What Just Happened? And Why Coming to Grips With It Changed Everything
It’s been three generations, over 60 years, since The Beatles, the Space Race, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War jolted our country into a transition that lasted decades. Sex, drugs and rock ’n roll were the bane of the establishment. The kids were eating it up with gusto. Civil rights marches, the burning of bras and draft cards, and experiencing the Apollo 11 moon landing were stark opposites to the “Father Knows Best,” “Andy Griffith Show” and Eisenhower serene times of the 1950s. Massive political, social and economic discord landed us in the 1970s with a complete reset of American life.
Is it just me or are we experiencing Déjà vu all over again?
Three generations before the 1960s witnessed the technological emergence of airplanes, automobiles, motion pictures and rural electrification. Progressive laws addressed child labor, strengthened workers’ rights, reduced monopolies, and adopted pure food and drug standards. The suffragette movement was followed in the Roaring Twenties by flappers and speakeasies, precursors to the 1960s’ women’s liberation movement.
Technology played a huge role in these American transitions. The dynamics of flight, the internal combustion engine, vacuum tubes, and atomic energy were in their infancy back then. Of note, the first transistor developed in the 1950s set the pace of innovation for what has, since the mid-1960s, become Moore’s Law. (Intel’s Gordon Moore stated that computing speed doubles every 18 to 24 months, and has done so with ever smaller, faster and more affordable transistors).
The year 2020 came along after the beginnings of Black Lives Matter, the Me Too movement, the long continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – then suddenly ensnared America in another transition caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, not dissimilar from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
This new era that we live in is rife with social, political and economic activism. It can be unnerving, exhilarating, cataclysmic and providential. The comedian George Carlin’s stand-up line comes to mind: “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”
We’ve spent the last decade integrating smart devices into every facet of our lives, to the point we seem not to be able to function without them. Yet, ironically, just one year ago in February 2020, most Americans still were not comfortable communicating using video.
Sure, we used Skype, FaceTime or another popular and easy-to-use video conferencing program to keep in touch with family and friends. But, it was NOT broadly acceptable to communicate over video to turn the economic wheels of American business.
Then along comes Zoom, a breakaway technology from Skype, to make video conferencing simpler. Recalling, our company started using Zoom in 2015. But it was like pulling teeth to get business associates, clients, friends and family to adopt this technology. Indeed – a much slower adoption rate than other smart devices of the past decade.
Then, in March 2020, everything changed. Americans collectively realized they were facing a potentially very dangerous pathogen. COVID-19 became an imminent threat to all Americans.
Flights stopped. Restaurants closed. Offices went to skeletal staffing. Testing, masks, hand sanitizers, PPE gear, ventilators, at-risk health workers, and the old and infirm took center stage.
At the same time, Zoom took off like a rocket ship. We had our first live Zoom video conference call for our clients on March 31, 2020. Mere weeks after the pandemic officially started for most Americans!
Video conferencing has had a monumental impact on America’s pace of change. Its biggest contribution? The birth of a brand new transportation system! Video teleconferencing – remote conferencing from various locations – has quickly become a completely acceptable way of conducting business.
Just like the early railroads pioneered a faster westward march of settlers to the Central Plains and Far West, so does Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Rooms, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans Meetings and various other video-teleconferencing software open a brand new frontier. No longer do many millions of workers and businesses, formerly requiring on-site meetings, need to be within driving distance of their place of work.
“Zoom towns” have popped up in popular resorts and other attractive relaxing/rejuvenating environments, sometimes sucking up all the daily bandwidth supply that local internet providers can run from these remote sites.
Let’s take a look at another technology that has been promised for over a decade, satellite internet technology.
Interestingly, Starlink, an Elon Musk SpaceX company, has been launching 60 satellites every two weeks into low earth orbit for the past couple of years. There are approximately 1,100 of these satellites in low earth orbit, primarily over the northern zone of the United States and Canada. Within the year, most of the world will have access to these satellites for internet access.
And the access speed is fast!
Recently tested by Starlink, data transmission speeds of 50 to 150 megabytes per second (MBPS) were recorded for upload and download. More important, the latency (how much time it takes for data to be transferred between its source and destination) is 20 to 40 milliseconds (ms). In plain English, the amount of data and speed is comparable to the high-speed internet connectivity provided to most households by cable carriers.
What is even better is the price tag. The dish, which may be placed anywhere in the world – including remote rural areas and the high seas – costs about $500, with a monthly access plan for around $100.
Truly this marks a major technological breakthrough! – High-speed internet access from anywhere on the planet, with a portable dish and smart device that are as affordable as most current plans providing similar service-device and service-plan costs.
The standard joke about how to survive in a post- Armageddon world – sell everything, buy gold, and move to a remote cabin in the Montana Rockies – suddenly seems not so inconceivable…..well, at least the living-in-Montana part.
Zoom and its cohorts, along with Starlink and its cohorts, create the possibility of brand new human migrations west or east, north or south.
Business is now being conducted by time zones!
We may begin to see, over the next 10 years, significant migrations from cities to suburbs, suburbs to exurbs, and exurbs to isolated regions. People will be attracted to the lack of noise and light pollution, fresh air, clean water, and the ability to take up sustainable living (that used to be called farming!). There is much appeal in out-of-the way, faraway, undeveloped land….and the United States still has a lot of it!
“Technology is best when it brings people together.”
– Matt Mullenweg
It was just over five years ago that drones were broadly adopted, at low cost, with the convergence of four technologies: lightweight batteries with long life, gyroscopes, miniature video and ubiquitous high-speed wireless internet. Similarly, the convergence of “off the grid” access to high-speed internet, acceptance of business video teleconferencing, and returning to the land may usher in a new American national migration.
Just the thought of that can be very disconcerting, disturbing and seemingly unreal, even surreal.
Smart decision-making becomes ever more important during turbulent times. Most often we make our decisions by selecting among two or more reasonable choices. During life’s stable periods, this process is fairly effective. The Process of Selection requires a discerning due diligence process, ending with a decision – at least for the important decisions like getting a job, marrying, having children, buying a home, and so forth.
However, during transition times, we may require a very different way to make smart decisions, using an alternative method, the Process of Elimination. It can be a quicker, simpler process due to the sudden imperative to eliminate many of our natural human tendencies regarding feelings, emotions, likes, dislikes and so forth.
An extreme but necessary example: the process of conducting triage on the battlefield. The medical team moves from wounded person to wounded person, assessing survivability based on known medical factors, vitals and battlefield conditions. Once the negative factors total to a certain level, the fatally wounded must be left for last. It is a brutal process, never easy.
Fortunately, most of us will never face such a grim job, but we will need to assess our place in a COVID and post- COVID world. Our current transition seems eerily familiar to the turbulent 1960s during the Vietnam War era and, more recently, 2001’s post-9/11 war against terrorism.
The difference is the pace of technological change.
Today, a Manhattan family can more easily pick up on short notice and move to Montana and continue to operate a business as the owners, or as employees with new livelihoods and entirely different lifestyles.
This was unthinkable just one short year ago.
Because of everything COVID, we have had to make many more decisions at a much faster pace, at least if we were working full time one year ago.
By using the Process of Elimination method of making important decisions, we are able to stay in the game, continue business, continue life, and adjust to what life springs on us.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners live by the Process of Elimination. They must. Their businesses many times are 90 days away from going under. Sadly, we saw that happen again and again in 2020. At the same time, with 2020’s high unemployment, new social movements sprang up. With many out of work and the world changing abruptly, many causes gained new adherents, for good or ill, based on one’s perspective.
There’s a saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Well, I’m here to emphasize that in today’s rapid-transition, techcentric world, insisting on the status quo may be neither possible nor prudent.
For citizens to maintain a steady grip on their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness during tumultuous times, they need first to grasp the lessons of history. As the Shirelles sang in 1961, “Mama said there’ll be days like this. Mama said, mama said.” Sometimes transitions take much longer.
But also recall 17th century poet Thomas Fuller: “It is always darkest before the dawn.” The 21st century’s post-COVID-19 dawn WILL appear.
Recall the excitement of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon in 1969, right smack in the middle of the late 1960s’ explosive social upheaval. Zoom, Starlink and today’s other exciting technological capabilities are now opening highly beneficial new frontiers.
From 1960 through 1969, hundreds of thousands of engineers, scientists and support personnel applied the Process of Elimination to make the moon landing happen.
As for vaccines, they often require many years, even decades, to develop, test, gain approval, and begin inoculations. Seeing multiple new COVID-19 vaccines now being administered, less than one year from research inception — several using new genetic mRNA technologies — was deemed impossible a year ago. Scientists worked heroically around the clock, performing triage on the many thousands of laboratory choices to discover successful vaccines.
We can learn much from the Process of Elimination.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Finally, I must tell you my own crisis story. If you haven’t heard it before, you’ll be shocked. But hear me out. You see, while stationed in Alaska in the Army, I met the love of my life. Miraculously, she felt the same way about me. We were both in uniform. We’d dated just three weeks. But there was a problem. I had new duty-station orders and a plane to catch.
We tied the knot. Now, after 40 years in our lifelong committed relationship, we have the deepest love and respect for the Process of Elimination. Earlier, we’d both dated various others. We each knew what we were looking for.
Along with life’s disturbances and disorders — and deadlines and dating — can suddenly come greater clarity of purpose and direction.
“The Times They Are a-Changin’” sang Bob Dylan in 1964. Our times are changing rapidly. Please give some credence to the Process of Elimination as you make important decisions during these turbulent times.
Think about what is MOST important.
I’ll close with George Carlin’s sage advice: “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”
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