Welcome to the several hundred new subscribers that signed up as a result of my recent speaking tour of Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Over six weeks I met so many smart and wonderful people and I hope you will enjoy the Shift Age Newsletter. If you do, forward it on to friends and people you think might also enjoy it!
America has been the most powerful country and has had the biggest economy for the better part of the last 100 years. Every American alive today has lived in this reality. It often leads us to think that we are the best, the fastest, the most cutting-edge country in the world. In many categories, that is true. It is not true when it comes to the speed of our Internet connectivity.
The general experience in the United States is that we pay usually between $20 and $75 a month to get a bandwidth speed of some 50 MB (megabytes). We don't necessarily like to pay that much, but for those of us who remember the old dial-up years of Internet 1.0, we have a relative sense of speed, and it makes us feel good. We can quickly upload pictures to Facebook or watch a video on YouTube. We now complain when we feel "the Internet is slow" or that the connection is not up to our current standards.
Now, in comparison with some other countries, we really do have cause to complain about the slowness of our connection, even if it is what we have come to experience as fast. In Hong Kong and South Korea, there are new services that have come online (pun intended) that provide one-gigabyte-per-second speed for downloading and uploading. One gigabyte per second! That is 20 times faster than the 50MB speed most of us have in our connected homes.
Of course, once something like this happens, it not only makes everything else seem slow, it also leads us to question that slowness. Our relatively current sense of speed has now been shown to be slow and outdated. We are behind the times. The cutting edge is elsewhere. We are slower than others in the world.
This also leads us to question why we are paying so much for such slow service. If, for the sake of argument, you pay $50 a month for roughly 50MB download/upload speed, you are paying $1 per month per MB of speed. One gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes (MB). The relatively new Hong Kong service is charging $25 a month for one-gigabyte-per-second speed. That translates to $.025 per MB, or 2.5 cents. Reflect on that for a minute: At $50 per month for 50 MB per second, you are paying 2,000 times as much for your bandwidth speed as someone subscribing to the new service in Hong Kong.
The next time you hear your Internet service provider talk about its great deal or suggest it might have to raise prices or monitor the amount of bandwidth used, call the provider up and ask why you are being charged 2,000 times more than is available elsewhere in the world. [If you do, I would love to hear what the provider says. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the provider's comments.]
In the realm of broadband speed, America is now the land of the slow and the incredibly expensive.
In this the 21st century, humanity has to look at energy in different ways than in the 20th century. In the Shift Age, the global age of humanity, we must look at all forms of energy through the filter of living on what that great thinker and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller called "Spaceship Earth."
The fact that 6.8 billion of us are now living on this precious planet changes the energy equation from 70 years ago, when humanity was at one-third that number. We have an insatiable appetite for energy, yet we are more interconnected than ever before. Problems are now problems for all of us. Big problems are big problems for all of us. We need to look at things in new ways and ask new questions.
The BP Gulf oil disaster showed us all that the technological prowess of the oil industry to find and extract oil from the earth was not matched by a prowess to manage catastrophic failure. The technological innovations over the last few decades of locating and extracting ever more remote and deeper oil fields was not matched in the slightest by a development of technological innovation to handle an oil spill. Gee, the three-ring notebook on disaster response hadn't been updated for decades. Let's hope we don't have one.
The horrific disaster unfolding with the Fukushima nuclear reactors will alter Japan and the entire global nuclear energy industry for years, if not decades. Why? Gee, how good did you feel watching helicopters scooping up seawater and dropping it on the reactors in hopes of avoiding a meltdown. Isn't that what we do with forest fires? So, we harness the explosive power of atomic energy and when something goes horribly wrong, we bring out the local fire department?
We are all learning a lot about nuclear reactors and all the nuclear, radioactive waste building up in holding tanks of cooling water. We have known for years that we have a nuclear waste problem. There are signs that some of this nuclear waste might be recycled into new technology small reactors, but that is still years, if not decades away.
What BP and Fukushima have raised is the simple question: No matter how good we are at developing technology to create or extract energy, how good is the commensurate technology to deal with a mishap that might occur? None of us are really confident that what the Japanese government is saying is to be trusted. Most of us are now wondering whether deep offshore drilling or decades-old nuclear reactors are as safe as government officials lead us to believe.
As we enter the Shift Age and start to define what the 21st century will be, we face the Spaceship Earth question of how safe our energy sources are. This delicate special planet might just be a few major energy disasters from being put at high risk, or at least the human life part of it.
This will level the playing field for renewable and alternative energy, as the downside risks pale in comparison to those created by the sources that currently feed our energy addiction. A wind farm catastrophe! A solar panel array malfunction! Not nearly as scary as what we are watching on the news coming out of Japan.