Paradox of Change

Change is in the air, it is so thick you can smell it. It even sounds a lot like Bob Dylan singing about The Times They Are a-Changin’. Who’s Bob Dylan? He introduced electric guitar to the music scene in the mid-1960s. He was a man who lived in the moment of change. Much like each of us today.

As humans, we dislike change. We prefer stability and security, often accepting stagnation over change because change is hard work. So is learning new skills, exercising our bodies, developing self-control and willpower, and even believing that change is possible and worth pursuing.

Opposing the views of the collective that define them, systems and organizations thrive on change. It is inevitable and necessary in order to stay competitive in a fast-paced world. It also has to do with the fact that human beings are fickle and constantly change their allegiance to systems and organizations that embrace and provide the best stability and security. This is often viewed in the long run as the collapse of systems and organizations that don’t change with the times and end up in one of the following scenarios:

  • An inability to compete with technological advancements.
  • A lack of desire to change.
  • Changing too often.
  • Not changing enough.

There is a certain amount of irony in change, yet it is essential to be stable and secure in these rapidly-evolving times we live in. Speaking of change, here are a few current examples of change erupting throughout various social networks and news stations.

Facebook User Interface Updates

Facebook changes their design and functionality a lot. So much and so often, that the people using their system to keep up with friends, family members and other acquaintances are constantly having to re-learn how to use Facebook. This has resulted in a lot of people being really pissed about the changes. There is a consistent cry to revert to the original design and functionality. But isn’t all of this change a good thing?

Speculation on the net is that Facebook is changing in response to the competition from Google+. Change in the face of competition is a very good thing. It means that you can’t be lazy and operating under false assumptions. In addition to competition, Facebook is designed and developed to work flawlessly and consistently for millions of simultaneous connections across multiple devices. That is a very difficult and impressive task. It takes an army of infinitely intelligent people working behind the scenes to do what Facebook is doing. I for one am in awe of Facebook continuing to redefine what it means to be social. It is a giant experiment and we are all along for the ride, whether we accept the changes or not.

Netflix and Qwikster

I recently received an email explaining that Netflix was splitting their company into two separate entities: Netflix will be focused on streaming video and Qwikster will be delivering DVDs. Weeks before this announcement, Netflix also revealed a 60% increase for customers that have the streaming and DVD plan. The outcry has been pretty amazing as people feel cheated and not valued by the company, and are calling for their demise.

Four years ago, a friend foresaw this moment. He said that one day Netflix will charge separately for both services because they are on the frontlines of digital service. Because of this conversation, I was subconsciously prepared for this moment. I am not shocked. I am not surprised. And most importantly, I remain a Netflix and Qwikster customer. Why?

I pay less than $20 per month for one DVD at a time and unlimited streaming. I get about two DVDs per week, mainly obscure TV shows and movies that are not available via streaming, in Redbox, or at Blockbuster. In addition, I have the ability to stream a lot of documentaries. Pretty amazing considering I pay considerably more, in fact a hell of lot more, for digital cable, which has a far less return for me. Less than $20 for that much use is an amazing ROI! That is why I will still do both, streaming for the instantaneous impulse of watching a movie and DVD for the obscure films and TV shows that I want to watch.

United States Postal Service

The USPS is close to bankruptcy. In fact, doing a Google search for “how much is the usps in debt” yielded an intriguing trend: $2.8 billion in debt in 2008, $10 billion in debt in 2010, and $19.3 billion in debt after this month. If I was that much in debt, I’d kick my own ass, get drunk, and wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

So, what’s the problem with the USPS? This topic is way over my head, but the easy explanation that makes sense to me: Rising fuel costs, horrible customer service, not changing with the times, not competing, and not realizing that more and more people are either using bill pay services or paying their bills online.

Is there hope for the Postal Service? Unfortunately, I don’t think there is. Does this make me sad? Yes, it does. I love checking the mail. There is still sense of surprise and mystery when I open the mailbox. What will be in there?

Why Panic?

With all of this change comes an unprecedented amount of fear and panic. Why are people panicking? Is our way of life being lessened and threatened by technology? I think it is because we are having to learn how to be stable and secure in a rapidly-evolving, technologically-connected world. It is also because our world is transforming from one built around tangible products that we can touch and possess to intangible digital services that we conceptually own and store in a cloud of servers and digital brains. There is an informal, impersonal feeling that comes with digital products. They don’t seem real, yet we embrace them more and more as they began to replace what we deem as real. Which leads us to the nostalgia for times past.

We hold onto the past. We don’t want to let it go. It is a blanket of comfort. But before we get smothered by our blanket, it’s time that we learn from the past, then let it go. Once you let go of the past and learn what is essential, only then can you look forward to technological advancements that will fix the problems created by past technological advancements (think of the problems created by oil, rail and air travel, transportation and energy production).

It is incredibly important to realize that the technology we create today will undoubtedly create new and unforeseen problems in our imminent future. It may not be environmentally or even physically, but it could very well be emotionally, spiritually, culturally and socially. Does culture become irrelevant in the face of technology or does it become that much more important?

Should what may happen deter us from progress? Should we become Luddites and destroy the machine like Kurt Russell in Escape from LA? No, we need to continue changing and evolving. We must embrace technology. We must learn to stabilize and secure our own individual and collective lives. Fundamentally, we must realize that stability and security only come with change, which comes from the need to be secure and stable. And that is the paradox that we find ourselves in.