The State of the Art
Table of Contents
There's a lot going on in the world. I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the state of things and make a few predictions. The driving motivation is that I wish I had done this a decade ago and could look back on it now to see what I was thinking, what stood out at the time, and of course how close my predictions came to reality.
Let's dive in.
Here are some things that stand out in my memory. Lot's more happened of course but this is a subjective perspective:
- Massive economic growth. I'm talking mostly from the perspective of the US stock market. The 10 year run after the financial crisis of the previous decade was huge and as of this writing it hasn't ended yet. Covid hit and there was a blip of downward pressure, but with the exception of a few notable verticles (airline industry...) prices are right back up.
- There was more centralization of talent and rising housing prices. I have no data about rural areas, but there seems to have been a flight to cities where economic opportunities were strongest.
- The decade of mobile
- Apps took over the world, and not in a good way. These days every company seems to feel the need for an app, even when it's not justified. Some great things have happened in the world of apps to be sure, but it's gone a bit overboard.
- The rise of apps also means the rise of closed systems and the need permission-granting entities (i.e. those who control the app stores). This is an unfortunate trend. The internet in the past thrived on being permission-less.
- VR was going to be cool and then was just... meh.
- I was swept up in the VR fervor so it's a bit disappointing it hasn't quite changed the world, but I'm still hopeful for it. More on this later.
- SpaceX started landing their own rockets.
- Even now in 2020 the implications of advances in rocketry haven't played out, but it was supremely exciting to see the progress made in this field.
- They also launched a Tesla into space, which was mostly just a media sensation but fun to watch nonetheless.
This section is a mix of observation and prediction. It should go without saying but I like to be explicit: I may be totally wrong about any predictions made here.
That being said, let's look at some trends.
A pandemic the likes of which we've not seen in the lifetime of anyone living. This pandemic forced hundreds of millions to isolate themselves and minimize their exposure to the world outside their immediate dwelling.
Prediction: This will have long-lasting, transformational consequences.
This is the point that, I think, will inform all my other predictions. The short version is this: The world will embrace the idea of being remote. It's been technically possible for a long time, but a non-starter in most companies due to company culture.
I'm wholly unsure about the direct effects on future travel. I think the state of world travel will return to normal, but it will take at least a year. Even after lockdowns end in most or all countries, people may still be semi-confined to their country for a longer period of time.
Many countries had very different outcomes as they tried to deal with COVID. It's not clear how that will play out. For example, what does reinstating travel look like between a country that fully contained the virus and a country where the virus spread wildly?
I distinguish the two because they are slightly different.
- Remote: You work somewhere other than an office, full time. No geo restrictions.
- Ex: You can work for a Hong Kong based company while living in Lisbon.
- WFH: You work outside the office but generally reside in the same geographic area as the office. You might mix a few days a week of WFH with a few days of "work from office."
There's some overlap here to be sure. The core distinction is that WFH is generally still geographically tied to the company you work for, while remote isn't.
Working from home is NOT the same as isolation. What people are experiencing under COVID is being called WFH because people are physically at home, but WFH is a very different experience than isolating yourself from your peers and the outside world. Many people are understandably quite dissatisfied with working from isolation. I hope over the longer term WFH doesn't become stigmatized due to the associations created during COVID.
Prediction: More people will work remotely than ever before.
Working remotely doesn't mean losing your social life or being distant from the things you care about. On the contrary, it means more freedom. You can work at the company you want to without relocating. You can relocate to a locale you like better without leaving your job.
Remote work means decoupling work from locale.
For anyone who chooses you can also continue to work at an office in the city of your company. The remote trend doesn't mean you have to work remotely, it just means you can if you want to.
Some people really enjoy working form an office. Some do not. Now both types of person can have a more ideal work situation.
Prediction: More people will move to smaller cities .
Big cities are a lot of fun—just not for everyone. San Francisco for instance is a notoriously bad city for raising children. However, many parents still choose to live in San Francisco because of the job market. If that job market detaches from the locale of San Francisco I predict a significant number of people will decide to move elsewhere.
My prediction is this—while many will choose to remain in dense cities some subset of the current residents will choose to move because moving does not mean living their job.
There may also be people that simply want are already living outside a city and commuting in. I expect that given the chance many of these people would work from home during the week and commute in occasionally for social events or other non-work activities.
Longer term I expect this dispersion to create downward pressure on property values in the most urbanized areas.
Prediction: Business travel will decrease significantly.
The world will continue to need to do business. Meetings are a big part of this. However, meetings can often be conducted remotely. This has been true for a while, but companies have not fully embraced remote meetings for cultural reasons—it's just not how business has been conducted in the past.
You may be thinking that conferencing—both video and audio—has been around for a while. Webex was around long before Zoom (indeed it was supposedly the genesis of Zoom), but there was still quite a lot of international travel strictly for the sake of meetings. My prediction is that this will change. Video conferencing is far cheaper in human time and monetary cost.
For companies interested in reducing costs without reducing productivity (read: all companies) this could be a significant boon.
I'm super biased here, because I really want VR to be a thing. So far it's been very lackluster but if the trend towards more remote interactions increase I predict...
Prediction: Increased market pressure for social VR.
Have you ever tried having out in VR? If not, you're missing out. VR has a lot of drawbacks but one area where it really excels is hangouts. Hanging out in VR is an order of magnitude more immersive than a video chat. It's of course not as good as in-person, but it's so much better than video that VR could find a very viable niche in a more remote world.
My completely-biased hope is that the coming decade will show us the first killer app for VR. My prediction is that that app will be related to hangouts. You don't need to solve VR locomotion, you just need people to be able to hang out and maybe do interesting VR stuff while their at it.