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World in Transition

I don’t know how many people remember the ‘World at War‘ series produced in early 1970′s, but if you do, I think someone, in 20 years, will produce a similar series about the last dozen years.   Except, it will start in January 2009 and go backwards.

If you step back and look at what has happened in the last dozen or so years, it’s been a remarkable ride.  Not only have we invented whole new ways of communication, but these new technologies have wired us together in a way that no political, social, religious or economic movement has ever been able to do.   It’s lead to whole new businesses, industries, jobs, fortunes and social trends.

In some ways, the turmoil of the last 6 months, and the impending inauguration of an African American President is the final, empathetic parting with tired traditional ways, a final rejection of an analog economy in favor of a digital one. Rick Schwartz, a pioneer in one of these new industries (domaining) recently wrote about this change in a ‘state of the domaining industry’ newsletter:

“We are going though unchartered territory  and all comparisons with the Great Depression  are misplaced but understandable. It was a different world then with much less opportunity and 1/100 of the tools at our disposal today. If you look at the headlines of 2008 you would find that 100 stories could vie for the biggest. Electing the first Black President, GM on the edge of bankruptcy, AIG bailout, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns. Wachovia, WAMU, CITI. Madoff, Blago, Spitzer. Then add the  stock market crash, housing crisis, credit crunch, pirates, Russian invasion of Georgia, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and tensions between Pakistan and India. Look what I left out. Israel, Iran, China, North Korea. See how hard it is to mention one thing without taking the time and space to mention the other things? You folks can add dozens more. Any one  of these events in a normal time would be  huge. Together and all at once is really something hard to get your head around.

There is a difference between a downturn and a collapse. The difference between a plane descending and one in a tailspin and completely out of control. We are witnessing both at once. Then add in massive layoffs, corruption, no confidence and a world in an informational transition between two era’s and we have what may become the perfect storm. You cannot sugar coat what we are about to experience. Usually things like this are contained to a geographic area or region or a sector. This is worldwide. This is hitting every corner of the globe. This is something we have really never seen before. We are living in a very vivid part of history.

For literally hundreds of years we have been getting our news in printed form. Much of that time in newsprint. The newspaper has defined generations. Tracked  history on a daily or weekly basis for generation after generation after generation. In 2008 that method of delivery all but collapsed. Collapsed like a cheap card board box. One of the single oldest mediums met its’ fate.  Some are still printing yesterday’s news and that will continue for years, but less and less people are  buying yesterdays news nor are they advertising there using yesterdays news as a base. Folks get news all day. They can filter out what they don’t want and filter in what they do. Other mediums are not immune. The Internet has displaced the entire economics of the world which was greatly accelerated by everything that went on for the last few years.”

Brilliant.   The fall of the newspaper as symbolic of a generational and technological transition.  I think that his wider perspective is extremely prescient and something that everyone should keep in mind.  Of course, the flip side of being part of history is that there are always opportunities.   Which brings me back to ‘World at War’, the epic story of World War II.   The series starts off rather gloomy and without much hope, but as Allied powers slowly fight back and gain ground, they begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

At the moment, much like in any crisis, there seems to be little hope, but I firmly believe that the moment in history that the current crisis is creating will lead to a new ‘Greatest Generation’, on that used the new tools of technology to build a better, sustainable future.

Chris Maresca is a business & technology strategist who as advised over 30 global 500′s and over 60 startup companies.   In 2001, he founded the Olliance Group where he is currently Chief Strategist.  He can be found on the web at