New economy: sustaining life

What will the world be like in 25 years?
Will robots do all the work? Will people week-end in space? Will over-population cause food shortages? Will the “information highway” help renew your community?
What do you predict?
Futurists always speculate about what might be. They know “wild card” events derail predictions. As in poker, a single event can change the game.
Atikokan’s Owen Lindsay lent me his June, 1957 edition of “Kiplinger Magazine.” It has a look-ahead-25-years article. The author didn’t foresee the wild cards.
Here are two examples:
•In 1956, four million babies were born in the U.S. The author predicted that by 1982, babies born would jump to five million. What about taking care of all those babies?
It didn’t happen! Fertility fell. The wild card? The pill. By 1997, with twice the population, the number of babies born were the same as in 1957.
•The author predicted electrostatic dusters, self-operating vacuums and floor washers, and that self-cleaning and permanent press clothes would end housework. Psychologists feared that “all this (will) produce frustration in housewives, making them feel unneeded.”
The wild cards? The rise of consumerism and women in the workplace. Today, many women feel stressed by too much to do.
Iron mining in Atikokan is another example. 1950s predictions gave mining over 100 years and employment to support a town of 20,000. No one foresaw the wild cards–new mines and technological change.
By the 1970s, low-cost iron ore flooded the market. Twenty-five-ton ore trucks were replaced by job-killing, 110-ton behemoths.
By 1980, mining was over, and the town had 4,000 people.
Enthusiasm for the “information highway” is warranted. It can make available opportunities. But specific predictions must be taken with healthy skepticism.
Like the automotive highway, the information highway is infrastructure. It doesn’t do anything. Its cargo is information. Will the cargo be more entertainment? Will local people use the information highway to solve problems for pay?
If the latter, it will be job creating.
Information isn’t knowledge and knowledge isn’t wisdom. If information isn’t used to generate knowledge, and the knowledge isn’t used wisely, we may be worse off.
Think about what’s happening to the journalist’s public information task. CNN is a good example. It uses an information highway to deliver instant information all over the globe. That’s good–but there’s a wild card. Competitors do the same thing.
With the competition for audience share, CNN married information and entertainment.
O.J.’s trial, Di’s death, and Clinton’s sex life are examples of journalists pushed to be entertainers first and reporters second. Are you and I more knowledgeable about anything that counts as a result of CNN’s infotainment? Are we any wiser in our daily lives?
As you listen to the buzz about the information highway, ask this question: How can it be used to increase economic opportunity in my town?
Forget all centres as a future business. The wild card there is the same technology as is replacing Sudbury miners.
Want to know the call centre’s future? If you’re a Sears customer, call about your points. Joan McIntosh did. A robot gave her the points and their value. It even took her instructions about redeeming coupons.
No call centre jobs there.
While getting the information highway into place is essential, the information economy is rapidly being replaced by the bio-economy. The new economy is driven by the need to restore and sustain life.
Here’s an example. Most medicines are produced by costly industrial processes that pollute. By 2015, virtually all medicines will come from biological sources.
As well, designer plants will grow in hostile climatic and soil environments. Farming will become pharming. Will any of that happen in your area? It can.
There are many examples of the bio-economy–environmental protection, enhancing and protecting the commercial forest, restoring wildlife, health care and disease treatment, food production and distribution. In the past, many of these were classified as services to an industrial economy.
No longer. They are the new economy.

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