As I sit here, I am reminded of the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Homeward bound”. I’m sitting in the railway station, got a ticket for my destination. As I sit with time on my hands, I’m flicking through this week’s The Economist and reading the leader which investigates the way the world has changed since the pandemic, creating a new phenomenon they’re calling ‘instant economics’. The piece compares the old way of collecting data to understand what is happening to the global economy, versus new ‘big data’ approach; the ‘real time revolution.’ Essentially with digital communications we will have a better handle on trade flow through to consumer behaviour, enabling a much faster understanding of growth or pause which, in turn, should allow policy actions to be implemented quicker to influence the cycle.
The juxtaposition of my present reality relative to what I am reading read is quite interesting, well at least I think so! I got on a train, requiring a change at East Croydon to pick up the next leg to my end destination. When I got off to change trains, the electronic board informed me that the next train was in an hour. No delay, that is just the next timetabled train. I couldn’t quite believe it – I had to wait for how long? My mind scrambled for options. Surely there must be a solution to this devastating news: Uber? Couldn’t justify the expense relative to the wait time; alternative route? no, nothing that would substantially cut down the time between now and arrival time at my end destination.
There was nothing for it, but to pull out the laptop and try and make the wait time more productive. But the enforced window of waiting gave me an opportunity to reflect and realise the error of my angst. Sure, the world is a faster place; data is often instantaneous; we have information at our fingertips and we get increasingly frustrated when something is not delivered to us immediately. But actually, it can be those moments without objective or purpose that can be the most productive. Productive from the perspective of idea generation, challenging the day to day ways of doing things or even just to pause and reflect on how things are being done; could they be done differently.
Over the past couple of days I’ve been wondering if we’ll see more of this bifurcation of speed versus delay. On a recent call with a Chinese equity manager there was discussion about the power outages in China as a result of the nation weening itself off the coal-powered electricity production as it seeks to shift to a carbon neutral economy. We are all keen to get to a place where we can address climate change, but I think we should recognise that there are risks and disruptions associated with that transition, but that those are worth the end objectives.
One thing the pandemic has taught us is that we are capable of adaptation. We shouldn’t assume a one direction increase in the speed and efficiency of our daily lives; there may well be challenges along the way. For me, I’ve at least recognised that an hour out in a railway waiting room is not such a bad thing after all!