Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Week 51: Can You Keep Up?

It is now obvious to everyone that the world has become fast. Very, very fast. I can't speak to how fast the world was pre-1985, but my guess is that it was a hell of a lot slower than it is today. Frankly, it's hard to keep up - and this is coming from someone who has basically grown up with the internet, and who has been an early adopter of AOL followed by Gmail followed by Facebook followed by Twitter. I can't imagine how fast the world must be for those who learn this stuff piecemeal; for those who don't think of an iPhone as an additional, indispensable appendage.

I've written about 50 topics in the past year. The process of learning -- and writing -- about a new topic each week has heightened my awareness of time in a way that I had not expected. I mean that on several levels. On a micro level, I now know exactly how much time it takes me to research, write, edit, and distribute a blog post (1.5 hrs, 1 hr, 15 min, 20 min, respectively). But I've also learned to appreciate the passing of a year. While on the one hand the structured nature of the blog (week 1, week 2, etc.) helped me at least recognize in a quantifiable way how time really does fly, on the other, I've realized that a lot happens in one year. More than most of us realize. Can you believe it has been a year since Haiti's disastrous earthquake? That we've had a Winter Olympics, an African World Cup, a US Congressional election, a stock market flash crash... It already seems so distant.

But lately it's been about more than just the discrete events that take place in a year; it's also about the rapidly increasing pace and magnitude of events. In five minutes on a random day in May 2010, stocks fell by almost 10% - FIVE MINUTES! 550 million people - almost 1 in 10 globally - now use Facebook (I was roughly user number 15,000, thank you very much). My point is, as the world speeds up, the new winners and losers are being determined ruthlessly, efficiently, quickly. I believe much of the angst about the future of the United States, the possibility of another recession, and certainly the great and ongoing deleveraging has to do with how quickly an assortment of events have transpired. Suddenly China is here. Suddenly there are no jobs. Suddenly we are forced to watch one stimulus measure after another enacted to keep us from the theoretical abyss. Those with scale and leverage to the global economy are again thriving, and those whose skills or education are provincial are losing out. How can this not create some serious social and political friction? How can the average person keep up with such strong, secular forces? The sheer magnitude of these shifts is hard enough to swallow - simultaneously comprehending the speed at which they are taking hold seems almost impossible.

So what can be done? It starts with an honest discourse. While fraud and greed have undoubtedly caused pain and suffering (as they do at the end of any bubble), what's really going on starts with the massive new supply of labor to the world. Billions globally want their shot at this capitalism game, and will work harder for lower wages to get there. In a world where money flows instantaneously and is agnostic to who has won in the past, this means wage pressures for most low to medium skilled jobs in the United States. We can argue all we want to about the rich getting richer, or about the highest marginal tax rate. That will address only tangentially this basic truth about the supply and demand for labor. When was the last time a politician talked openly about this? Change is happening, and it is happening fast. We need to recognize this, accept its significance, and adapt. Others already have, we are behind the curve.

The final 52 Week Project post will be a more positive piece that picks up where this post left off. As an example of how fast the world is, I've gone back to my old posts and highlighted a few topics for which meaningful changes have taken place since initial publishing:

- Since week 9's post on the iPhone, the iPhone 4 and iPad have come out. Apple's stock has gone up 58% since the post.

- Since my piece on the legality of marijuana, California's heralded Proposition 19 failed to make pot legal.

- Elias, the Bolivian potato farmer to whom I lent $25 on Kiva has paid back his loan in full.

- I've continued to drink more tea than ever and feel very healthy after having stuck to my new regimen of vitamins and supplements.

- The unpronounceable volcano Eyjafjallajökull has dropped from our collective memory.

- The great new beer that you've still never heard of, Old Swatty, continues to be produced on a small scale, although it now proudly sports labels!

- The answer to the question "Are we alone?" became more complicated with NASA's very recent discovery of an arsenic life form.

- Khan Academy has taken off, and is now carried and heavily promoted by iTunesU.

- My view that Borders and Barnes & Noble are dead appears to be a more mainstream view. Last week, the CEO of Simon & Schuster conceded: “My No. 1 concern is the survival of the physical bookstore.”

- The US Postal Service continues to lose money, while its private counterparties continue to increase revenues.

- Blockbuster announced plans to close another 180 stores.

- Finally, and perhaps most personally relevant, my new workout regimen has already been halted in its tracks. Too many pushups and dips have sadly caused some pulled muscles in my arms.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. here we go:

    well i'll be sure to adopt your workout regimen now.. but on the bright side, steve kurz has - since starting the 52 week project - gone from being an after-work couch potato to an accomplished polymath! jaja

  3. $10 says the only reason you commented was so that you could use the word "polymath" in a sentence...

  4. Two things:

    Thing #1 :


    Thing #2:

    Coincidentally, I just found a weekly blog from 56 years ago in my archive:


    (Call Carioca for assistance)


  5. Thanks, TJK. Had never heard of the Future Shock. Will check with Carioca on the archive....

  6. Great post. My answer to this blog is no, I cannot keep up.

    My favorite blog so far was the one about Kiva. Since your posting I have loaned money to 3 persons and I have been re-paid by all of them. I actually think Oprah recognized Kiva on her "favorite things" show and now when I try to loan money all of them have been funded. Let's pretend it was because of your blog.

    I feel smarter after reading your blogs and comments..I have to go look up the word polymath now.