When I was twelve, my brother, two years younger than me, told me that one day everybody would talk to each other through computers connected by wires.
“Why would they want to do that?” I remember thinking. My brother was clearly smarter than I was then, and I suspect he still is.
Today, my brother restores turn-of-the-century era homes in and around Portland, Oregon, and I spend most of my days talking to people around the world on computers connected by wires.
Unbeknownst to us at the time of his oracular pronouncement, the fulfillment of his prophecy was well underway.
The Internet had its roots in the late 1960s as a project of the United States government’s Department of Defense that aimed to create a non-centralized network designed to survive partial outages (e.g. from nuclear war) and still function when elements of the network were down or destroyed. This project was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), created by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was established in 1969 to provide a secure and survivable communications network for organizations engaged in defense-related research.
Fast forward to 2007, and the Internet has grown to the point where there are over one billion people accessing it on a daily basis. . . . a sixth of the world’s population.
Many people around the world harbor the misguided notion that the promise of the Internet was overstated, and point to the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2002 as evidence to support their claims.
The reality of the matter is that big and otherwise usually smart money rushed into the new space, throwing billions of dollars ahead of them, driven by the biggest investment driver in the human psyche, fear. (Some will say, “What about greed?” but when you think about it, greed is just the fear of not having enough, and is therefore a form of fear.)
Fear of missing out on the astounding new technology that would connect everyone to everyone else and manifest a collective consciousness for the betterment of the entire race.
The Internet was merely the beneficiary of an excess of investment that went in to building out infrastructure too quickly, before the returns on such investment could be properly monetized.
Certainly a collective consciousness has been established by the Internet, but the major effect of this new elevated level of common knowledge has been to supercharge the biggest driver of labor in the human psyche, desire.
The Internet has established the desire in countries previously unencumbered by it for a standard of living on par with Europe and North America.
For people who were otherwise content, or at least resigned, to their lifestyles, it opened the door to the possibility of a better life.
And this new elevated collective desire now rampant in the populations of third-world countries has effectively destroyed the cyclical nature of many industries. Chief among them is the industry that makes possible all other industries, mining.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s add the populations of Europe, North America and Oceania together, and call that the population of the “haves,” or the people with the standard of living that the rest of the world’s population is after.
That means that 5.4 billion citizens are all going to want the standard of living currently enjoyed by only 1.2 billion. An oversimplification, perhaps, but a valid viewpoint none the less.
According to the table above, only 11.3% of Asia’s population, far and away the largest still living below our standards, have adopted the new desire and are diligently building the infrastructure upon which their future lifestyle must rest.
India and China are commonly acknowledged as the next two economies to be reckoned with in terms of double digit economic growth. Prices for basic materials such as copper, steel, nickel and virtually every other mineral used in construction are marching steadily upward.
Certain economic commentators are calling this a “super-cycle,” implying that the trend will eventually reverse itself and these industries will contract as they have done since the industrialization of mankind.
It is no such thing.
The cyclical nature of mining is dead, a relic of the past.
What do you think is going to happen to the demand curve for basic materials when China, India, Africa and Latin America’s Internet penetration percentages rise to meet North America’s?
How about Russia?
China is the largest consumer of copper, but the United States is second. Once a standard of living is achieved it must be maintained.
The rest of humanity’s existence will now be spent in bringing the world population up to a better standard of living. Or it will perish in the attempt.
The secret is out.
Even in the remotest African villages, people know who Britney Spears is. And all of the young people want to go to her concerts. All the adults want cars, pools, vacations, 840 thread count sheets and chilled white wine in fine crystal to go with their smoked salmon.
This is the dawn of a new era, and history will likely remember it as the Information Age. The homogenization of the human race is underway, and the boom in the mining sector is merely the first harbinger of the coming boom in everything else.
The beneficial effect of a connected collective consciousness will soon manifest itself in the form of greener energies, less waste, more efficient transportation modes, improved urban planning, and who knows? Perhaps the colonization of distant worlds is closer than we think.
But none of this will come to pass until the human race has achieved a more equitable distribution of living standards.
Can our planet’s resources support the Euro-North American lifestyle for seven billion people? Will “resource wars” over water, energy and food engulf an ever broader swath of humanity? Can our ecosystem withstand the onslaught of refuse that must surely result? Will technology deliver the ability to extract minerals from distant planets? Will the population of another planet whose ecosystem is already used up come and steal all our stuff?
These are valid and visionary questions that my brother and I like to discuss now on the all-too-infrequent occasions when we convene for beer, guitar and philosophy.
The discussion about how long the bull market will last is now left to second-rate pundits and hacks whose perspective is drawn from a height measured in inches. Say from the posterior of a horse, perhaps.