The new economy

These days it's become pretty much impossible to avoid confrontation with the economical crisis. No matter where you go, online or offline, you're bound to bump into it one way or another. Layoffs, news reports on companies reporting their losses, casual tasks between people: all signs point in the same direction: the world economy is going down. 

Or is it? Which part of the world economy is going down, exactly? Certainly the areas that have been the most affected are the automotive industry, with the high-tech hardware/gadgets coming in at second place. Most banks aren't doing too well either. That's quite understandable. When people are being told from all directions that the world economy is collapsing then they are bound to try to save money, especially on expensive items like cars and gadgets. And people lose their trust in the banks. Company debts increase and forced layoffs are the result, as can be seen in many companies all over the world, including and perhaps especially here in Japan, the country that has been hit hard by this 'crisis'. Banks simply have no money and go bankrupt, or are bought out by other banks or governments. Stock markets are falling. And through all of these events the public media eagerly blows all the related news greatly out of proportion resulting in even less consumer confidence and an even bigger crisis. Well done, world. 

So far, so bad. But perhaps we can see the events in a slightly more positive light. Take the stock markets, for example. They've been around for centuries, and they've always been sufficient, in one way or another, in stimulating the world economy. Lately though, and when I say lately I mean for the past ten to twenty years, there's been speculation that the stock markets as they are now can never again reach the same peaks as they have reached before. Perhaps this is a lack of confidence in the market, or it can be taken as a sign that the current system is no longer sufficient, or representative, of current world affairs. Perhaps it's a sign that something new needs to grow out of this. Something similar could be said of the automotive industry, with the end of the oil era in sight, even if not in reality, it's a thought that can no longer be repressed from people's minds. Cars are now linked in our minds to wasting resources, and that's not this millenium's 'theme'.

Only nine years old, this millenium's theme so far has been 'be green, save resources, care for the planet'. Use what you have sparingly and wisely, then you may be granted access to heaven. If heaven itself can spare you a place, that is. Interestingly enough, in the IT sector exactly the opposite situation is occurring. We no longer have to care about any of those pesky real-life limitations, and we are rapidly approaching utopia. I'm talking here about storage space, bandwidth limitations, processor speeds. Network connections are becoming ever more faster, more available (wireless) and more free. Think modern-day mobile phones: they're portable PCs, capable of doing anything you could possibly want to do on such a tiny device, and that includes activities like watching a movie and surfing the internet. Flash memory is affordable enough these days that we can afford to carry 50 movies on our mobile phone whenever we want. While the digital world is approaching utopia the real world is spiraling down into more crisis. 

I think it's a growth spurt. I think that since World War 2 man's lifestyle had not been significantly changed, up until the advent of the internet and the digital revolution. Right now we are trying to reconciliate the new and the old ways, without much success. As a case in point I would mention public transportation, and more specifically the differences between a country like the Netherlands (or the US, I guess) and Japan. The Netherlands have been trying to introduce a fully automatic electronic system for their public transportation, but they've had no luck so far, partly because of technical problems, and partly because the state of public transportation in Holland is simply not as advanced as it is in Japan. Some countries rely on cars, but a country like Japan proves how efficient a good public transportation system could be. New technologies make these kinds of things possible. 

Another example is the movie and music industry's resistence to the internet and file sharing in general. There's a fairly interesting court case that concerns The Pirate Bay, a torrent website used to get movies and albums, who are accused of distributing copyrighted material. The movie industry is still fighting something that can no longer be stopped. The movie industry as a whole will eventually be transformed by this new medium, and thirty to fourty years from now movies will be distributed quite differently. Still, movie theater's did not appear when the TV became commonplace, people still buy CDs even when they can copy them, so who knows how it'll turn out eventually. 

Then there's companies like Google, who try to use old-school business tactics in a  new world. Google makes money through ads. I think Google has a pretty good reputation, and many people have only good things to say about the company and its products. But when you think about it, they make their money by showing you something that 99% of the time you are not interested in. That's not a service, that's a disservice. And a remnant of the 'old' method of showing commercials on TV. It was ok in the 80s and early 90s (at least in Holland), but when you watch something on TV these days the commercial blocks take more of your time than the actual content, and I'm really worried that Google wants to turn the internet into something similar. Still, they do what they can to profit in these times of crisis, and because the internet is floroushing they get away with it, especially compared to other companies who are not as smart. 

But that's not the way to go. I think the current economical crisis is showing us that we really cannot go on like this any longer. The system as it is, is at the end of its lifetime, and it's time for change. Very soon we will see large changes in our economical system, our transportation system and even our daily entertainment and communication will be greatly different from what the generation before us was used to. This is not just an economical crisis, this is the beginning of the true technological revolution and the first sign of a real-life utopia. Or, as a programmer might say, World 2.0.

Posted in Thoughts