January 2001

The world has changed a lot in the past ten years.

A decade ago, software was reliable and hardware was expensive. Now hardware is cheap and software is junk (with a few exceptions, such as OS/2, Be, and Unix/Linux).

Grave New World.

A decade ago, many hospitals were non-profit organizations run for the benefit of the surrounding communities. PPO plans were expensive, and HMOs were going to help everybody cut costs. Now megamerged conglomerates dictate insurance policy, medical protocols, and staffing decisions. HMOs have become new expense centers as their middlemen positions have become mere cash-cows for stock-market swindlers and corporate grifters.

Grave New World.

A decade ago, pharmaceutical companies made antibiotics that killed almost every new germ. Now the huge drug companies race to see who can patent human genes and body processes -- there's money to be made!

Grave New World.

A decade ago, the Internet was an exclusive club for military, scientific, and educational establishments to share vital business and research data. Now the Internet is a nearly free portal for all to gain access to information about anyone and anything, but it is also a conduit for useless data, scams, computer viruses, and invasions of privacy.

Grave New World.

A decade ago, scientists, engineers, and computer experts could rake in healthy salaries just doing their jobs in a regular 40-hour workweek. Now millions of these geniuses are discarded like empty beer cans after their first big assignment, and replaced by legions of retrained janitors, college fresh-outs, and imported replacement workers.

Grave New World.

There has been more change in the past ten years in terms of corporate structures, employment practices, and scientific capabilities than in the previous 50 years. Year over year the trends seem barely noticeable. But they accumulate over time, and after a decade the changes become obvious. Little changes we can adjust to; big changes in a short period of time make adjustment difficult. For some people, adjustment is impossible.

This means that as we roll into the new millennium, we live in a grave new world of grave responsibilities and grave decisions.

"Adjustment" for people like research scientist Mike McDermott of Massachusetts didn't work. Research scientist? Wasn't he just a software helper, a flunkie tech-support phone answerboy? That was his immediate position, but that was not his capability. He had previously worked in R&D for the Duracell battery company for nearly ten years. In other words, he was a scientific researcher who could only find work as a cheap support techie. No wonder he flipped out when the IRS wanted to leave him with $250 per paycheck!!

"Adjustment" for successful stock market players has meant moving out of high-priced tech stocks and into bonds, securities, and value-priced stock indexes. It has also meant a lot of pain and grief for people who bought in big-time this year. Some people have had to adjust by accepting lower returns; others have had to go look for a "real job" or even dip into their savings accounts.... which is one reason why U.S. savings rates are negative.

"Adjustment" for some sick people has meant less trips to see the doctor, less medications, and less therapy, at a time when medical knowledge has grown deeper and faster than ever before. How frustrating to watch high-school and college athletes given better medical care than scholars, workers, and parents!

So for most people -- the average people, the normal people, the everyday people -- adjustment to the grave new world has involved decisions about which advancement they cannot have, about which technology they cannot master, about which luxury they must give up hope of ever enjoying. Little by little, year over year, people with ordinary means and ordinary lives find control over their decisions slowly slipping away....

We should not be surprised, then, to see superior technologies wither, or to see OS/2 marginalized in the media and even by its owner, IBM. We should not be surprised to see self-anointed would-be messiahs like Microsoft's Bill Gates and GE's "Neutron" Jack Welch determine more and more of what we buy, what we use, and what we discard. The rich have gotten filthy rich in the past decade, not by selling quality but by eliminating it; not by building durable products but by dictating planned obsolescence; not by offering choice but by offering the illusion of choice. Read the food labels sometime at your local supermarket, and see how many times the same ingredients and additives are used, over and over, in foods that are organically different.

OS/2 has adjusted nicely, with open-source projects and multiple OS emulations. What kind of adjustments have you had to make over the past decade? How has the Grave New World's "new economy" treated you?

Don't feel bad if it adds up to shock and disappointment.... and don't feel too smug if you've managed to make all the right moves. As entertainer Al Jolson once said, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Most recent revision: December 30, 2000
Copyright © 2000, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.