While global trends are by definition long-term in nature, they are also uncertain and ambiguous. Our assumptions will be tested regularly, while many changes continuously occur, whether small and evolutionary and step-change and discontinuous. Here we highlight some of these ongoing changes, reflect on their impact, and hopefully help to stimulate some conversations along the way.
One trend that has been on my mind in the last week is The Mobile Time Machine (see 10 Key Trends to Watch, http://www.globaltrends.com/features/strategy-a-leadership/67-10-key-trends-to-watch), which talks about how exploding mobility is compressing time. My son has just been on a school trip to Rome. It used to be that parents packed their kids off on such trips with some extra pocket money, a disposable camera (with maximum 36 exposures) and high hopes for stories of culture, gelati and fun on their return. Not any more! Even before the trip started, the class twitter feeds were up — with the odd technical hitch given the kids are much better at social media than parents or the school. Parents could share the ups and downs of Roman public transport, the best pizza spots and the potential for their beloved offspring to get lost in hide and seek among the ruins. Add text messages and random phone calls, and parents could keep track of whether the class was enacting gladiatorial battles in the colosseum, hanging out eating ice-cream or hiking up Vesuvius.
The major upsides of mobile connectivity were amply demonstrated on Friday night, as the plane was delayed 3 hours and instantly alerted (more like, constantly yawning) parents drove an unexpected hour to pick up their kids after midnight because they had missed the last train. Even better, the smart phone-carrying generation could immediately share pictures and videos of their exploits and the vast amount of pizza consumed while waiting for the plane to finally be ready. So are there any downsides to this always-on connectivity? Clearly there is a time investment in monitoring the class news feeds and wondering how exhausted your child is when they call at 11:30 p.m. just back from Pompeii or if they have put on sunscreen when the twitter feed says it is a sunny 30 degrees out (he didn’t). It would be a hard-hearted parent who would begrudge this time, but sometimes I wonder if I really want to know all the practicalities right now or would I rather spend some time imagining the wonder on my son’s face as he explores the treasures of a new place? Wouldn’t I rather enjoy the anticipation of him personally voicing the delight of looking down into the crater of a volcano or standing at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica? Is 24/7 connectivity focusing us on millions of snatched moments and small activities, rather than fewer, more intense experiences, conversations and ideas? Is it impacting our ability to be imaginative and to communicate – and to be patient? Of course, there is a balance to be found in this mobile time machine, but I am not sure I have it quite right yet. How about you?