Happy New Year to all of you that are regular readers of this blog and to those of you who might be coming to it the first time. May 2008 be a happy year for everyone. I can promise that it will be another year of upheaval and change, probably exceeding 2007 in that regard. I will submit to you my annual predictions, both general and specific, for the year within the next two weeks. Right now I would like to take a quick look at several late in the year developments of 2007 that provide indication as to where we are going and what will lay ahead for us in 2008.
As I have stated here several times, a fundamental aspect of being a futurist is to look for patterns to discern the dynamics that will shape our collective future. Events, inventions, social, cultural and economic developments, trailblazing efforts by individuals and small groups, when looked at collectively can reveal underlying patterns and trends, both macro and micro. Here are some notable developments that point into our future, some of which will be looked at in greater detail in future columns.
The writers’ strike in the entertainment business is now two months old. Its’ length, the animosity it has engendered and the immediate consequences of it are significant. It has within it the seeds of structural and permanent change in the entertainment business. The annual television writers’ January press junket has been cancelled. Those in the advertising business ponder whether the decades old – and therefore outdated – process of late springtime frenzy called ‘the Upfront’ will be cancelled, with a certainty that it will be changed. Those in the interactive space wonder why, if the writers who are demanding a bigger share of on-line revenues for their work are really serious, they just don’t go out on their own with quality writing and create properties they can wholly own. By not doing so they acknowledge the power and need for media conglomerates, studios and large production companies. The Golden Globes and the Oscars are at serious risk of being both writer and actor free. We are about to find out how funny late night hosts are without writers. While the detailed outcome of the strike is not clear, what is clear is that it will have a permanent structural impact on the entertainment business. It is a “change event” of some magnitude.
There was much brouhaha over such virtual worlds on the Internet such as Second Life in 2007. It is the first foray into what will become a highly significant world of alternative reality for humans during the next 20 years. The recent development is that while such virtual worlds for those 16 and over has slowed recently, there has been explosive growth in the virtual worlds targeted for children, now the fastest growing segment of this new space. What does this mean? While adults are coming to virtual worlds to create alter egos or let their inner selves take flight, the young children are developing selves that fully incorporate virtual worlds into their developing identity. A new form of digital natives is being created that has great in-depth significance for the cyberspace electronic village in our future.
Nintendo has redefined video gaming over the past 18 months with the Wii and the portable DS. The Wii is the best selling console, and the DS is the best selling portable device. In addition to being lower in price, the strategy behind both devices, particularly the Wii was to greatly broaden the video game marketplace beyond hard core gamers, bringing non-gamers of all ages into the fold. Equally important, and tied to the development of virtual worlds stated above, the Wii will be looked back upon as the beginning of the creation of alternative electronic reality. While the Second Life type virtual worlds allowed the creation of an alternative world on the computer with fingertips, the Wii allowed the entire body to participate in and experience an alternative reality. Be a competitive tennis player in your living room. In 10 years, the Wii will be looked back upon as a precursor to alternative electronic reality, as the Pong game is looked back upon as the precursor to the phenomenon of video gaming.
The now three year old hype about the third screen of the cell phone continues but with some reality now injected into it. Texting is rampant, but viewing rich media is yet to explode. Ring tones, a huge business as recently as 2006 is now down trending. In the U.K. two mobile phone companies, T-Mobile UK and 3 UK are combining their third generation networks so that they can save billions of dollars in the coming years. This points to a developing long term trend in the mobile phone business, the migration from the walled garden business model to the open business model. All of this means that this truly global communication technology continues to morph forward into a universal connectedness of great transformation.
Google and Search
A month ago Google accounted for 65.1% of all searches in the U.S. That compares to 58.3% 18 months ago. This means that the company has three times the market share of its’ nearest competitor Yahoo and nine times the share of the distant third place finisher, Microsoft. Will Google continue to be a/the central player in the current zeitgeist? At least for the next year it will be.
The traditional either/or discussion continues at years’ end. Recession or not? Inflation or not? Housing to decline further or not? While all these structural conversations are valid they are sounding a bit antiquated, as though the terms and definitions that have been used for the past 75 years are in need of alteration. The constantly expanding global economy is creating new dynamics that will continue to confound traditional terminology and nationally oriented measurements. The key economic word for 2007 and even more so for 2008 will be “debt”. It is debt that is the true economic issue for the individual, the company, the state, the country, the world. How all of these economic entities deal with debt will be one of the two key economic issues we will face in the coming years. Energy of course is the other.
The 2008 election is the most important election in at least a generation. So far, while it is exciting as a participation or spectator sport, it is depressing in that the key issues that America must face in the next 10 years are not really being addressed by the leading candidates. However what is exciting is the rise of populism and a great dissatisfaction with the status quo of non-leadership in Washington. The most used word is “Change”. For America to successfully navigate the coming crises ahead, there will need to be a new visions and new ways of political leadership and consensus. I try to stay out of predicting politics in this column, as the variables can be micro and personal, not macro and trend oriented. That being said, it looks to this observer that 2008 will be a Democratic landslide year on the order of 1936 and 1964. Who will be the President in 2009? The junior senator from Illinois.
Happy New Year! Welcome to the Shift Age!