Questions for Davos

Davos Conversation notes…

: John Robb asks: ‘Is Davos relevant?’

With global economy running itself (where it is going, nobody has a clue), bottoms up organizations are forming to solve local and global needs, and states being pushed to margins, you can’t help but get the sense that Davos is hideously anachronistic — from a seemingly long ago time when big ideas, big people, and big states ruled the world.

: Antonio Gould says the Davos Conversation is what the web was made for:

Traditionally a fairly closed event, the WEF have decided to get communicating with the wider public. . . . Nice to see the world’s great and the good actually making an effort to listen to people for once (it doesn’t seem to happen very often, especially in the UK nowadays). Whether they actually will or not remains to be seen.

: Andrew Keen wonders whether opening up is the best thing to do:

Is nothing sacred from the digital democratizers? The Davos Conference (aka: The World Economic Forum), historically the private networking event (a so-called “closed session”) of the rich, powerful and famous, has been invaded by the Web 2.0 crowd. . . .

Time magazine’s YOU is now headlining at Davos. The closed session has been blown open to gaze of anyone with a broadband connection. Nosey parkers on the internet can now watch the historically closed panels live from their computers. We will all be able to post our comments in “real-time” to Davos participants like Angela Merkel, John McCain, King Abdullah of Jordan and Tony Blair. We can give them our view of the environment, of the Iraq War, of the global economy, on the afterlife and the pre-life. We can lecture Bill Gates about computers, Rupert Murdoch about media, Bono about celebrity, Mohammed El Baradei about atomic power and Gordon Brown about economics.

The problem, however, is that if Tony Blair, King Abdullah, John McCain, Angela Merkel et al know that we are watching them, then they will say what we want them to say (meaning that they will say nothing different from what they always say on television). The whole raison d’etre of Davos — of powerful people getting together to talk in private about the world’s problems — will be undermined. By democratizing Davos, by turning it into an always-on event, the Web 2.0 crowd are transforming a historically important date on the calendar into a self-celebratory media circus. At Davos 2.0, everyone will feel great about their horizontal networks and nothing of any political sustance will get done. . . .

: Seamus McCauley puzzles over the optimism gap he sees in the survey data released by the WEF, which leads to a fascinating argument about the falling fortunes of newspapers:

But back to the 53% of Western Europeans who think that the world will be less prosperous in the next generation. What is is that inclines us to so fear the future? I’ve mentioned before Michael Chabon’s article The Omega Glory, in which his notes that,

“If you ask my eight-year-old about the Future, he pretty much thinks the world is going to end, and that’s it. Most likely global warming, he says–floods, storms, desertification–but the possibility of viral pandemic, meteor impact, or some kind of nuclear exchange is not alien to his view of the days to come. Maybe not tomorrow, or a year from now.”

There’s nothing new in a pessimistic view of the future. Christianity is at heart an apocalypse cult and much of the fundamentalist revival in the US focuses on an allegedly imminent rapture. The late C20th lived in the shadow of the bomb. Different armaggedons seemingly haunt every generation. Only last week conversation with friends over dinner turned to survivalism and contingency plans for the collapse of civilisation (remote, fortified Greek islands featured prominently).

I’ve posited before that our culture’s future-pessimism might explain the decline of the newspaper industry. An interest in current affairs is indissolubly bound up with the connection the reader feels with an imagined future to which those affairs might relate, and newsprint is suffering particularly from the evaporation of that connection. Chris Charron recently asked the LinkedIn community about the future for newspapers:

“When does the circulation drop below a point where the editorial, classifieds, and advertising models collapse and our vehicle news needs radical innovation?”

Vidar Hokstad gave, for my money, the most interesting answer – that newspapers face “not just a technological challenge, but a cultural challenge”. Indeed. The cultural challenge for newspapers is to present a vision of the present, and therefore a vision of the future, that resonates with their readers and inspires them to engage with the news every day. Western media owners have the hardest job in the world – 53% of their audience think that the future will be poorer than the present. Chinese media owners have the easiest – a massive 86% are optimistic about their future prosperity. Getting people who think that every day is a little bit better than yesterday to enthuse about the news that is taking them there should be shooting fish in a barrel.

: Which causes Ron Davison to riff:

Until the West has shifted its economies to more directly go after improvements in quality of life, this sense of pessimism in the West may only get worse.

: Comment is Free readers are sending lots of questions and comments to Davos. Please do join in, in comments or in video. Here‘s a video from Lithuania and another from Scotland.

  • Just out of curiosity, is the Guardian planning to cover this weekend’s World Social Forum in Kenya? It was set up by a group of activists who felt that Davos wasn’t relevant to the real needs of the developing world, and now it’s become a staple shadow event, though it usually occurs far away from Switzerland…. -andy

  • Hasan Jafri

    Just as an aside, I wondered if anyone had a bumpy ride to the meeting. Thursday’s freak storm in Europe killed several people and brought transportation to a standstill in half a dozen economies. Globalization rather than global warming is on the Davos agenda, but surely you are talking to each other about the weather, are you not?

    There is a growing consensus on the ground now that climate change is real and something must be done urgently about it. Is there a feeling too in Davos that the biological instinct of self preservation may yet override the economic theory of comparative advantage?

    Has the storm caused people to pause and reflect?

  • chuck

    and much of the fundamentalist revival in the US focuses on an allegedly imminent rapture.

    For me the most interesting thing over the last few years has been the discovery that the opinion leaders are remarkably ignorant if not downright stupid. The quote above is a prime example. I might also point out that many of these folks are motivated by a leftist cult that relies on the myth of the imminent collapse of capitalism. This results in the media spreading stories of future disaster, well summed up as “…floods, storms, desertification—but the possibility of viral pandemic, meteor impact, or some kind of nuclear exchange is not alien to his view of the days to come.” These future disasters are the sole remaining hope of the left to replace the western capitalist civilization they despise by some universal enlightened tyranny. It is the revolution! So perhaps Seamus McCauley’s son is a pessimist precisely because he belongs to a political household where an apocalyptic outlook constitutes the very meaning of life.

  • kcom

    Sorry, one freak storm does not global warming make. In fact, a “freak” storm by definition is not indicative of anything, it’s an exception without explanation to the general rule.

    You should watch a TV show that was on recently, maybe “Nova”, about “rogue waves”. Despite various ship captains reporting rogue waves (a hundred or two hundred feet high) scientists assured them that such was not possible. Or, if they did occur, they were a once in 10,000 years event. But now, with the advent of sophisticated communication, weather sensing, GPS and video capabilities several “once in 10,000 years” rogue waves have been scientifically documented just in the last several decades. It turns out those rogue waves aren’t so roguish after all. In fact, they’ve been part of the ocean environment for all of those 10,000 years, and undersea formations have been identified that actually contribute to the formation of those waves. In truth, it was ignorance (not stupidity, mind you) on the part of science that led educated people to claim that such waves didn’t exist.

    Just keep that in mind when some person, even an educated person, makes blanket declarations of “fact” about natural phenomena, global warming, what the world is really like and what’s normal and what’s not. We don’t know as much as we sometimes pretend to know and a “freak” storm doesn’t proven anything whatsoever. Anyone who would base long term policy decisions on such a storm should be removed from any position of influence or control they have over other human beings. They will have proven themselves unworthy of that responsibility.

  • WildMonk

    I have to agree with Chuck. A pretty large percentage of my extended family would be considered fundamentalist and, other than reading the LeHaye books, I don’t think they ever think about a rapture or the end of the world. I’m sure it happens but it seems to me that the people really pushing apocalyptic scenarios these days are the leftish environmentalists.

    Global warming is happening and it may well be caused, in part, by man. I can say with 100% certainty that freak storms and major disasters will occur in the future just as they’ve occurred in the past.

    Apocalypse, though?

    Come on…you vastly underestimate both man and nature if you believe that. Not to mention that, while scientists sometimes play the apocalypse game to gin up grants, the grim scenarios are mostly propagated by organizations looking to stoke up either contributions or votes.

  • pst314

    “If you ask my eight-year-old about the Future, he pretty much thinks the world is going to end, and that’s it.”

    No surprise, given the opinions of so many teachers.

    “I’ve posited before that our culture’s future-pessimism might explain the decline of the newspaper industry.”

    Or maybe we are dissatisfied with inaccurate and dishonest reporting.

  • Victor Erimita

    I too agree with Chuck. There is nothing new about apocalyptic cults, and we see many varieties of them today. The Christian Rapture cults. The Marxist-derived end-of-capitalism cults. The neo-Edenic myths of a constitutionally flawed mankind despoiling a Nature of which he is somehow not quite a part, to be severely punished by sundry eco disasters, of which the current global warming disaster fad is but one. The Islamic death cults.

    I also think the mood of apocalypse in the West is largely a product of projection. The death of absolute religious faith in the West was succeeded by the death of absolute faith in reason, fixed truths and the entire project of Western consciousness: namely to discover universal truths and thereby transcend finitude by means of rational faculties. That faith was the underpinning of all our institutions, our ideals and our view of our nation and ourselves. It is now dead, as our universities, to name just one place, eloquently attest. And although some see in that death the possibility of the birth of a new wave of consciousness (although some of those people are romantic New Agers,) most people see only the emptiness left by the death of the old view, and the postmodern shards of of the so recently shattered belief systems.

    I think they project this emptiness of spirit on the physical, economic and political spheres. Those who seek to cynically capitalize on this mood would find little acceptance of their calls to alarm if a mood of doom were not already widespread in the land. So people think we are in economic hard times, for example, while the objective data show unprecedented prosperity. Unseasonable warm spells on the East Coast “prove” global warming, while unseasonable cold in the West is ignored. Melting polar ice caps confirm global warming, while growing Antarctic ice caps are ignored. And so on. I think zeitgeist always proceeds from something fundamental, not accidental, about worldview. And I think the roots of popular apocalyptic fears run deep.

    Even the Islamic death cults may reflect the sense of history knocking on mythic religion’s door. As “modernity,” which is nothing more than reason replacing mythic belief, and “post-reason” come calling on the medieval collective mind of the Middle East, that too must seem like the death of the world they know.

  • Cooler Heads

    While I think there is evidence that climate is changing for whatever reason (debate this later), i agree that the global warming thing has taken on an end-of-the-world-cult aura. The climate has changed many times before, as quickly and dramatically as it may be chanigng now. The world survived and thrived. Watch the series “Miracle Planet.”

  • red

    Quick comments:

    Christianity adopted rather quickly (300-400 years) to the non-occurrence of the second coming of Christ. It is not a constant focus of those who value all of Creation and the beauty of this world.

    It is a constant focus of marxists and leftistists.

    If man causes climate change, what ended the last ice age?

  • To clarify a remark by Hasan Jafri, climate change is very much on the Davos agenda, as it was last year. We have a briefing essay on climate change with some visual data plus a webcast and podcast of the session.

  • Hasan Jafri

    Thank you, Nina. I read the briefing essay and will view the webcast. But I was curious to find out, by asking the delegates directly, as human actors, what they say to each other when they talk about climate change. It would seem that is the point of opening up this conversation. Lord Brown of Madingley and John McCain sharing their views with each other is one matter. Could you direct my question to one of them please?

  • The projected demise of newspapers is more hooked to economic decline for the print media business than fear of global economic collapse. Here’s why; By 2015, the online world of Google and – perhaps aggregating news and content together as Googlezon will wash over the traditional world of paper. Very local news, experts predict, will arrive through a variety of electronic delivery systems.

    A week ago, I attended the DaVinci Institute’s Night With A Futurist, in Denver. Stephen Keating, business editor of The Denver Post, first showed us a 5-minute movie about the predicted demise of newspapers and the growing need for local news from trusted sources. Then he talked about The Attention Economy. Money, it seems, goes where your attention goes.

    For global advertising dollars, the world is going online. While newspapers have lost millions of dollars in revenue from classified advertising to online websites, such as the free-for-all, it has also lost millions of dollars more to Google, Yahoo and other web-based business.

    In 2006, Keating points out, nearly 6% of the $424 billion dollars of global advertising from business was spent on Internet advertising. By 2009, the Internet’s share of global advertising dollars will rise to nine percent – surpassing radio advertising – while newspaper revenue will drop from 38% to 27%. Currently, newspapers are discovering hidden ad dollars from local businesses who are drawn to the newspapers’ online edition by local bloggers. The Internet and newspaper ad revenue numbers are predicted to cross around 2015.

    When the Internet overtakes the world of print, will it blur the lines between fact and fiction? Yes. However this is already happening with embedded reporters, corporate sponsored inserts, and ads that read like news. In the end, the only trusted source might simply be yourself. Check in – with yourself – before you decide what to believe.

  • To the Honorable: Bi Jingquan, Cheng Siwei, Hua Jianmin, Kong Quan, Li Shishi, Liu Mingkang, Wu Xiaoling, Xia Deren, Yi Xiaozhun, Chen Tonghai, Liu Zhenya, Wang Jianzhou, Yang Yuanqing.

    Question: To please be addressed to the people of China and all her representatives, whom may have an interest in World Peace.

    Now that the worlds governments have clearly demonstrated humanities ability and willingness to carry The Art of War through our Heavenly Gate into the peaceful workings of the universe.

    Might the People of China and her representatives also be interested in becoming the First Super Power in History to call the global population into action, to literary create the first global step toward Peace on Earth.

    If so there is a path and a golden opportunity for China to lead the world as a Dragon of Strength, Unity and Peaceful Change, into an action which could unite all of humanity into:

    One Dream for Harmony
    The HE(ART) of Peace

    Most Sincerely, Bruce Larson*Moore