and pay up to $27 for three minutes – you could talk to friends or family on a tiny black and white screen.

But young people didn’t care about picture phones – Beatlemania was sweeping the world. Following the release of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, The Beatles arrived for their first tour of the United States – a country still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The same as it ever was?

We’re still enthralled by sporting achievement, clamour for the latest technological devices, and have a soundtrack that shapes experiences and shared moments in time. Will this always be the case? And what’s the role and responsibility of business in these fields?

Is sport becoming less a societal bond and more a traded commodity like any other good? Remember that sporting teams and franchises across the globe are bought, sold and listed on stock exchanges, while leading players gaining lucrative endorsement contracts, creating a chasm between elite and “ordinary” sports. Of course, this argument isn’t new – it has a striking resemblance to discussions about baseball in the US in the 1920s.

Similarly, does the packaging, styling and management of music and artists simply mean that business, more than ever, has some control over emotive response? Yet since the dawn of popular commercial music (or Hollywood film studios) there have been tensions between artists, and their managers and distributors. Music is very big business.

Alternatively, is there merit in the argument that modern (and future) communication technologies negate the power of media corporations and their desires to control content? And why is it that just the rumours of the new iPhone hold so much attention for so many?

What will the world look like in 50 years’ time?

Our free online course, ‘Discovering Business in Society’, prompts some of these questions, encouraging all learners to reflect on the purpose, scope and impact of business in the widest sense. In doing so, we’re both drawing on the past and considering the future.

Above all, the course is about shared, disparate and conflicting interpretations of business in society; continued learning from each other about the purposes and impact of business should be an enduring feature of the next 50 years.

How do you think business and society will change in the next 50 years? Leave your comments below or join the conversation using the hashtag #exBIS.

Category Learning
Discovering Business in Society

Discovering Business in Society

Discover how businesses function and interact with the wider socio-economic environment. In association with ACCA.

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Comments (14)


  • Abdirahman

    Hello, I have been waiting for this course for 6 months. what happened to it.

  • Elsik

    I will be in another place or my spirit will be hovering around the world in 50 years time, however I am sure the world will be much better place, our new generation are more alert to the danger of change in environment, have more compassion, and critical to the corruption and old generation way of dealing with conflict. The new generation are the world new leaders, who will change everything for better, I know what you think now, what about the mass of horrible people who are around in the world, the answer is, there are more good people in the world then bad, I hope the time will come and through difficulties and disaster they also will change, as for extremist, there always will be extremist in the world, but I am sure with the brilliant mind of so many young and good people, and with new technology and sharing information, this will be under control.

  • Nneka

    wow…..the world has really come a long long way..technology and phones have really made huge impacts in every day living all over the world

  • richard

    I am fifty one so it would be interesting to revisit my early youth once more.

  • Anna Nikolopoulou

    rapidly concerning the thechnology and slowly concerning the big decissions
    about how this technology can be used from all over the world .

  • ponduru gowreeswari

    i think business and society l will change in the next 50 years come by we making acollective responcebulty on the national progress and infrestuctual and not atask on the government a loan. i

  • Tathiana

    #exBIS I think that most of our work will be on the cloud. The cloud will conect us to our works and collgegues. We will have more time to be with our family. But the division between family and word wouldn´t exist.

  • Nicholas

    It could well become much more interactive on an on-line basis but much less interactive on a personal basis during work as people work out of the house and work in groups on-line instead of being in the same room or office.

    However humans are social animals and adapt quickly to change which is why so many of us love our mobile phones, , Facebook and shopping centers because all contribute to enhance social interaction with other humans either written , verbally , visually or physically. What does that mean for society and business hard to say

  • Anne-Marie Luckhurst

    Looks a good course but have enrolled on 3 atm.

  • wong shee meng

    It is likely that present champion companies like Microsoft may lose their influence in the next 50 years if past history shows.

  • Anonymous

    Society and business will change in the next 50 years, in a way that each individual will be their own Boss in one way or the other, there will be a big adjustment In people’s lives that they will get involved in almost everything and make things happen other than awaiting someone to do it for them. In other words people will have Big minds as regards impact of technology!!!

  • Beatrice Antwi

    I think business and society will change in the next 50 years to come by we making a collective responsibility on the national progress and infrastructural development and not a task on the government alone. so you are to make your impact felt in your sphere of contact it may be in your community , place of work, nation at large by looking out for a need and reach out to meet that need.

  • Roy Collins

    What happened to the King Richard III course?

    • The FutureLearn team

      Hi Roy,
      The Richard III course has now ended. You might like to try some of our other history courses instead. We have some coming up on Hadrian’s Wall, archaeology and World War 1. You can see them all here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/upcoming.