What’s Next issue 34

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…is finally up. The link is right here.

Regular readers might notice that the nowandnext website has had a bit of a refresh too. The site is now more mobile and iPad friendly and hopefully cleaner too (it was never exactly cluttered but it’s now super simple). Hope you enjoy it.

Now…finding the time to do brainmail.


Could the BRIC wall fall?

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Will the world really look like the chart above in 2050?

One funny thing about predictions is that once someone has made a definitive pronouncement, events often conspire to move things in the opposite direction.

Jim O’Neill, Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs, coined the acronym ‘BRICs’ in a briefing paper issued in London on November 30, 2001. The briefing (Building Better Economic BRICs) described how Brazil, Russia, India and China, all chosen on the basis of population, economic development and attitudes towards globalization, were reshaping the world in terms of economic power. The briefing note also boldly predicted that by 2041 (then revised to 2039) these nations would eclipse the six largest Western nations with regard to economic output. In other words, Russia, Brazil, India and China would soon reshape the world, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of influence and ideas.

Following on from the BRICs we’ve had the Next Eleven countries and now the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). But like the BRICs, most if not all of these countries suffer from some fairly fundamental issues relating to governance and corruption, which could bring some or all of them crashing down.

China, arguably, has a building bubble in the making, its financial system is suspect (shades of the Japanese banking system prior to their ‘lost decade’), water is an issue, they are running out of low-cost rural migrants, the country is ageing rapidly and the imbalance of young males in China’s population could cause trouble if economic growth slows and unemployment starts to rise. Meanwhile, Russia is a tinderbox politically and Brazil’s prospects seem to rise and fall all the time depending upon the latest economic numbers and the whims of newspaper and magazine editors. This leaves India, where infrastructure is being pushed to its physical limits and where corruption is endemic.

This leaves the USA in an interesting position. The US is far more resilient than most people realize, thanks to a mix of favorable demographics (a high fertility rate plus a ‘can do’ attitude towards immigration) and cultural factors that include the American Dream and some highly positive attitudes towards innovators and early stage venture capital.

Add all this up and what we might find is that while the BRICs, N11 and MINTs all grow in importance, it will be the US that remains dominant out to 2050.


Image source: IMF/Citibank

The writing is on the wall for my new book



In the beginning was the word and the word was good. I’ve more or less worked out the structure for my new book (a sequel to Future Files essentially). I’ve also got a great opening sentence, but the name of the book is eluding me. Here is my list of possible book titles. Any comments anybody?

Future Files 2: Are we nearly there yet?

Predicting the Twenty-First Century

More or Less Human

Future History

Future Now


All Our Futures

The Way We Live Now

The Future (if people still matter)

Paper versus screens

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Does the technology that we use to read change how we read? Since as far back as the 1980s, researchers have been looking at the differences between reading on paper and reading on screens. Prior to 1992, most studies concluded that people using screens read things more slowly and remember less about what they’ve read. Since 1992, a more mixed picture has emerged.

The most recent research suggests that people prefer to use paper when they need to concentrate, but this may be changing. In the US, 20% of all books sold are now e-books and digital reading devices have developed significantly over the last 5-10 years. Nevertheless, it appears that digital devices stop people from navigating effectively and may inhibit comprehension. Screens, it seems, drain more of our mental resources and make it harder to remember what we’ve read. This is not to say that screens aren’t useful – far from it – but more needs to be done to appreciate the advantages of paper and to limit the digital downsides of screens.

One of the issues is typography. Paper books contain two domains – a right and left hand paper – from which readers orientate themselves. There is also a sense of physical progression with paper books, which allows the reader to get some sense of overall place and form a coherent mental picture of the whole text. With screens things are different.

Digital pages are more ephemeral. They literally vanish once they have been read and it is difficult to see a page or a passage in the context of the larger text. Some research (e.g. a 2013 study by Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger) suggests that this is precisely why screens often impair comprehension. It has even been suggested that operating a digital device is more mentally taxing than operating a book because screens shine light directly into a readers face causing eyestrain. A study by Erik Wastlund at Karlstad University, for example, found that reading a comprehension test on a screen increased levels of stress and tiredness versus people reading the same test on paper.

There is also the idea, rarely recognised, that people bring less mental effort to screens in the first place. A study by Ziming Lui at San Jose Sate University found that people reading on screens use a lot of shortcuts and spend time browsing or scanning for things not directly linked to the text. Another piece of research (Kate Garland/University of Leicester) makes the key point that people reading on a screen rely much more on remembering the text compared to people reading on paper who rely much more on understanding what the text means. This distinction between remembering and knowing is especially critical in education.

Research by Julia Parrish-Morris and colleagues (now at the University of Pennsylvania) found that three to five-year old children reading stories from interactive books spent much of their time being distracted by buttons and easily lost track of the narrative and what it meant. Clearly screens have considerable advantages. Convenience or fast access to information is one. For older or visually impaired readers the ability to change font size is another. But it is precisely the simplicity and uncomplicated nature of paper that makes it so special. Paper does not draw attention to itself. It does not contain hyperlinks or other forms of easy distraction and its tactile and sensory nature is not only pleasing but actually allows us to navigate and understand the text.

2014 Trends

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 15.39.11Nice article in todays edition of Metro about what to expect in 2014. Ponderings from myself, IanPearson and James Bellini. Article here.

BTW, nice slideshow here from Ross Dawson about why 2014 is the year of the crunch – when cumulative change is reaching the point of fundamental disruption in many aspects of society.