Global Megatrends and Industry Division J
One critical component of humanity is communication. This is the focus of Industry Division J. From the age of Gutenberg until the closing stages of the 20th century, this industry was dominated by publishing words in physical form. Think newspapers being sold from the corners of city blocks, think university libraries and the neighbourhood book store. But now, this industry is dominated by the displayed word – on laptops and smartphones. An industry that has changed so much and so quickly. And that is what this article is about – change. What could happen in terms of careers and business in this industry. It’s a futurist’s take on how things might pan out over the next 10 years or so.
Specifically, though, the future of this industry is viewed through the lens of climate change and computerisation. For these are the two global megatrends that are shaping much of the world as we know it. There are other global megatrends, increasing technological convergence for example (giving rise to terms such as GNR [genetics, nanotechnology and robotics] and NBIC [nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science]). But the influence of these other megatrends on the information media and telecommunications industry is not as significant as climate change and computerisation have.
About the global megatrend of climate change
At a high level we can easily list the ways that the rising atmospheric concentration of green-house gases has changed our world – earlier start and later finish to the summer season, and an increase in the temperature and acidity of the ocean. Another consequence of climate change is rising sea levels. And it is this particular outcome that has an impact at the local level. For example, the ecosystems of estuaries are increasingly at risk as a rising sea pushes more saltwater upstream. It is a similar story with coastal aquifers
However, unless there is significant and globally systematic reduction in the volume of global GHG emissions (currently sitting at about 50 billion tonnes of CO2e annually), significant weather events will increase in intensity, sea level records will continue to be broken, and surface temperatures will continue on the upward trajectory. All impacting life as we know it (eg. on current projections, somewhere between 200 million and 600 million people will be affected by seal level rise between now and 2100)
About the global megatrend of computerisation
Cloud computing, where massive internet-based data storage and processing capabilities are made available for public and private use, plays a significant role in this global megatrend. A role that has taken many years to develop.
Decades ago, when digital computing first came on the scene, it was all about mainframes. These were large, relatively lumbering, computers that could only be accessed by a text-based terminal. They were used by accounting departments within major businesses and specialist government agencies.
Then, with the dawn of the microprocessor during the 1970s, localised personal computing progressively replaced centralised mainframe computing. Early chip manufacturers, such as Intel, Motorola and Zilog, progressively improved the power and pricing of their products to the point where desktop and laptop computing was affordable for those on middle-income wages.
And today, because that same rate of progress is being made, computing resources that are housed at scale in data centres across the globe can be made available more economically than if they were on the premises of a business. It means that rather than pay for terabytes of local storage, a company can improve their bottom line by leasing that storage capacity together with the support staff to look after it. It means that rather than invest in expensive server hardware in their own data centres, an organisation can lease just the processing power they need. And it means that private, public and third sector businesses can access applications using an internet browser rather than installing and maintaining software on every laptop, desktop and smartphone their employees use.
The impact of these two influences
What of the impact of the climate change megatrend upon the information, media and telecommunications industry?
As with other industries, there are two components – what is produced and the supporting operations. For Division J, production is all about information. Whether in the form of a TV broadcast, a local library, an internet service provider, or a satellite earth station. Division J is about the creation and transmission of information.
This requires people and buildings, as well as data centres, communication networks, user technology, the ability to handle physical media, and so on. All impacted to a greater or lessor extent by responses to climate change.
The costs associated with paper-based products may cause this section of the industry to become unattractive. For example, the association of timber with deforestation, which accounts for 10% of global emissions, together with the need for water in the production process will increasingly put pressure on the viability of this long-standing medium. Not just newspapers and books, but also magazines, invoices, court documents, and junk-mail.
While our usage of cloud computing and devices such as smartphones and tablets grows unabated, efforts are being made to reduce their environmental impact. Given that data centres consume about 1% of global energy production, together with the total carbon footprint of all user devices and supporting systems coming in at 3.7%, trends such as reduced handset turnover should not be surprising.
Even though data centres are being configured to run warmer, thus using less energy, the network infrastructure between these facilities is under threat. Both the data network and telecommunications infrastructure will be affected by changes in climactic conditions and weather events. This will be from a construction and operational perspective, where the environmental resilience of materials, standards and staffing will have to be improved. And from a usage perspective, where they will be greater reliance upon emergency communications and data telemetry systems.
Then there is the information that is created and disseminated. As we have seen in recent times with say the COVID pandemic and various political campaigns, powerful voices sway significant sections of a nation using electronic and social media. This directly translates to messaging and responses to climate change related events and medium term forecasts. It may be that libraries become important as dispassionate climate change information centres and meeting places for related community action.
Turning now to the global megatrend of computerisation.
Digital technology is at the heart of this industry division. It is central to creation of still and moving images. Authoring of scripts, of newspaper articles and other written communication is rarely undertaken without a keyboard attached to a computer of some description.
The storage and transmission of this content, apart from radio-wave broadcasts, all happens with computing and digital communications technologies. These technologies are also used in monitoring of how this content is received and responded to by its intended audience.
Software is used to create content that humans can do. Pro-forma sports and finance reports are easily created, and there are some early examples of AI being used to create theatrical scripts. Similarly with visual content, where computers are used to not just improve existing still and moving images but to create unique pictures.
Deep fakes, where a video of a trusted figure is manipulated in such a fashion that they seem to convincingly speak misleading and potentially statements, are an increasingly pernicious phenomena.
With voice communications on analogue infrastructure giving way to its digital equipment, together with the transmission of more data, telecommunication companies are having to shift the focus of some aspects of their operations. Issues include ethical data management, data privacy laws of different countries, and cybersecurity concerns.
Given that creation and dissemination of content is what this industry division does, and given that advanced economies generally move through the primary (raw materials), secondary (manufacturing), and tertiary (services) sectors to the quaternary sector (knowledge) as their driving economic force, it is easy to see the increasing computerisation of this information-centric division playing a significant role in the future.
5G and its successors, virtual and mixed reality, social media and the ability of personalities and narratives to hold people’s attention, will form the future of Industry Division J.
So. As with other industry divisions, we can see that the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation will impact the information, media and telecommunications industry for the foreseeable future. Climate change will primarily be felt in terms of the industry’s infrastructure and the perspectives of published climate-change information. Increasing computerisation will mainly influence both the creation and consumption patterns of a broad sweep of information, and how companies navigate the management and protection of data. It is important to note is that because information is the central focus of this industry division, the public’s responses to what is published will influence the direction of all other industry sectors. Particularly in relation to the global megatrends of climate change and increasing computerisation.
What are your prospects
From the preceding, and from a career perspective, there are several observations that can be made:
If you are more the “get it done” type: you’ll be supported in your work by computers and software with more sophisticated functionality
If you are more the “thinking” type: you’ll be drawn to implementing innovative technology that either better supports business outcomes or reduces its carbon profile
If you are more the “creative” type: you’ll have be aware of how your output can be misused
If you are more the “helper” type: you’ll be needed to support the introduction of forward-leaning content creation and dissemination technology
If you are more the “leader” type: you’ll need to be very comfortable with leading people in an environment where disparaging narratives can quickly take hold
If you are more the “structure” type: you’ll be faced with not only more onerous data management and protection regulations, but also needing to respond to the increasing impact of climate-related situations upon communication networks
Overall, from a career perspective, in the years ahead you’ll need to comfortable where the physical infrastructure of the industry is being challenged by climate change, and what and how it produces is being challenged by computerisation.
And from a business perspective, like with other industries, when it comes to responding to climate change it is all about mitigation (ie. shifting focus to reduce risk) and resilience (ie. fortification to handle risk). And, with respect to computerisation, it is all about automation and the use of data. So, for those operating within this industry, likely business prospects are along the following lines:
Mitigation: digitising paper-centric businesses, remove messaging ambiguity
Resilience: reduce energy usage, upgrade communications infrastructure
Automation: visual and written content creation, consumer response analysis
Data analysis: narrative development, cybersecurity threats and responses
Overall, and quite obviously, for businesses there are both risks to be aware of and opportunities to exploit in the change that is happening.
The information, media and telecommunications industry, like all other sectors of any economy, is being affected by the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation. Not only will these phenomena continue to change the industry, but because this industry in many ways influences other industries – those who control this sector have opportunity to set public narratives.
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