Interview: David Houle, The Shift Age

Last week I posted a review of The Shift Age, by David Houle.  Since then, I had the good fortune of interviewing David about the book.

TCOB: David, your blog Evolution Shift has become an increasingly popular site in the blogosphere regarding a futurist’s look at where we’re headed.  Explain to the readers of The Corner Office blog what a futurist is.

David: Sure, my definition of a futurist is what I do, which is to act as a catalyst to get people to think about the future and then to facilitate the conversation about the future that may result.  I explain this on my YouTube video.

TCOB: What prompted you to write The Shift Age?

David: Three years ago I had a sense that what was happening around the world could no longer be described as the “Information Age”.  I then went back and touched base with the great thinkers who had affected my thinking as a young man and who had also been correct in their predictions about the last 30 years.  These great thinkers were Alvin Toffler, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Peter S. Drucker and Arthur C. Clarke among others.  I then looked around and tried to see the new dynamics that their writings of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s did not predict.  This lead me to see the new view of our world and our future defined and reported in “The Shift Age”.

TCOB: The Shift Age presents some interesting data showing the growth of technology, among other things, that are leading to a truly global society.  In these early discussions in the book, you frequently reference forces related to the “speed of change”.  The concept of “speed” and “change”, independently, is something everyone can grasp.  Do you think “speed of change” is something most people today understand and can relate to?

David: I think that everyone who reads these words has experienced some level of disorientation due to the speed of change.  In technology I call it “innovation fatigue”.  We learn how to use a computer and as soon as we do, another generation comes along.  We learn how to navigate a cell phone and then we have to learn how to use our smart phone.

When I give speeches I touch on the fact that those of us alive now, and the generations represented by our parents and grandparents were the only generations that truly experienced the “speed of change” in a lifetime.  2,000 years ago, even 500 years ago, one could live an entire life in a village and live a life identical to ones parents.  The only change was seasonal.  Once the Industrial Age began some 300 years ago, the speed of change became noticeable.

When my father was born in 1913, radio was just becoming a mass medium and most people traveled by train.  When he died in 1998 he was learning how to surf the Internet and had been flying on jet planes for decades.

TCOB: You mention in the book that the Flow to Global will reshape politics and economics.  Are there any forces out there that would work against the flow to global?

David: No, not really.  There are various groups of people that want to resist globalism and the Flow to Global, but the direction has been set.   Of course, there is still some geographical limitation where people live in relative isolation such as in the Amazon rain forest and the high Himalayas, but our electronic connectedness is unstoppable.

The Shift Age is the global stage of humanity’s evolution as a species.  We have moved from family to tribe to village to city to city state to nation state and now are becoming global citizens.  The only remaining boundary is planetary.

TCOB: Along those same lines, what effects will the differences in religion among cultures play in a global economy?

David: That is a very good question.  I think a lot about the future of religion.  I am not sure as to the direction.  It is clear, when viewed over millennia, that religion has declined in over all influence in the sense that it is no longer the sole source of knowledge, belief and culture.  I think that the rise of the fundamentalist arms of the old religions, say Islam and Christianity that have grown in the past 20 years is due in part to a reaction to the explosion of choice in the world and the accelerating rate of change.

Sometimes the speed of change and unlimited choice can naturally cause some people to look for easy answers as in “I’ll do what the Koran says”  or “I’ll do what the Bible says”  or “I’ll do what my guru says” It makes decisions easier in an increasingly complex, confusing and ever faster paced world.

TCOB: Advancement in technology is one of the most interesting topics you discuss in the book, and necessity is the mother of invention.  Is there a point though, where technological development changes so fast that mankind’s own scientific success or other outside influences actually work against us?

David: This brings up the fighter pilot metaphor.  About 15 years ago it became clear that the technology that surrounds a fighter pilot in a billion dollar aircraft is faster than the pilot.  The pilot therefore becomes the slowest part of the package.  I think that one healthy way of looking at technology is that it is all tools to help us live richer, more productive lives.  Unfortunately too many people become slaves to technology.  Just because the cell phone rings or the Blackberry vibrates doesn’t mean that one must respond.

The other concern that I warn about is the unintended consequence issue.  DDT allowed for a dramatic increase in agricultural productivity yet, through, Rachel Carson’s book ‘The Silent Spring” in 1962 launched the environmental movement.  With the arrival of nanotechnology, what might the unintended consequences be when producing and disposing of such new micro agents?

TCOB: In the book, you break out the advancement of cell phones, the internet, and personal computers in what you call the Flow to Global.  Based on those same advancements, is it logical to think that the lines differentiating those three subjects is starting to get fuzzy?

David: Absolutely!  For example the charts in the book about the growth of Internet usage are the traditional ones based upon connecting through computers.  As the percentage of cell phones that are smart phones increase, the number of Internet users increase exponentially as there are about 2.5 times more cell phone users that Internet users.

The key point to make here is that we are now at the stage where 50% of the world’s population can connect with each other without regard for time or distance.  That is something that has never existed before.  It is not just about connecting with each other, it is actually creating a new environment.  Media is no longer something we watch or listen to, it is environmental.  We are surrounded by media and connectivity.

TCOB: In both the blog and the book, you talk about disintermediation, and later on how going digital has changed the delivery of media.  Do you think the shift age is influencing career choices of young people today who think they want to be a rock star, journalist, or news anchor?  Has this concept filtered down to younger generations?

David: There is a group of people I call the ‘digital natives’.  These are young people up to say the age of 14 for whom digital connectivity is the only thing they have ever known. Ever since they were young children they have been on the Internet.  Those between the ages of 14 and say 28 are just a shade less native as many have had computers, cable TV and video games all their lives.  These people act in and look at the world differently.

I am sure that there are young people that want to be news anchors or journalists, but there will be thousands more that will become bloggers or vloggers.  Being a success on YouTube is the new paradigm.  As for musicians, it can be argued that there has never been a better time to be a band because you no longer need to rely or corporations to connect you to your audience.

TCOB: Disintermediation is a visible force in the world today, and as you mention in the book, it’s forcing corporate America to rethink how they market to consumers.  Do you believe marketing agencies understand disintermediation?

David: Some do, most do not.  The advertising business as it was defined in the 20th century is dead.  It is not yet clear what the ‘post-advertising’ world will look like.  I think the answer, as I have written in the book, is “high-touch media”.  Essentially this means that advertisers must connect with consumers at the highest level be it emotional, intellectual, psychological or ego identity.  Reaching consumers via mass is a broken model.  Marketing agencies basically understand that, but are not clear exactly how to replace this broken model.

TCOB: What influenced your decision to publish a hardcopy book, versus an e-book?

David: E-books represent less than 1% of the market.  That being said I am in the process of having my manuscript become Kindle compatible.  I think the Kindle is the game changer, the iPod of books.  Within the next 10 years e-books will represent 25-40% of the book market.

TCOB: I understand The Shift Age is a precursor to another book you have planned, Evolution Shift.  Can you give us a sneak peak into Evolution Shift?

David: The Shift Age defines the new age we are entering and also has front line reporting of the early stages of this new age.  Evolution Shift will be about the possible transformation or humanity that might take place in the next 15 years.  It will also put forth the premise that we are at the fork in the road.  One road leads to transformation, the other to destruction and disaster.

TCOB: Finally, the push for 24/7 operation across the worlds time zones is stretching the internal clock thin. I’m seeing it first hand: the desire to do more with less in half the time.  Is there any chance we’ll slow down?

David: None.  I get asked this question or variation of it all the time.  The speed of technology has accelerated faster than  human physiology, so what can we do?  The digital natives seem to handle it better than we do.  I think the only prescription is to remember that there will always be more information than can be consumed, that technology will always get faster, more powerful and smaller and that therefore one must always be making choices as to what to focus on.  We have unlimited choice so it is choosing, and the speed that we choose that will determine who we become and whether we can hold on to sanity.

Just remember to disconnect now and then.  The sense of freedom can be euphoric!

TCOB: Great!  Thanks for the interview, David, and good luck with the book.

David: Thank you!

Additional Resources

Evolution Shift Blog

The Futurist Chanel on YouTube

Buy The Shift Age

Written by Grant for

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