Thursday, February 5, 2009

The future

As I pondered today what I would write about, I realized that I'm tired of thinking. IBM is sending jobs overseas and inviting otherwise laid-off employees to follow them...but, of course, at the prevailing wage of the destination country. The stimulus package is wending its weary way through the halls of Congress, and people are disappointed that bipartisanship hasn't magically become the tone. Speaking of magic, the consensus is that the stimulus will work because of the magic multiplier, in which government spending is transformed into higher GDP (then why don't we always spend a whole lot of money we don't have?), and, moreover, this time that GDP increase will be spread among all the people. Large media companies are jumping on Facebook and Twitter, trying to "establish a presence," despite any proof that there will be tangible returns. And I've just come through consideration of the nature of Wikipedia.

In each of these cases, and others, I try to ask questions in getting to the heart of the future. If Wikipedia crowds out other information sources because of its ubiquity and positive press, will their casual attitude toward accuracy cause problems? If people spend a great deal of time formulating less-than-140 character Twitter messages, will that loss of productivity outweigh whatever positive applications end up being built on that platform? What will happen when reporters become "content producers" whose objective is to generate massive amounts of stuff for the multiple-platform media thing; will reporting and insight take a back seat to fast typing?

Will New Energy get off the ground now that gas prices have gone back down? Does our uncertainty indicate that the market model for energy innovation might have some flaws? Will New Energy necessarily lead to incremental jobs? If so, where will those jobs be, and what kinds of qualifications will they require?

Can a company like IBM move the home base of a consultant job to India, pay that wage, but require the worker to spend 100% of their time working with clients in the U.S., or is this somehow prohibited by current labor laws? Does this presage a drop in compensation for virtually everyone? If so, what happens to our economy?

Will applying more market discipline to education really make better schools? Can we really make 3 million great teachers through the carrot-and-stick approach? If we succeed, will we end up with large numbers of young people overtrained for the actual jobs that we'll have in the 21st century?

In each of these cases, writing a post would require me to think seriously and take some kind of position. Today, I don't want to do that, as I'm tired of thinking about the future.

The reality is, nobody knows the answer to these questions. I know what I think about them, but no one, no matter how emphatic they are, actually can see all the unforeseen consequences of our current decisions. The economy may come roaring back, with great jobs for all and a stock market that shoots through the 20,000 mark. Some American genius may come up with a breakthrough that brings dirt-cheap energy to the world, and reestablishes the U.S. as the dominant world power. And so on.

We just need to remember that no person, not Nobel Laureate or humble blogger, can tell us what the world will look like 5, or 10, or 50 years from today. We are all, through our daily decisions, creating that future, whether we're voting for someone or accepting one job over another or buying the Taylor Swift album, and it will depend on those 6 billion people making trillions of decisions.

So, just for today, I'm going to raise those questions, but give my brain a rest by not trying to answer any of them. Discuss among yourselves.

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