Monday, January 31, 2011

Alvin Toffler predicts China's impact on the future

CNReview summarizes the China implications from Alvin Toffler's 40 predictions for the next 40 years.

Prediction No. 2

Nation-state power around the globe will be increasingly ‘multi-polar’ in terms of who wields it and where

  • The economies of Brazil, China and India will become less US and EU centric.
  • Foreign Direct Investments will shift toward developing economies.

Prediction No. 25

China will continue to position itself as a long-term economic power-player around the globe

  • China teams with other emerging countries (Brazil, India and China) to influence currency utilization.
  • China partners with other countries (Venezuela and Africa) to meet energy needs and to import a wide range of raw materials.

Prediction No. 37

China’s monopoly control of the world’s rare earth metals market will have a significant impact on US national security and the economy

  • The seventeen elements that make up a group known as rare earth metals will remain critical to the performance of hundreds of products and technologies.
  • The US will be reliant on China’s metals to produce such things as high-performance weapons components, internal guidance systems, microwave communications systems, radars, the motors and generators that power aircraft and ships, wind turbines, high-performance batteries, hybrid cars, superconductors, computer chips and digital displays.

The last one is a mistake out of Futurism 101: never project a "trend" from something that first appeared in headlines within the past five years.  Rare metals doesn't make the cut. Even something we think of as completely transformational, like Facebook or the iPhone, will change a lot and maybe disappear in forty years.  Already, just a few months after this headline appeared, a bunch of "new discoveries" are being made of new deposits and substitutions. If anything, the brief period rare metals appeared in the news will lessen China's long-term influence, as manufacturers wake up to the problems of being dependent on a single source for their supplies.

More generally, I think Toffler is summarizing too much of the accepted wisdom from the last few years, rather than look at China  -- and some other big trends -- in a longer term context. Sure, China is becoming more influential, and as a result, the relative power of the United States will fade. But one of the consequences of the much bigger globalization trend is that all countries -- in fact the very definition of "country" --  are becoming less relevant.  Neither China nor the US can make an iPhone without the other. There is a complex web of relationships among all the people who know how to make iPhones -- the designers and engineers, parts procurement specialists, factory assemblers, logistics experts, marketing and salespeople -- but none of those relationships is defined by nationality.  In forty years it will be obvious that the web of people not countries matters most.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kindle Singles and the future of publishing

The print publishing industry thinks a lot has changed in the past 20 years,  but they haven't seen anything yet. The transformation from print to all-digital publishing will happen very quickly.  We are months and years, not decades, from when electronic distribution on Kindles and iPads becomes the mainstream format of choice.  The TED people just announced TEDBooks, available for about $3 each as Kindle Singles, and I can't wait to see many more.

Creating and then publishing to Kindle is  straightforward: create a document in Microsoft Word (though, curiously, they want you to save in the old .doc format, rather than the much more flexible and modern .docx format), test the formatting on Mobipocket Reader, and upload to Amazon.  Besides the odd prohibition against the .docx format, your text also must be free from special fonts or character formats like bullets. You can include .JPEG photos, but you need to be sure they look okay on the Kindle greyscale screen.

Kindle ebooks have several big advantages over internet web sites or blogs:

  • The content is final.  It can be referenced later as a single, fixed work. There may be updates or corrections, just like there can be a new edition of a hardcover book, but the original stands as an unchanging point of reference.
  • It can be viewed offline.
  • Standardized display and viewing conventions.  It can be easily printed when necessary and it "makes sense" when printed because it has an clearly identifiable start and finish.

If the end user cost were 99 cents or lower, or if there were the equivalent of completely free content, then eBook publishing will be open to many more new applications:

  • Class notes, published by the instructor or a motivated student note-taker
  • Church or other non-profit organizational bulletins and newsletters.
  • Company catalogs or detailed product descriptions
  • Help and product manuals
  • Christmas newsletters, either on behalf of an organization or a family
  • Special reports.

In fact, to really take off we need the equivalent to print publishing of what podcasting is to audiobook publishing: free, easily publishable and discoverable content that's as easy to produce as it is to consume. As with audiobooks, there may be a lot of garbage there too, but eventually some quality brands will appear and the publishing world will never be the same.

Evolution of Readers

(photo by John Blyberg)

Friday, January 28, 2011

I like trucks

Steve Jobs is right:

When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular. Innovations like automatic transmission and power steering and things that you didn’t care about in a truck as much started to become paramount in cars. … PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people

But after living with an iPad since it was available last year, I'm thinking I still like trucks.  Most mornings I've been using Flipboard or Reeder to watch my various RSS feeds. But while the iPad is nice for lying in bed, or for spontaneous and quick reads when I have a minute to myself, it just can't beat the power of a truck, er, laptop.

I just outfitted myself with the updated NetNewsWire 3.2.8, the one with the new Instapaper button. I need Instapaper so badly that I considered switching  (to Shrook, the only interesting-looking one in the Mac App Store, but I gave up when I found it doesn't sync to Google Reader), but now that I have it, I'm wondering why I don't stick to Mac for all my serious RSS reading. I also added the NetNewsWire to Evernote Applescript on the Veritrope site; that plus the FastScript utility from Red Sweater Software, and I'm just a command-E away from sending all my interesting clippings immediately to Evernote for safe-keeping.  Try that on your iPad.

Sometimes a truck really is better.

Trucks having a hard time passing each other (China)

Truck in China



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Having a bad day

The sheep in this video, taken during our trip to Harbin last week, probably woke up thinking everything in his life was going great: plenty of food, attention from the farmer, nice place to sleep in the cold Heilongjiang winter. Amazing how quickly things can go from pleasant to absolute disaster. Compared to him, it’s hard to imagine any situation being really all that bad.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Don't share your dreams

In this new TED Talk, Derek Sivers (the guy who made that viral video on how to start a movement) gives reasons to walk the walk, rather than talk.

He's right. We all know people who are forever making some new affirmation about themselves.  But notice that physically fit people talk about fitness after they're healthy, real authors talk about books after they're written, engaged people talk about marriage after they've set the date.  You know who you are.

One of the many things I respect about the New Apple (the one after Steve came back, as opposed to the one where I once worked) is how they talk about new products after they're finished and ready to sell. Too many people and companies, in the name of "setting expectations" or "being predictable", give their customers a "roadmap" for the future.  I think the only roadmap that counts is your track record.