Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cartoon Reality

Last March, a news item about "bandwidth hogs" having their internet service cut off got me speculating about what internet usage would like once user demand outstrips available bandwidth. If a report just released by Nemertes Research is any indication, the answer is rolling brown-outs in about 3-5 years, unless ISP's invest $40-55 billion in infrastructure buildouts. That's 60-70% more than current outlay projections.

As I said then, on a lifestyle level we'll certainly look back on the days when we fired off a viral video to a friend just for laughs the way a man dying of thirst in the desert thinks back to his last water balloon fight. On a more serious note, net neutrality and the politics of bandwidth access will take on added significance, magnifying the importance of the outcome of today's policy battles.

On an even broader societal level, internet usage isn't the only activity we'll look back on with a sense of innocent wonder at the luxury we took so much for granted. Yesterday an acquaintance who works as a hedgefund analyst told me about a conference she'd attended recently. The featured speaker, Mikhael Gorbachev, spoke very matter-of-factly about oil at $300 per barrel in the near- to mid-term future. The potential impact on car and air travel is obvious; my acquaintance predicted a time not far off where only the global management elites (CEO's and heads of state) will enjoy the privilege of air travel. Globalization will increasingly refer exclusively to an exchange of capital and commodities, with little of the personal and virtual mobility we currently associate with it surviving.

I keep thinking that the sub-prime crisis is the defining metaphor for our historical moment: a last-gasp, credit-based mirage to fuel the tail end of a speculative bubble. So much of our current way of life is financed by virtual credit instruments whose solidity is based exclusively on the strength of our resolve to ignore their lack of foundation. Like Wily Coyote running past the cliff's edge, everything functions so long as no one looks down. The problem, of course, in reality as in the cartoons, arises when Roadrunner inevitably ambles over and nonchalantly chirps, "Mee-meep."

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   Odds & Ends   

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