Interviews: Six important forces that will shape 2009


I’ve done two radio interviews this morning, asking me for forecasts for the year ahead.

The broader issue I am emphasizing in my current interviews and speaking is that 2009 will bring more change than any other year this decade.

Perversely, a slowing economy will accelerate the pace of change. Many companies will take advantage of the downturn to use technology in innovative ways. Technology ranging from mobile applications to online gaming will become an everyday part of our work lives.

Social change tends to be faster in a downturn. Our attitudes to what is acceptable behavior by the government and companies will rapidly evolve. Technology is shaping society, but society is also shaping technology, particularly in how it allows us to express forcible opinions.

In these interviews for non-professional audiences I briefly covered six important forces that will shape business and society in 2009:

1. Constant partial attention. 2009 will see more people consuming 20 hours or more of media a day. And no, it’s not just the insomniacs. It is due to a phenomenon called Constant Partial Attention, or CPA, in which our attention is constantly divided between a massive array of channels now including mobile Internet, video screens on buses, and more. Over two-thirds of people watch TV while reading. To be successful, we need to thrive on constant interruption.

2. Half of us expose ourselves; the other half watches. 2008 saw a massive surge in people using Twitter – the world’s most popular micro-blogging platform. As a result people are becoming more and more comfortable living their lives online. In 2009, expect to see more of your friends. Literally. With increased access to online video technology, and mobile data plans getting cheaper, sending video updates of our every move will seem normal.

3. Gen Y wakes up to Gen Z. In 2009, Generation Y (1979-1990) won’t be the new kids on the block any more as Generation Z enters the workforce. The “me generation” will wake up to dramatically changed conditions in the workforce, including younger competition, after expecting instant rewards for years. Sophisticated and with a social conscience, Gen Z has never lived without the internet or mobile phones. Their adaptability and early experience of economic woes will create new challenges – and opportunities – for employers.

4. Outsourcing for the masses. Outsourcing used to be for banks and telcos. Next year will see a big increase in outsourcing for us mere mortals. Many will use assistants in India or Hungary to make travel bookings, set up a personal website, or design a flyer for the school fete. A range of companies such as elance, rentacoder and 99designs are helping companies small and large tap designers all over the world. Americans and Australians are among the leading users of online outsourcing services.

5. Companies become social. In 2009, companies will truly embrace social networks, blogs, and other Web 2.0 tools, bringing new ways of connecting into the workplace. Now over 100 million users are socializing using Facebook. Companies are realizing that better connected staff are good for business. Best Buy, AMP, and Deloitte are just some of the companies paving the way for a transformation of how we work.

6. Media industry shatters. More major media companies could fall in 2009. They have seen the “rivers of gold” of print classifieds rapidly shift to the Internet. In the US, classified advertising has fallen by over 60 percent in the last two years, and newspapers including Christian Science Monitor have stopped printing, shifting to solely online. Journalists themselves will prosper – having the most relevant skills in an information age – but for many their future won’t be in traditional journalistic roles.