I’m a fan of Bob Dylan and when he sang this in 1964, he was right. In fact, he was right then and even more right (righter?) today. The times have changed, are changing and will continue to keep changing at a breakneck pace for the foreseeable future. Actually, the times are changing so fast that many futurists (seriously, how does one go about getting hired for that job?) are having trouble predicting the future. Back in the old days, it was easy for futurists, and science fiction writers for that matter, to envision and even predict the future generations down the line. Now, they’re actually struggling with what the future will look like, primarily because the future is now. Everything they think of feels like it actually happens the next day, so casting a longer line into the pond of the future is becoming increasingly difficult.
Specifically, Dylan said:
Come gather 'round people where ever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a' changin’!
Just how relevant is this for today? If you mention to someone how fast the world is changing, you’ll struggle to find anyone that would dispute the claim. Of course, we know that change has always occurred throughout history. However, in the 21st Century, the waters of change are rising around us at a ferocious velocity, without exhibiting even the slightest sign of ebbing.
Just consider the following facts and statistics that show how different of a world we live in compared to the world in which we grew up:
Over 500 million people are traveling on commercial airplanes — right now.
There are five times the number of people learning to speak English in China than in the US.
India has more honor kids than America has kids.
In 1992, texting began, but today the daily texts exceed the population of the planet.
There are roughly 540,000 words in the English language, which is about fives times as many as during Shakespeare’s time.
We consume more data in one day than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.
There are more people on earth who own a cellphone than own a toilet.
60 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day.
Over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every sixty seconds.
Over 4 billion videos are viewed every day on YouTube, with 70 percent of the traffic coming from outside of the United States.
People share 1.3 million pieces of content on Facebook every minute of every day.
79 percent of people are using Facebook or Twitter exclusively on their mobile phones.
Globally, there will more unique information (over 5 exabytes) generated this year than was created in the last 5,000 years.
The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years, which means that for students starting a four year technical degree, half of what they learn as freshmen will be outdated by the time they are juniors.
NTT Japan has successfully tested a fiber optic cable that pushes 14 trillion bits per second (2,660 CDs or 210 million phone calls per second) down a single strand of fiber, and it’s tripling every six months and is expected to do so for the next 15 years.
The Hebrew language has a word “selah”, which is a command that means “pause, and think of that.” If you were ever to take time to selah, it should be after reading that list, especially if you’re in the entertainment business. The amount of change is staggering.
Practically, what do these things mean to content creators? They mean that we live in a far more global society than ever before. Communication and travel has made it so that the biggest, most expensive Donald Trump wall can’t stop the world from getting smaller in this way. People are not only used to having instantaneous communication with each other, but technology has developed in such a way that people don’t just simply consume media anymore.
Today, people nearly create as much media as they consume.
As more people create, more people consume, which causes more people to create, which causes more people to consume, which causes tech companies to increases capacity and bandwidth, which causes more people to create bigger and better things, which causes more people to consume more bigger and better things, and so on and so on until we end up in the Wall-E future.
Driven mostly by technological progress and global integration, the speed of everything is going up and up. Consider how long it took the following things to reach an audience of 500 million:
Radio: 38 years
Television: 13 years
Internet: 4 years
iPod: 3 years
Facebook: 2 years
Apple App Store: 14 days
Gangnam Style Video: 3 days (a billion in three months)
The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer: 24 hours
Imagine if I wrote a note and asked you to hand deliver it to a half a billion people. It would certainly take an unworkable amount of time and, more than likely, be impossible to accomplish. But now, in this hyper-connected world, you can do it in a day.
Admittedly, this change hasn’t all been positive. Have you spoken to a 13-year-old recently? They’re scary weird different because they’re growing up in a world that is nearly unrecognizable on a social, geo-political, technological scale.
Consider that in 2015, globally, 50 billion total minutes were spent on Facebook per day. This means that the equivalent of 2.9 million years were wasted by Humanity on Facebook in a single month. In this light, the future set forth by the creators of Wall-E may actually be prescient and is a clue into how we end up with Donald Trump as as legitimate presidential candidate. #justsayin’
But the biggest question to ask ourselves as writers, producers and content creators is that if everything has, in fact, changed, then why do we think we can create entertainment the same way we've been creating it for 50 years? 20 years? Even 10 years?