Welcome to the end of the year. As I look forward into 2012, I foresee, uh... almost nothing. In fact I can’t recall a time when the uncertainty was so pervasive. Here is a small compendium of prognosticational impotence.

Asia · Every year that China goes on just going on astounds me. Even if everything went just right, the law of big numbers is making it harder to sustain 10% annual economic growth; and the political bargain in recent years has been that the middle class should shut up in the face of brutal oppression and pervasive corruption, in exchange for the growth-driven flow of prosperity. But things probably aren’t going to go just right.

People say that China is too big and stable to change fast. Go ask Mr Gorbachev or Mr Mubarak about that. History moves slowly, except when it doesn’t.

And then there’s Korea.

Middle East · How’s Syria going to play out? I don’t know either. Can Ahmadinejad keep surfing the Iranian political wave? Can the House of Saud keep resisting the tides of history?

And then there’s the Israel/Palestine conundrum. A majority of the Israeli electorate votes for parties that are either explicitly racist or simply uninterested in taking serious steps peace-ward. Both the Fatah and Hamas factions are acting increasingly reasonable, but that hardly seems relevant. Hezbollah isn’t, but has to be worried about its patrons’ viability.

If something cannot keep going on, it won’t. And the current political/demographic trends in that part of the world can’t.

Europe · Greece obviously can’t pay its debts. The design of the Euro seems flawed at its base. Its defenders seem to lack the courage to either shore up the weaknesses or end the project gracefully. Nobody knows the way out. Something that cannot continue going on... oh, we already said that.

America · 2012 is a year of decision and I haven’t the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Mr Obama and his forces seem terribly weak, but look at the other side. Quoting from The Economist on the Republicans:

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

Be afraid; be very afraid.

Personal Technology · What is the right distribution of functions between computers, tablets, and handsets? I don’t know either. What are the right form factors? Can Apple keep succeeding simultaneously on the design, engineering, marketing, and sales fronts absent Mr Jobs? How does life change, qualitatively, when more or less everyone has the Internet in their pocket more or less all the time?

Can anyone out there remember a time when the future felt simultaneously so volatile and so opaque?

Media · Does the world need publishing companies? Does the world need record labels? Does the world need movie studios? Does the world need large game publishers? For those cases where the answer is “yes”, what functions should these organizations provide?

This is one area where I’m somewhat consoled in not knowing the answers by being pretty sure that nobody else does either.

Canada, British Columbia, and Vancouver · Which is to say, my neighborhood. I can sigh in relief and predict quite confidently that in all of these, not that much will happen in 2012. Such a relief.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Tom Welsh (Dec 31 2011, at 17:28)

Smart man! As John Kenneth Galbraith observed, there are two types of forecasters: (1) those who don't know what's going to happen, and (2) those who don't know they don't know what's going to happen.

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From: Eric (Dec 31 2011, at 17:59)

I think Ron Paul has a chance to change things for the better. I was initially a skeptic but after looking closer at his policy and plans, I think he is a great candidate and can finally get the US out of the business of getting involved abroad where it doesn't need to.

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From: Martin Probst (Dec 31 2011, at 18:22)

Don't underestimate the European Union's astonishing ability to muddle along, no matter the stakes, tasks, or adversaries.

I personally expect we'll have a half-baked compromise to reduce spending and increase fiscal coordination, and Greece will be ruled by Eurocrats for the foreseeable future.

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From: Hanan Cohen (Dec 31 2011, at 21:37)

It will probably not comfort anyone, but I would like you to know that at least one of your readers is an Israeli who doesn't vote for a racist party.

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From: Nelson Melo (Jan 07 2012, at 23:23)

That ending made me smile. The change feels big and the opportunity enormous, but at the same time our own little place in the world feels secure.

Happy New Year indeed.

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From: len (Jan 10 2012, at 12:10)

I'm not sure if the question is do we need the media companies or if the current replacements, Apple stores, Netflix, yadda are adequate. The real changes have been the consolidation of distribution, the outsourcing of the rest of the functions and the increased access to global artists (meaning I'm not stuck with a Top 40 mainly controlled by New York, LA and Nashville).

The reality is the hits are still coming from media companies that can coordinate the services and pick the artists. Access to money has not changed one iota and access is still required. I know, sure, anyone can produce but can they sell? From where I sit, we got a brief flash of "wow, this can all be ours" and a rapid reconvergence back into the same forms and a little worse. Dreck is still dreck and the blues are still a ball and chain and where once the protest artist had a market, now they are market poison. American Idol stars are outselling the entire history of the American pop catalog now.

As for Obama in 2012, did you watch the BCS championship? Showing up late with no game doesn't bode well for the number one team when the number two team does and has a point to make.

For all the silliness of the far right, they may coalesce and if they do, Obama is toast after signing the NDAA. The race for the white house is largely irrelevant to the forces emerging to be the attractors of change agents. The local races are the future and no, no one can predict how this will affect the globe. So yeah, Canadians should lock all their doors and windows and hide under their blankets.

One prediction is safe: a dozen new programming languages will be invented to consolidate web programming tasks and most of them will get a small following before sinking into obscurity, somewhat like the indie pop market outside the media giant doors. Fads is fads. As for Apple, the mavens of innovation will continue to crow while their slaves in China continue to work very long hours for very little reward. And so it goes in the fantasy world of soft round edges toys.

The one reliable source of stable change are the small committed persistent self-sustaining groups with an executable idea. So no change there. The reason we can't predict it is they are a bit busy to talk to us.

Syria? Bashar Assad is a dead man. He just doesn't know it yet.

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