Saturday, June 13, 2009

5 Big Changes

Many people predicted rapid changes in the world when we hit the beginning of the 21st century. Instead, many of the changes did not hit until now. Look at what’s going on, just in the last two days:

  • The election in Iran. It’s the closest semblance of an open democratic election yet in Iran. There is robust participation by young voters, who seem to be favoring moderate candidates. It is also a coming-out party of sorts for women voters there, who are participating with more confidence than ever, and see themselves as voting for such basic privileges as the ability to dress in colors. It helps that Iran’s religious leadership has put the election firmly in the hands of voters, something it did not always do before. The sound bite from Ayatollah Khamenei: “I recommend them to just vote based on their own views and decisions.”
  • A flu pandemic. The World Health Organization had little choice, based on its rules. It declared a flu pandemic after the new factory farm flu was confirmed being transmitted in public places on multiple continents. It is the first flu pandemic in almost half a century. That does not mean it will actually go global, and I still believe that is impossible because of changes in public hygiene. With only 12 cases confirmed so far in India and Russia, it is easy to imagine that the flu will not spread everywhere, but it will certainly be widespread. If past pandemics are a guide, the new flu may kill one out of every 3,000 people in the world, but the WHO cautions that infectious diseases are hard to predict. Meanwhile, geneticists say the new flu virus may have spread for three years among factory farm pigs on multiple continents before it was detected.
  • Broadcast television. It’s June, but across the United States, people were seeing snow — when they turned on their television this morning, that is. First-generation broadcast television ended last night for most of the country. For others, though, the change will mean clearer signals as the digital transmitters get better positioned in transmitter towers. Two or three million households, including mine, did not do anything to prepare for the change. (My house never received analog television, but when I can find the time, I will want to check to see if I can tune in one nearby digital station.)
  • Microsoft drops Internet Explorer in Europe. Microsoft has announced that it will not include Internet Explorer in European copies of Windows 7. It is basically daring the Spread Firefox group to distribute the competing Firefox browser on CD. For Firefox, it is a chance to double their 32 percent market share in Europe at a cost of less than €1 million, so I am sure they will take on that challenge.
  • The tobacco bill. Tobacco is on the way out in the United States, with Congress approving a new law that will change cigarette packaging starting in December 2010. For the first time, tobacco products will have to disclose their ingredients, and the result will be that tobacco will never again be a major part of American culture. (More about this next week.)

And it’s not as if this is a sudden run of news. Earlier this week, Chrysler’s auto-making business was sold to Fiat, North Korea was testing missiles, Apple Computer refreshed most of its product line, and the Taliban army was routed from large areas of Pakistan. It’s a tough time for people who want to believe that nothing ever really changes.