Monday, May 25, 2009

The Instant Nostalgia Test

As an exercise in instant nostalgia, think back three months, to February 2009. President Barack Obama had just taken office in the middle of the worst recession in a lifetime. One of the biggest consumer electronics chains was liquidating and closing all its stores. Millions of people lost their jobs that month. Two of the big three U.S. automakers were struggling to write real business plans for the first time in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. And one of the hottest political topics was . . .

Well, just about the biggest controversy in Washington in February 2009 was the digital broadcast television transition. Some folks said, let it go ahead as scheduled on February 17. Others said no, that’s much too soon, we have to put it off till June 12 to give viewers more time. And they argued and bickered for weeks until they finally came up with a compromise.

Wow. You look at all the things that Washington is struggling with this month, and it’s hard to believe that the exact timing of a technical change in television broadcasting was the big draw-the-line-in-the-sand moment of three months ago. And that’s one way to measure how much tougher things have become economically. It’s one thing to look at the 8 million people who have lost their jobs between then and now, or the 1 percent decline in GDP, but when you look at the changes in the public agenda and see how much more serious and sober we’ve become about the things we focus on, that’s when you can say, “Yeah, things have really changed.”