The Future of Newspapers (seen from 1981)


This is priceless – and a reminder of how even the best predictions can go slightly off the rails. The prediction that newspapers will be read mostly on computers is obviously on the money, but it’s things like likely cost and functionality that go out of the window.

This is from YouTube via the New York Times/Opinionator and TechCrunch. Full link in comments.

Small Beer Idea


I got a call from my friend Luicien this morning saying he was shooting a movie down the road from my office and would I like to pop over for a quick coffee? Unfortunately I couldn’t but I did have a blinding idea.

What if phones came marked with beer buttons or lunch buttons? The phones obviously know where you are (and where most of the good watering spots are) so you could press a button and send a quick message to anyone within a reasonable distance (say 1km) asking if they wanted to meet at the nearest café/restaurant/bar etc.

2049 Wine Tasting

Another strangely addictive posting from the blog set in the year 2049 (

Ridiculous. I couldn’t do anything today because of an ant. The kitchen was full of them so I wiped them all up with a dishcloth, threw them into the sink and turned the hot coffee tap on. They all drowned except for one with a very large head. It had climbed up to the very top of the dishcloth and sat there surrounded by a sea of coffee. I was going to save it on the basis of sheer tenacity but when I came back to the sink two minutes later it was dead. I feel terrible. Here was an ant with drive and determination and I killed it. I am the ant bully.

Off to Shanghai for a few days tomorrow for the 165th Hospices De Beaune wine tasting. I got a special offer about this on my AiPhoneâ„¢, which had predicted that I would be interested in going having tracked my movements in and around Beaune last year. I think my voice conversations about my love affair with French reds probably triggered something in the phone company database too.

My favourite wine last year was the 2044 Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvée Madeleine Collignon followed by the 2045 Mersault Genevrieres 1er Cru Cuvée Philippe Lebon although I still haven’t got over the Chinese guy that diluted his wine with organic Coca-Cola.

2009 in Retrospect

In case you aren’t an avid weekend of the Weekend FT (you should be) there was a good article on 27/28 December by Niall Ferguson called ‘Chronicle Of A Decline Foretold’. The article is essentially a look back at 2009 from the position of 31 December 2009. Nice idea.

As he says: “It was the year when people finally gave up trying to predict the year ahead. It was the year when every forecast had to be revised – usually downwards – at least three times. It was the year when the paradox of globalisation was laid bare for all to see, if their eyes weren’t tightly shut.”

Industry Trends for 2009

Interesting article in the McKinsey Quarterly saying that education, media, insurance, healthcare and in-home food consumption all stand up relatively well during recessions. The industry sectors that suffer the most include out of home entertainment (i.e. ticket sales for events), housing, tobacco products, clothing, transport, personal care and personal care services and eating out of home. Not sure about the ticket sales one myself.

Don’t Panic

Global warming? I think some people are getting hot headed and should cool it. The latest example of climate confusion was a polar bear that floated from Greenland to Iceland on some melting sea ice. Apparently, this was our fault because of our careless use of non-renewable energy. Thank goodness the Monaco luxury yacht show is a carbon neutral event. However, the Arctic ice sheet is actually larger than it was in 2007 and as of last year global temperatures started to fall and it’s global cooling that is now starting to look like a threat.

So is the world’s thermometer going up or down? As far as I’m concerned very few people know what’s going on and absolutely nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen next. What I am fairly certain about is that climate change is the latest in a long list of issues that we are using as a focus for our everyday anxieties. Remember the threat of a global flu pandemic that we were worrying about a few years ago? Or how about Deep Vein Thrombosis on long-haul flights? The list goes on to include rogue asteroids, Y2K, acid rain and digital privacy.

But here’s the thing. Many of these issues will prove to be real but most won’t be nearly as much of a problem as we imagine. In short we’ll muddle through as we always do. There are problems that need to be confronted but compared to what previous generations endured our current concerns are a walk in the park. On almost any measure that matters the human race is better off than it was 25, 50 or 75 years ago. Life expectancy has increased, infant mortality has decreased, literacy levels are up and chronic hunger has fallen significantly worldwide.

But what about oil I hear you shout. Well we’ve been here before. In the late 1700s Britain suffered from ‘peak wood’. Land was being deforested to make way for agriculture and a rapidly growing population was putting pressure on the fuel supply. I imagine the doom merchants of the day thought we were all screwed. It was a wood based economy after all. But the rising price of wood led to the emergence of new fuels and the doom merchants were soon replaced with coal merchants. It’s also worth remembering that in the first half of the 19th Century, people used sperm whale oil for lighting and in 1820s it cost $200 a barrel in today’s money. Sound familiar?

So, to sum up, a little bit of perspective please. Our achievements over the last hundred years have been considerable and we should stop focussing on worst-case scenarios and celebrate the odd successes once in a while.

Top Risks

I don’t know whether people have seen my map of trends for 2009+ but it has just occurred to me that I’ve missed a risk, namely bisphenol-A (basically the thought that certain plastics could be killing us).  In 2004 6.4 billion tons of the stuff were made and production is growing at 10% per year. Puts the credit crunch into perspective.


Battery Farmed Children

According to a survey, 25% of them have difficulty walking and many of them are becoming disabled by rapid weight gain and a lack of proper sleep. The story in question is about battery-farmed chickens but it could equally be about our children.

In the UK, 25% of children between the ages of eight and ten years old have never played outside unsupervised. Meanwhile, Australia is in the middle of an allergy epidemic. According to the government, 40% of Australian children suffer from an allergy of one kind or another. Holy guacamole.

One reason for this is probably because our houses have become too clean and our kids are not exposed to enough dirt. Filth yes, there’s plenty of that on the various screens we allow them to sit in front of, but kids (and chickens) need to scratch around outside. But I don’t think blaming technology is fair. The real culprit here is parental paranoia. We have become afraid of life itself. For example, back in 2003 there were less than 200 non-food anti-bacterial products launched onto supermarkets shelves worldwide. By 2006, this had jumped to 1,610.

And it’s not just microbes we’re trying to ban. Many schools now have a strict policy relating to food allergies. Bags are searched every morning to identify illegal foodstuffs, which can include yoghurt, homemade cakes and, of course, anything that has ever come into contact with — or might have once said hello to — a nut. Nuts? I’d say so. But we are putting fear in front of fact.

The food allergy epidemic is largely a myth. According to the US Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FANN) around 150-200 people die each year in America due to allergic reactions to food. But according to the US Centre for Disease Control the actual figure is closer to 10. That’s a big difference. And let’s put this into perspective. Around 40,000 people are killed every year on American roads, including more than 2,500 kids. I suspect the ratios would be similar in Australia.

Don’t get me wrong here. Food allergies are real and can kill. Only last year a fourteen-year-old Melbourne boy died whilst on camp due to a food allergy. However, exaggerating the risk could be doing more harm than good because it feeds a culture of fear where children are overwhelmed by anxiety. Moreover, nothing can ever be 100% safe and squeezing the risk out of one area only displaces it somewhere else. Risk will not disappear simply because you regulate it.

I think we are creating a false sense of security and learned helplessness in other areas too. In some schools, running in the playground has been banned because children might bump into each other or fall over. Some schools have even gone so far as to introduce soft, impact-absorbing surfaces to replace old-fashioned dirt or tarmac. Perhaps this is working — when was the last time you saw a kid with grazed knees are a broken arm? These kids exist but they are an endangered species. This is a shame because these accidents actually have a benefit. They teach kids to push the boundaries but to be careful. They also teach resilience. Moreover, according to some experts, these surfaces may actually cause more serious accidents because children believe that they are safe.

Our protectionist and interventionist impulse may be harming us in other areas too. For instance, schools are now asking parent helpers to supply personal information that will be used to conduct criminal background checks. Good idea? Possibly, but the implication is that all adults are guilty until proven innocent. The plan could also backfire in a number of ways.

First, the checks could result in less parent helpers. Fancy coaching football at the weekend? Well how would you feel about it if it meant ongoing criminal checks? The argument in favour of checks is that if you are innocent you have nothing to worry about. But what worries me is that once we start to view all adults as potential sex offenders there will be subtle changes to how everything from policing to law making operates.

Second, spontaneous acts of random kindness could disappear under a mountain of bureaucratic red tape. Fancy baking a cake for the school raffle? You can’t. The cake may have come into contact with nuts and we can’t tell whether you’re a nutcase until you fill out a form.

To be civil means to be polite or courteous and civilisation is built upon the idea of mutual trust. Most people are trustworthy and most things are not dangerous, but if we teach our children that they are not we are laying the foundations for a society where fear becomes an epidemic.

2009 Top Trends

Here it is…the top trend for 2009, applicable to just about anything.

Trend #1: Anxiety (2009 remix)

We are living in anxious times. First it was Y2K and then 9/11. More recently we’ve been worried by the threat of a global flu pandemic, SARS, Deep Vein Thrombosis, rogue asteroids, climate change and now 1929 returning. Running in parallel to all this, trust in large institutions (especially government and big business) has all but evaporated (or we’ve become more cynical about the ability of these institutions to tell us the truth or deliver). The result is a new age of anxiety. People are worried about jobs, homes, savings and the planet. This insecurity is to some extent generational, but there is a general feeling that the world has spun out of control.


People are looking for scapegoats but they are also looking for safety, reassurance and control. This means that people will tend to stick with individuals and institutions that they know and trust. Hence individuals moving out of shares towards ‘safe savings’ such as gilts and low risk bonds. Similarly, people will stay in jobs and education for longer and will aspire to public sector jobs due to perceived security.

In terms of opportunities, products and services that give a sense of security or reduce stress will do well. This could be provided by technology but generally it’s reassurance with a human face attached that people are after. Nostalgic products and experiences that tap into the (largely false) belief that we once lived in safer and more certain times will also do well.


2009 Top Trends

Trend #2: De-leveraging

What cheap credit and irrational exuberance giveth, tighter lending controls and uncertainty taketh away. Growth is slowing down and institutions and individuals will get rid of as much debt as fast as they can. The last decade saw an unprecedented level of spending, most of it driven by cheap money and the attitude that what went up no longer went down. The impact of financial deregulation and innovation also meant that people were offered new ways to owe more money to more people.
None of this is necessarily a problem if you have a job, but if you don’t things can turn very nasty very quickly indeed.


Organizations will reduce their dependency on debt. This means that they will sell assets although by so doing they will inadvertently push the value of these assets even lower. For individuals selling assets is more problematic because their largest asset is generally their home. Hence the only real strategy is to spend less by cutting back on non-essentials. This means buying less, fixing things rather than throwing them away and possibly renting things rather than buying them outright.

In terms of business, expect to see more consolidation with markets becoming more polarised between the very large and the very small. In the public sector, expect to see government debt soar, resulting in a variety of u-turns over spending pledges in areas such as climate change, education, health and transport.