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Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense: 24 hours in 2020
How will we be living our lives, to what extent will we be thanking - or blaming - technology?

In the last 20 years the working lives of most people have been radically changed by IT. Days are longer, activities and information are more intense, travel is more regular and frantic, specialism is more valued and rewarded, there are more machines and new interfaces to cope with. Will the exponential change invoked by technology continue over the next 20 years? I think so. But it will increasingly spill over into our markets, trading practices and the way we sell and complete work.

Imagine for a moment... it is the year 2020 and the latest version of the 21st century bible of marketing and sales opens with the following words:

Customers don't want choice, they want what they want, when and where they want it, and at a price and quality they dictate.

How different it is to the 20th century version - which came from a far more sedate industrial, technological and social era - and started with the line:

Customers want choice, our choice, supplied at a place and time of our choosing, at a price and quality we, the supplier, dictate.

What promoted such rapid and radical change? In short, a transition from a world dominated by atoms to a world dominated by bits. If you lived in a village you had to do everything. There was little customer choice and the economy was bounded. But if you lived in a city, you could afford to specialise with a vast customer choice linked to a global economy.

Telecommunications and IT transformed our world into a global city with people and intelligent things (machines, sensors, actuators, photocopiers, food dispensers and complete production plants) communicating over networks of optical fibre, copper, radio and satellites.

The bit economy overtook our species and competition intensified with global availability. The disintermediation of markets changed everything beyond recognition. More machines than people became both a threat and a huge opportunity that leveraged human ability and capital a thousand fold over the previous 20 years.

Remember way back in the year 2000 - whether buying stamps, or travelling on a major trunk road and needing a coffee, on a Sunday at 03:30, where did you go? Not to the Post Office or a restaurant but to the filling station. If you wanted money on a Saturday at 21:30, where did you go? Not to the bank but to the ATM at the supermarket. You wanted to order a book on a Wednesday at 19:30, where did you go? Not to a bookshop but online. Did you have the hassle of organising travel insurance for every trip? No. It was all taken care of by your credit card company and came with the ticket purchase.

This was the start of disintermediated services in a 24x7 world with the card businesses ultimately taken out by the mobile phone and wearable devices. Buying a Coke by calling the machine in front of you started as a weird novelty but was quickly subsumed as the norm, and there was much more to come.

People in the US had enjoyed 24 hour shopping for decades while Europe was only just waking up to the prospect in the year 2000. The UK was leading the way. While Europe worried about the Information Society and the quality of life - how to limit working hours and how to control bits - the Americans created an Information Economy that was free and unbounded. Yes, Europe sat and watched it's 'lunch eaten' by competition from the other side of the planet rising to the challenge of the 24-hour society. Companies and organisations collapsed because they didn't see the competition and threat from other sectors.

Today it is 12 October 2020 and the demise of the printed word seems a long way back. I just received an early draft of an electronic book, complete with publisher's request for me to pen a foreword, direct to my screen. I'm actually in Arizona and this e-book has appeared on my screen over a 100Mbps LAN to my hotel bedroom. I will read the contents, during the day, evening and on a flight to LA but not in the way I used to on paper. I select all, increase the font to 28 point, triple space and stare at the screen while holding down the scroll key. I developed this mode of reading in 1995 while the rest of the population continued with the old paper paradigm of slow, linear, serial, inefficient and tiring left right word-by-word scanning. For years I was 200 per cent more efficient than the average but today everyone does the stare, scroll and roll.

I shall read this draft e-book in less than two hours and will dictate (talk and type) the foreword by mid-afternoon tomorrow. Although I will most likely be beside a swimming pool at a hotel in Santa Monica, with my usual bottle of Evian spring water from France, electronic Financial Times from England and a bag of savoury biscuits from Belgium, I will have to focus on getting this task completed. Because of my travel and work schedule I have to satisfy this request within the same day. In 2020 people see this as the norm and a mode essential to business survival. We are now both customer and supplier, road warrior and tech-nomad, on a shrinking planet where there is no escape and we chose to work where and when we wish, on the move, in the air, on trains, in cabs, cars and hotels.

We are all global citizens, in wired and virtual corporations with vast numbers of people working to maintain and expand 24 x 7, spatially unlimited business far beyond the shores and thinking of any one continent. For me as an individual, this means responding to email within 12 hours, every day of the year irrespective of where and what I am doing. It is essential to be able to communicate and work from any location and time zone in order to respond to customers the instant they call. It means working unusual and unscheduled hours to appear, in reality or virtually, anywhere on the planet. The customer really is king.

As customers, what have we come to expect? Pizza and coffee at 04:30 any day of the week, clothes and electronic goods purchases at 22:00 on a Saturday night, with an increasing percentage of the working population part of a 24-hour economy. IT has created a new two-class society - the technology capable and incapable:

Class 1 = Those who spend a lot of time trying to save money


Class 2 = Those who spend a lot of money trying to save time

Stone Age man only worked an estimated 15 hours a week. But in the new economy of 2020 most are working 15 hours a day doing things far less risky than hunting for meat on the hoof but, sometimes, equally stressful.

Does this 2020 scenario look likely in November 2000? Well it ought to - I just changed the dates for fun. This is not about the future at all; it is about today. All the technology and knowledge is available and it is how many people live and work right now. Though they may not recognise it as so.

Looking for my usual sign-off? No need for one.