In the spring of 1997, during a presentation in Paris on IBM’s new e-business strategy, the CIO of a major European retail chain mentioned that his company had just spent a lot of money remodeling their stores. He was wondering if they had done the right thing, given all this new economy talk. We were in the middle of the dot-com frenzy, and the buzz in the air was that in the Internet-based new economy, brick-and-mortar businesses, like other businesses grounded in the physical world, could not possibly compete in this fast-moving digital space and were therefore headed for extinction.
Similar questions were being raised all around us. In my local library, in whose advisory council I have been serving since those days, we were making plans to leverage the new Internet capabilities, such as introducing an online catalog and providing wireless Internet access in the library building. But we were also wondering if a library building would be needed at all in the future, given the growing digitization of books, music, videos and just about all content.
As it has turned out, the Internet, along with the overall digital revolution has proven to be a transformation of truehistorical proportions, propelling us from the industrial society of the past two centuries to a new kind of information society and knowledge-based economy. But, it has not quite worked out the way some predicted back in those dot-com bubble days.
The physical world continues to be alive and well. No one is asking questions about the viability of cities, given that people can now work and shop virtually. To the contrary, urbanization is one of the biggest trends of the 21st century. According to the UN Population Division, more people now live in urban areas than in rural areas. That proportion will rise to over over 60 percent by 2030, and close to 70 percent by 2050. Over the next four decades, all the world’s population growth will take place in urban areas, in addition to the continuing migration of the rural population to cities.
Furthermore, the Web has evolved toward its Web 2.0, social networking phase. And, these social networking capabilities have reminded us that humans are inherently social. We get together, establish communities and organize into a wide variety of institutions to get things done more effectively. We like to communicate, share ideas and learn from each other.
(read more on Irving’s blog)