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Another Place To Die

by Sam North

The Next Great Flu Pandemic is coming.
Are you prepared?

'It will keep readers in suspense, laced with gritty-gallows humor'
Charlie Dickinson

'Beautiful, plausible, and sickeningly addictive, Another Place to Die will terrify you, thrill you, and make you petrified of anyone who comes near you...'.
Roxy Williams -

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Another Place To Die

The International Writers Magazine: Futures

2010 - The Art of Prediction
Sam North

'Prediction is hard, particularly the future' Nils Bohr

*This was written in 2000 - with ammendments in 2007.

This article is devoted to our future. We haven’t tackled this lightly. We have been studying the future for a while now and I’ve been writing about it for a decade at least. The interesting thing about the future is that it is at one and the same time fixed and ever changing. Only sometimes I think the future has already been and gone.

Let me explain. We are writing this in the present. The millenium of our imagination wasn't the year 2000 you actually experienced. There were no jet cars, no colonies on the moon, all diseases had not been wiped out, there had been no third world war, computers and robots do not yet think nor run our lives.

There have been countless scenarios of the year 2000 and all of them involved either high technology or mass warfare, pestilence, famine or utopia. Well, look around, is this utopia? Is it hell? Neither, unless you live in Kosovo or Madagascar, Mongolia or Iraq. Hell, as they say, will always be with us. Hell just changes address from time to time.

Right now the UK is the world’s fourth largest economy, the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest figure for decades, house prices are at a peak (and still rising) and people appear to be optimistic. If there was ever a time to measure the start of the next recession, this must be it? Never, as they say, have we had it so good. If you own a house it already went up 500% since 1997. You feel so happy about this you have borrowed against your mortgage to buy that Audi TT you always wanted and the oh yes, the holidays in the Cape, the second home in don't notice that the key workers that make your life easy can't afford to buy and are deserting the capital city in droves. In April 22 The Guardian stated that by 2020 the price of a UK average home will be £666,000. It will be £300,000 in 2010.

Note that 666 number. I'll just remind you that as pensions will be worthless in 2020, most people will have to sell their homes to stay alive and the more that sell, the lower the price goes. My guess is that houses could be cheaper than now (in real terms) in 2020.

Major Banks are merging in the City, as are Insurance companies. Men and women who have been borrowing 6 times their incomes to purchase luxury homes in Docklands or Butler’s Wharf, or Chelsea. This is the nature of things, job insecurity. This is our future. Meanwhile are taxes are rising and a lot of companies that invested heavily in dotcoms are now feeling a lot of pain as they realise it was just an illusion. How many moe National Insurance and hidden tax rises can we take before strikes become commonplace again.

So what can we rely upon? In times of stress we have to have things we can trust and that means brands. Coca-Cola will always be the same, a Big Mac will always be just what it is and Birds Eye peas shall not wither on the vine. Our lives might be uncertain, but brands will be there like punctuation to comfort us. What if that isn’t true? What if I remove all certainty?

In the seminal science fiction film from Ridley Scott, ‘Bladerunner’ from the novel by Philip K Dick, Scott had to film a ‘possible’ Los Angeles of 2018. It was pretty fascinating and as likely as any vision of the future. It depicted the city as smog ridden, soaked in rain, people by millions of Chinese and other immigrants and for all the world looking like a transplanted Hong Kong. A dystopian vision sure and on the electronic billboards one can clearly see a brand leader ‘Atari’. It was a great guess. Completely wrong, but a great guess. How do you pick out a product that might survive 38 years beyond the date you make a film. It is pretty damn hard. Ridley Scott’s designers had to imagine a total world. We have hovering cars that could fly between giant buildings where the rich live. On the ground people bought and sold exotic cyberpets that looked just like the real thing. They had to because all the real animals have died, or been legislated away. Robots are so real they don’t even know they aren’t human, they even have real memories implanted to confuse them more. They smoke.

That’s a nice joke. Robots that smoke because they don’t know they are robots.
So in predicting 2010, eight years earlier than that movie, what brands will survive? Will it be Sony? or Microsoft or Ford? Can you be sure IBM will still be around in nine years time? This might seem like a stupid question in the UK today. All the certainties have gone, ownership of almost all our most famous brands have gone abroad, as well as ownership of most of our manufacturing and service industries. The French own our water, electricity, sewage, Nissan factories. The Germans and the American own the rest. This isn’t the voice of a little englander bemoaning our fate, but a matter of fact, we no longer own the means of our production or the brands we consume, our short-sighted managers and shareholders have sold us out and when the going gets tough, it will be rough. Really rough. Smoking is now illegal in pubs and clubs and cinemas. Soon, we hope it will be illegal outside as well. Ford is selling off Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Ford itself is in danger and the new Chairman of Chrysler is working for $1 dollar a year (betting he can increase sales and score a big bonus). In 2007 the worlds largest car maker is Toyota but China is stepping on it's toes...

So is your money on Marks and Spencer? They are big, probably want to survive, but who is to say that a French food group won’t take them over and ‘disappear’ the struggling brand? Sainsburys. The same. One can see the successful Netto Group going upscale and market buy buying them out. British Airways? Are you joking? British Telecom? The jury is out. Big company reluctantly dragging its ass into the 21st century, unsure of how to beat off the competition that is circling the BT wagons. Old monopolies don’t adjust well to open markets but at least they are fighting. Vodaphone,, Nokia, Barclays, HSBC, 3i, Rolls Royce jet engines, these are likely to survive pretty much intact. They are big, tough and global. The same goes for Mercedes Benz, VW and BMW. They will, between them, probably own most if not all European car production. Apple computers? Well they are the masters of re-invention and as they are design led, should survive. The ipod and iphone will save them. (Famous last words).

Consolidation is the name of the game. Eat the rest or die. Amazon’s chances are good, but an economic downturn could chip away at their profitability and competition is building. It is yet to be established if their brand loyalty (which is impressive) will withstand bad times as well as good. Freeserve might surprise everyone by surviving. Durlacher? hardly. Rumours abound now about Virgin being overstretched and bleeding heavily from the railway division. So count out Richard Branson as a long player. Easyeverything? Stelios is jumping ship. Is there anything certain? You could fly cheap to Bordeaux and buy a seaside home at Arcachon. Sterling is low in Europe now the Euro high. But what if you can't get a budget fight two years from now? What if the holiday home market collapses? How will get your money out. Will the Euro be stronger or weaker? Hard isn't it. What about the effects of climate change on the weather and consumer behaviour. Will flying become expensive again out of guilt? We shall see.

Even those who do spend $6 billion a year on research and development like Sony do may not survive. They will, but IBM. How much do they spend on R&D? Someone once said that no matter how much you spend on research, you can’t beat man with a good idea, a hunch. So it is likely a new technology company will forge a global ID with one good new idea over the next nine years and the older companies will curse the day they fired all the guys with ideas. Microsoft? Not as one company it won’t be. But ten Babysofts could be very dangerous indeed and one can’t rule out them taking a stranglehold over mobile commerce. Up until now you could have bet the ranch on Nokia but the mobile phone market has peaked. We've all got on. It's a replacement market now and 3G is taking time to catch on as their debts pile up and indeed there are much faster systems in Japan. Still look to Kroea for clues. 90 percent of the population are now on broadband and use of videophones is huge.

Whether we are talking e-commerce of m-commerce, it’s the second generation companies, picking up the pieces of the pioneers who try but fail who will probably make the big pile of money and those companies will either be the old ones changing to survive or completely new ones. That said, does one state with certainty that Shell or BP will be the brand leaders in 2010, just because they are now. What about all the anti-petrol engine legislation? Will zero-emmission targets kill of Big Oil? Will hydrogen or electric power finally make headway, or will they be the main suppliers of the new ‘clean’ fuels?

What about Time Warner/AOL. Surely entertainment will be needed, but since news is going to migrate to the phone, might there not be a shift in how we consume news and entertainment? Might a new generation just prefer the headlines? Or will they hunger for in-depth news? Will cinema be the same or change? The clue to that is not interactive media or any gimmicks but in broadband delivery. Free or by subscription as the new widescreen digital TV screens gain acceptance cinema as it stands could well fall out of fashion. Take a combination of pricey screen admission, parking problems,unreliable trains, urban crime, or babysitters versus new films delivered to the comfort of your home at the same time or three months after release, the death of the cinema could come quickly. Right now a lot of people are betting on 3-D to save cinema but better scripts might be a better investment.

We are talking 2.5 years to 2010. (Aug 2007)

One hundred years ago in a similar time frame the telephone, car, trucks, busses, electric trams, underground services, technology in healthcare, the tank, concentration camps, flying, electric light using ac/dc power with all gadgets all became commonplace. Just ten years.

Alongside it came new ideas about politics, (socialism, Marxism), ideas about public housing, civic sewage systems and fresh water supplies, express railroads, the modern office, mass mailing, the movies and in colour, the possibilities were endless the optimism fantastic.

Sure these were all developments of ideas that took place just before the turn of the century, but the acceleration of patents applied for after 1900 was phenonemal. Modern society accelerated away from the Victorian world and everything was changing. If war hadn’t broken out, who knows what kind of century it might have been.

Similarly at the turn of our century the internet is driving a huge change in the retailing world, delivering synergies and cost savings to the consumer. Although the uptake is slow it could have a devastating effect on jobs in banking if e-banking and e-commerce takes hold. 300 years of banking history may disappear. With e-mail and hole in the wall banking, as well as e-banking, the post office as a concept could cease to exist altogether by 2010. Link machines will deliver the pensions and social security cash to the customer right in the supermarket they shop in. (At a price of course)

Global warming might kill off much more than the car, if it isn’t proved to be a natural cycle. Either way the weather is changing and this will affect where we live. It is an extraordinary time. We like to think of everything remaining the same. That certain brands provide a litmus test of quality and inspire trust. But brands and tastes change. What looks great now, could look as stupid as the medallion around someone’s neck in 1980. You could go very broke predicting what will be fashionable in 2010. You could get it very wrong predicting which countries would be best to invest in. Mexico? Singapore? Poland? Each one has an intelligent, highly skilled workforce, but each one has a substrata of religious problems and society tensions. India, not if Pakistan can help it. China? Not if Big Brother loses his grip and the infighting begins, the lid could come off at anytime but look at the traffic. China the land of bicyles is now the land of gridlock and car sales there are phenonemal. China is now a petrol junkie. We will have to compete with them for the stuff in future and that may not be funny.

The world of 2010 will differ to 2000. I doubt it will sound like ours. If the past is a guide to the future, the change will be massive and many will suffer, many will gain. But I hope we can still find a calm place to eat and a sunny spot to drink some wine and savour the change that has taken place, and laugh at all the things we got wrong.

© SAM NORTH 2000 with a brief update in 2007

For a wider Sweep of history go to Visions of the Future


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