David Houle’s Entering the Shift Age came to my attention in a way that affirms the message of the book. I had just boarded an airplane and started checking out the in-flight entertainment offerings on my smartphone. That was the first I heard that not just movies and TV episodes, but also music and books, were available. It was also the first time I used onboard wi-fi. Here I am, a middle-aged person, teaching myself to use a handheld computer to pull a book out of thin air.
As I am writing this, I am eavesdropping on a 10-year-old girl teaching her mother about the inductive charging rings at Starbucks. “That is so cool. What will they think of next?” Indeed.
Entering the Shift Age is the 2013 follow-up to Houle’s 2008 book, Shift Age. I’d go back and read it, except that I have the sneaking suspicion the author would find that redundant. It would just be reinforcing concepts that were clear enough from the sequel, while he’s busy working on his next book. Futurists look forward.
This book excited me so much that I want to quote massive sections from it and steal all the charts and diagrams. It’s a fast read and it’s really cool. I’ll let you find that out for yourself, though, and summarize. The “Shift Age” is a time of rapid historical transition, as any adult should realize from personal experience. I’m about to turn 40 and I remember rotary phones, punch-button car radios, cars without seat belts, smoking in restaurants, cigarette vending machines, record players with LP and 45 settings, and lots of other things that seem antiquated now. I’ve used a slide rule, a transistor radio, and a suitcase-sized “portable” radio that took D-cell batteries. I learned to type on a manual typewriter with an ‘l’ key that also served as a numeral 1. I also watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV, as well as the end of apartheid. When I think of how much is going to change during the rest of my lifetime, it makes me shiver all over.
One small point from Houle’s book was perhaps something of an afterthought from his perspective, although it seems incredibly significant from mine. He points out that material possessions will be less important to people in the future. This is partly due to how much of life is done on a screen now, and partly due to how mobile people are becoming. I can speak to this. We are living in the third city of our five-year marriage, and it has definitely made us question how many tangible objects we need. All forms of media, photos, and personal documents can be digitized. People are already starting to see clothes, handbags, and other accessories as transitory (even more true when you start rapidly changing sizes). Virtually any good or service can be ordered online and delivered within 24 hours. One day, we may be able to use 3D printers to make any common object on demand. “Stuff” is so easy to get, and less expensive than at any previous time in history. Let’s start asking ourselves what we’ll really need tomorrow, next year, and five years from now, and letting our personal environments adapt to the new reality.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.