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Posted: September 12, 2012

The futurist: Creating the builders of our future

A new breed is moving us forward

Thomas Frey

As something of a grand finale to their 11-week, full-immersion Ruby on Rails class, our first graduating class of DaVinci Coders took the stage on Demo Day on Aug. 29 to talk about the projects they worked on.

It was quite remarkable listening to the stories of transformation that occurred as students with no coding background whatsoever managed to immerse themselves in this new field and produce some extraordinary apps.

This class represents the next generation of “builders” who are taking over the world, because inside these lines of code lies the foundational underpinnings of the future.

Builders of the past have included people like architects, manufacturers, construction workers and material fabricators. However, people in those professions are passing the baton to a new breed of builders skilled in things like digital architecture, intelligence work and information fabrication.

To paraphrase the famous words of President Kennedy, “We choose to go to the moon, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” Creating a digital foundation for our future will indeed be hard, but here’s why we should be welcoming this challenge.

The War Between Atoms and Electrons 

While most people don’t think of it this way, there is a war going on between atoms and electrons. Atoms represent everything in the physical world and electrons are the embodiment of our digital world.

Digital products are being created exponentially faster than anything that requires the manipulation of physical materials. Companies today are making conscious decisions about whether they should be working with physical products or digital ones.

Physical products require the use of raw materials, designers, engineers, shipping & receiving, inventory, warehouse space, shelf space, marketing & sales, and most importantly, physical products have tax implications. Digital products, on the other hand, can eliminate 90 percent of the work involved in producing and distributing material goods.

Companies producing digital products are moving far faster than those creating physical ones, simply because they can.

As a result, we are witnessing a brain drain as employees leave their physical-world jobs in transportation, manufacturing, and service industries to move into positions in digital companies because that is where all the excitement is.

People moving into the information space, like the students at DaVinci Coders, are at the forefront of this cultural shift.

The Shedder Generation

Baby boomers have become a generation of shedders. Gone are the days of them seeing who can own the most stuff, and as they head into retirement, we are seeing increasing amounts of stuff headed towards the trash heap. As they pursue a more manageable lifestyle boomers are “shedding” their belongings.

However the boomers are not alone. Virtually every category of consumer is spending less on physical products and more on non-physical ones such as digital products, online education, and personal experiences.

An obvious shift when digital technologies started affecting physical industries 

The chart  shows the shift that occurred around 2000 as the emergence of Internet technologies started affecting real world businesses.

Today, it is much more likely that someone will read a digital book instead of its physical counterpart. Similarly people are much more likely to download digital music, photos, movies, or games rather than purchase their tangible equivalent on CDs, paper, or vinyl.

To many, the physical world is the underlying culprit of most of their problems:

  • A recent study by Zillows shows that a full 48 percent of homeowners younger than 40 are underwater on their home mortgages.
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  • When it comes to car loans, recent estimates show upwards of 79 percent underwater in this same under-40 age group.
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  • In 2010, the average manufacturing wage in China was $2.00 per hour compared with $34.75 per hour in the U.S.
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  • Business spending on nonresidential physical structures is roughly 30 percent below the 2007 pre-recession highs, while investment in software and digital products is up almost 20 percent over the same period.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Definitely interesting, and a powerful trend. However, we are still physical beings, and must live in the physical world, at least until we manage to transform into non-corporeal pure energy. This means that there is still a need for all those people for whom you seem to have a small amount of disdain: architects, engineers, designers, and others who create the physical "stuff" that allows us to survive and thrive. Digital books, music, movies, and games are all nice entertainment, but they don't cover your body, move you from your home to the grocery store, wash your clothes, or cook your food. By Tony Grieder on 2012 09 12
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