I culled two stories from today’s (Thursday) New York Times that illustrate some important points about energy, substitution and resilience. I think the word resilience will be prominent next year as the economy tries to recover further. Tired of waiting for full recovery we may very well see more people taking matters into their own hands—legally and non-violently—to make the difference. This will amount to substituting one form of activity for another in an effort to reduce costs and keep the wheels turning. That is essentially what resilience is all about.
Example one, “Signs Point to Economy’s Rise, but Experts See a False Dawn” . Ok, this may not be the most upbeat headline but it makes some good points. Economic activity in the fourth quarter may be trending up to four times what savvy analysts had predicted at an annual pace of 3.7 percent. That’s good. What’s not so good is that the boost may be temporary and a result of rebuilding inventories that have run down over several quarters. But that’s what recoveries are all about so I’m playing the optimist on this one.
The article falls short of making the connection between energy prices and economic growth but it is plain to see. The first half of 2011 had reasonably good economic numbers, which caused increase demand for energy. In May while on a trip to Chicago I saw gas prices pushing five bucks and the same was true in San Francisco.
High energy prices cooled the economy. As a result demand for energy fell back. Prices in a photo accompanying this article show regular gas at $3.16 per gallon. A few years ago that would have been nose bleed territory but today three bucks seems like a tropical vacation. We’ll take it!
Example two, “Video Chat Reshapes Domestic Rituals” describes how families are using video chat to stay close, even when they are across the country and can’t travel. Video chat is not just like being there, yet, but it fills a void. The article briefly mentions one person’s inability to hop on a plane for face time; clearly video chat is substituting.
Not only is video chat substituting for being there but also it is helping to create new ways of connecting and reasons for connecting which is all wonderful. It is also a great example of resilience. It shows that conservation through substitution need not be onerous; it need not feel like a sacrifice to use Skype rather than travel, especially when you can’t afford to travel anyhow.
I’d say that adoption of video chat is right where social media was about five years ago. It’s in the grass roots stage; it is personal for the most part though advanced corporations are discovering its value. And it is dependent on hardware technology rollout meaning PC’s with microphones and cameras. Generation Two of all this will mean a PC directly connected to your giant plasma TV with a built in mic and camera. I have a Mac Mini connected to my TV and it is fantastic. In addition to Skyping, I can watch silly cat videos any time I want on the big screen.
So here is my point. Energy supplies are tight and will remain so indefinitely. If you like the ups and downs of the economy that match the rise and fall of energy prices, stay tuned, as supply continues to tighten there will be more and the ups and downs will be more violent.
On the other hand, if you like the idea of less turbulence in the economy, you know what you can do. You can find substitutes for energy in your lives both personal and working. This kind of substitution on a macro scale makes a difference. It makes each of us a little more resilient to energy price fluxes and it makes the society as a whole a lot more so.
This is important, I think
So Microsoft bought Skype this week. Skype is the hobby of some telephony enthusiasts intent on chatting over the internet through voice over IP (VoIP). A business makes money, a hobby doesn’t have to and Skype never has, hence the designation.
Deciphering the meaning in this transaction is something of a challenge. Microsoft has a very serviceable unified communications (UC) solution for businesses, which I have often suggested should be tightly integrated with Dynamics CRM for numerous reasons that amount to low cost, green and smart. Still we wait. So in this environment it is puzzling why the company would invest $8.5 billion in this VoIP company.
Others have suggested a future link between Skype and Microsoft’s burgeoning gaming products and I wonder if that’s the direction of the purchase. Skype has over half a billion customers — let’s just call it one FB (a Facebook unit). If ten percent of them are would be gamers, it would open up a lot of new opportunity for Microsoft. When you are as big as Microsoft (revenues of about 62 billion — just call it an MS unit — you need numbers like that to make the needle move and bring smiles to the faces of the gnomes on Wall Street. So I get it but only so far.
It would be severely interesting to see Microsoft attempt to become an alternative telephone company competing with Verizon and ATT on one hand and Vonage, Comcast and other cable providers (Verizon again) on the other. None of them has innovated beyond their basic service offerings and it’s time some body did. It could happen. Consider this: televisions are being built with basic web access features today and with a little push your TV could become your primary telephony device, with images too. At this point it’s a cultural issue not technology.
Tele on the tele could make TV and telephony interesting again. With transportation costs escalating and the majority of the people I survey already feeling the effects and driving less, telepresence for the domicile might be very attractive. Furthermore, tele/tele might become a reality show of sorts with all of us actors and viewers in our own dramas simultaneously. Marshall McLuhan would approve.
What are you doing Friday night? Hanging with some friends around the electronic hearth with a bottle of Zin? Hosting the book club? It could happen.