Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Next Thirty Years

Joe PaternoLast month I met my uncle and his friend, Dan McGinn, at a Georgetown basketball game. My uncle, a pollster, knows many powerful and interesting people, and I was in awe of Dan. Dan modestly touched on his relationship with Joe Paterno, who hired him to be his communications adviser.

Back at home following the game, ESPN displayed breaking news on JoePa: “Over the last few days Joe Paterno has experienced further health complications, according to a family spokesman.” I then remembered having seen Dan write emails on his iPad at the game. I texted JD, “I think I was at the game with the ‘family spokesman’!” Minutes later, another JoePa update, this time with Dan’s full named credited.

At the game, Dan and my uncle shared incredible stories with me, about their business successes, failures, and risks. “I’m not disappointed with how my career turned out,” Dan said. “But I would love to be your age with my whole career in front of me. The next 30 years are going to be amazing—technologically, globally, everything.”

I didn’t understand what Dan meant at the time; I think I have an idea, now…

There are seven billion people, but we are all connected. News first breaks via social media, rare sporting events are uploaded online and viewed instantly, and people across the globe play online games with each other in real time.

Consider my new mobile phone, the Droid Incredible 2, which is just that. It is an injustice to brand this device a “phone”. Every day I use it to listen to music, communicate orally and through text, and read Economist articles on the metro. I use it to “push” information with my silly tweets, and “pull” information with sports scores and alerts. I am a technophile and use my Incredible for most everything, but I’m only marginally tech-savvy. I can’t imagine how useful it is to androit individuals.

The world’s information is infinite—even overwhelming at times—because of the relentless capacity for digital storage, methods of delivery/access, and ingenuity. I read articles on my Incredible from anywhere, books on the love of my life, my Kindle Touch, and stream HBO GO and Netflix on my powerful entertainment system, via a single HDMI computer cable. This is bad news for companies like Blockbuster, where a split-second delay in adaptation can be a death sentence, as more nimble and hungry firms arise. And it is bad news for companies that only make digital audio devices, for example, because my Incredible performs those functions and everything else, perhaps leading to an obsolete .mp3 player industry. Sadly, it can also be bad news for creators of intellectual content (including yours truly): passwords are shared, digital media swapped, and soon enough information and creative works are exchanged freely. Here, too, we must accept this as the new digital world and embrace new techniques to reach consumers. In that sense, free information will lead to evermore new ideas and technological advances.

In this connected world, jurisdictions are blurred. For example, the blueprints for my Incredible may have been developed in India, the components made in China, the hardware sold by a Taiwanese firm, software by an American one, and marketed as nine different products in fifty different countries. If only people let go of the “us vs. them” mentality and embraced this globalized, connected chain, because it is never “Made [strictly] in U.S.A.” any longer. Imagine the creative flow if governments eased restrictions. I foresee a brilliant Libyan woman with an idea that would lead to time travel, but because of her gender and geographic location this idea will never come to be.

If you believe the flow of great ideas is one-way, think again. Months ago my friend, 25 Cent, mentioned wanting to invest in ATM machines. I shared my thoughts on the future of money—mobile payments. This form of payment exploded in Africa, where mobile phones are cheap and plentiful, and I expect to see it everywhere within five years (anyone use the Starbucks mobile payment app?). I am imagining the possibilities of my Incredible—loaded with sensors and scanners that do everything from make payments to monitor my health—and surely I’m only thinking of 1% of all it is capable of. Maybe that same Libyan woman can think of other capabilities.

America is guilty in a different way: the government incentivizes companies to keep less productive and efficient jobs here, and our citizens harbor hatred towards foreigners who take them. But people are people, no matter the skin color or spoken language, and those haters indirectly wish to keep the world’s poor just that, shutting opportunities for them to make a life for themselves and better and cheaper products for everyone. How about embracing global efficiencies, and for the government to provide better services like training and education, that keep America globally competitive? Since when was it the American way to cower in the face of a challenge and adversity? Besides, the “developed” and “developing” worlds are moving towards equilibrium regardless of attempts to slow or prevent it.

Yeah, I think that’s what Dan meant. The world is about to become an even more amazing place. Unless, of course, Facebook’s IPO leads to global economic meltdown and nuclear war and Zuckerberg is revealed as an extraterrestrial here to steal resources and human babies. And steal my Incredible. But if he tries taking my Kindle Touch then his Jewish, alien ass is mine.