THE NEW WORLD


“640 K of memory ought to be enough for anybody.”  Bill Gates (1990).

“I’m 55, I don’t need to learn about computers.  I’m too old.”  A friend, 2001

I remember Blockbuster, the blue and yellow signs, shopping for videos along the many aisles, the late fees we tried to avoid, the drop boxes. Blockbuster was sold to Viacom in 1994 for $8.3 billion.  It was auctioned off not long ago for $254 million, a 97% decrease, and the last of its several thousand stores disappeared before this year.  In the space of a quarter century, Blockbuster went from nothing to huge, to nothing.  The building we went to for videos now houses “Beyond Bread,” a thriving, great restaurant.

Blockbuster had a good business plan, and only one thing went wrong:  the world changed.  It became possible to get videos streamed over the Internet.  I watched probably my 2000th video in German today, for free.  I can watch them in other languages, too, if I choose to.  I haven’t used Netflix, although I could. Those who plan for the world’s changing will survive.  They may not get super wealthy, unless they guess right, but to do well one needs only to see the changes and learn to adapt to them, not deny their occurrence.

The Haunted Bookshop was a lovely place in Tucson, with old and new books, a store where one could pick up a good hardcover, find a comfortable chair, read a few pages, and perhaps buy it.  It has been gone for decades.  Checkout, however, was slow, because the clerk  painstakingly wrote down the book’s name and the price.  Big chains, like Barnes and Noble and Borders, appeared, with tens of thousands of books; The Haunted Bookshop didn’t have a prayer.  Then came the Kindle, which my 86 year-old neighbor uses every day.  She doesn’t have to go to a bookstore.  Borders, which began in 1971, had its last profit in 2006.  It is long gone.  Barnes and Noble countered with the Nook, but Amazon had the books and soon had almost everything else people wanted.

Last week, I literally ran to the local REI to buy a micro SD chip with topos for Oregon and Washington.  REI was out of them.  No surprise, many stores have slashed inventory so much that they are often out of stock of the item you want, promising to have it to you in “x business days.” I find that annoying.

I walked out of REI, leaned against its wall and with my smartphone ordered the microchip from Amazon in about 2 minutes, $15 less, sent to my house.  That’s how good Amazon is.  If I want something, I often look there first.  The prices are good, I can get used books for a lot less, which is often all I need, and my information is saved, so it is easy to check out.  I want to shop and buy locally, but if retailers are going to continue to use the B-school model of “just in time inventory,” which isn’t just in time, I will take my business elsewhere.  I, like many, can be an impulse buyer.  If I can’t find it quickly, I order it. Now, had REI had a different B-school approach, and ordered it overnight from Amazon, at higher cost to them, but not me, they would have gotten my purchase.  Nobody tracked my disappointment, nobody learned, and that is a non-survivable model in the new world.  Count on it.

The topos  I got were for my Garmin GPS, a much nicer model than I had planned on,   I bought that online through Cabela’s, because all I had to do for a 60% discount was show up at the store 5 days later, when it arrived.  It takes me 35 minutes to walk to Cabela’s.

There is a lot of resistance to solar from some utility companies, blocking it wherever possible.  The oil industry wants to do the same.  I don’t know whether solar will be the new energy or something else.  I can tell you this:  the world will change, and what energy we will use will change.  I’m not sure how much, only that it will.  Movement by horse was once a given.  Building better buggies was a huge industry.  Then came the automobile.  One would have to be foolish to think the automobile and gasoline will stay forever.

Last night, a man told me that tidal power was impossible to generate in Oregon, because of the coastal geography and the storms.  I simply replied, “Perhaps not yet, but I wouldn’t count it out.”  He countered by saying it would be prohibitively expensive.  I’d be cautious about making those statements in the new world.  For a few dollars, I can buy an 8 x10 mm piece of plastic that holds 8 GB of data, including every 1:24,000 topo map in Oregon and Washington.  For a few hundred, we used to buy encyclopedias, which I haven’t seen in years.

While we have far more instantaneous information at our fingertips, we don’t have the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, truth from conspiracy fiction. The new world will need critical thinkers and those who can teach the difference.

It is not yet clear to me whether online education will work.  Through my work with one university, that had some class time, degrees were obtained with a lot less work and a lot less knowledge.  I was motivated, I was smart, but I don’t think I could learned as well with home schooling or over the Internet.  I needed somebody, a guide—a great teacher once told me—to personally explain things, give me assignments, so I could figure out the answer for myself.

Who will have trouble in the new world?  Those who refuse to adapt to the changes, want to turn back the clock to “the good old days,” which weren’t so good.  Back then, we lynched African-Americans, did nothing about child abuse (“blood was thicker than water” approach) thought getting drunk and smoking were cool and chic, woman and blacks need not apply, cars broke down, planes crashed monthly,  In medicine, “The doctor” could do no wrong, except when he (and it was he) did, it was covered up. I remember those days.

Those who want to turn back the clock would force raped women to carry babies, have unwanted, malnourished, unvaccinated, children, teach them that the Bible (substitute any other Holy Book), is the only truth, when I need just one counterexample, and there are many, called contradictions. The clock cannot be turned back.  The world is changing, and its climate is, too.  What is scary to me is not the change, or even the fact that some don’t want the change and won’t believe in it.

No, what scares me is that those people have become so popular and are damn close to running the show.  The world they want to bring back will fail, and it will take humanity with it.

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