On 7th December 1972, Apollo 17 astronaut, Jack Schmitt took a picture of the earth from 45 000km that has become known as Blue Marble. It was a remarkable picture of the planet and one that captured the imagination of most. It has been said to be the most reproduced photograph of all time and the only humans to have ever seen this unique view of our planet are the three crew members of Apollo 17. Blue Marble was recreated in subsequent missions in 2012 and 2015 with a variation being what is known as Black Marble, which was a picture that captured the earth in darkness.
Blue Marble Blue Marble invites perspective. It is a forceful reminder of the importance of stepping back, of understanding context when engaging in any specific discussion or decision. A familiar framing of the global context used by futurists is that of ‘VUCA’ – a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. In his book, How to See the World, Nicholas Mirzoeff, offers us another contextual framework, one inspired by Blue Marble. Mirzoeff suggests that since 1972 (the year the picture was taken) the planet has changed in four distinct areas. He describes the world as young, urban, wired and hot and there have been significant shifts in all these areas since 1972. Like VUCA, these represent four useful ‘handles’ to help us understand the global context.
By 2011 more that half the world’s population was under 30. Countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa have what is described as a ‘youth bulge’ when it comes to the demographics of their respective countries. Understanding the implications of an increasingly young world is important. It was interesting that in the recent referendum that took the UK out of the European Union, the vote (52%-48% in favour of Brexit) was split along age lines with the majority of young people voting to remain in the EU. Understanding how and where the world is ‘young’ are important strategic considerations in identifying critical issues in the both the present and long-term.
Since 2008, for the first time ever, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. The rate of urbanisation is staggering and is driven by various and complex forces, from the economy to politics. In the case of Brazil, 85% of its citizens live in cities. This shift in critical mass plays out in social, economic and political ways and concentrates resources and provides a focal point for both opportunity and threat.
According to Mirzoeff, since 2000 the growth in Internet access has increased by 566%. Today more than a third of the global population has Internet access. In February of this year the cheapest smartphone ever to be released was launched in India. The Freedom 251 costs just 251 Rupees ($4USD). The potential implications of this affordable technology are obvious. 45% of those with Internet access are in Asia and with free Internet access for Africa a possibility, the shift that is happening in this particular area is staggering. Google estimates that by 2020 some 5 billion people will be connected to the Internet. Every minute some 100 hours of YouTube video is uploaded and those between 18-34 watch more YouTube than they do cable television. Shifts such as this have huge implications for advertising, marketing and intellectual property – to name but three of the more obvious areas!
Mirzoeff makes the point that in 2013 carbon dioxide passed the signature threshold of 400 parts-per-million in the atmosphere for the first time since the Pliocene era about three to five million years ago. Of course the catastrophic impact of this on our planet is well documented as daily we see the impact of shifting and unprecedented weather patters. Our beautiful ‘Blue Marble’ is undergoing a facelift and it is not one for the better!
Of course much more could be said under each of the four areas. However, understanding the shifts taking place on our young, urban, wired and hot planet is a good start in understanding something of the bigger picture – in understanding out context.
For leaders everywhere helpful frameworks such as that which Mirzoeff provides are invaluable. As a leader may I also suggest that you could do worse than reading How to See the World and asking how your industry / business is experiencing ‘young, urban, wired and hot’ could be amongst your most important discussions of 2016.