In today’s Exponential Investor:

  • My theory
  • Everyone’s the same all the time
  • Don’t be everyone

I have a theory on the markets, society and life in general.

It’s relatively straightforward and puts much into perspective.

My theory is as follows: it doesn’t matter what period of time we’re in, the problems we face are almost always the same, just in different wrapping paper.

Furthermore, we’re quick to forget the problems of the past, suppressing the stuff we used to worry about, and only remember the good things.

In addition, the idea that things used to be better is actually a fallacy and things used to be exactly the same as they are now, just in a different decade.

What did kids worry about in the 1960s?

A friend recently sent me through a BBC clip from the 1960s. It was an interview series with a bunch of kids – I’m not 100% how old, but I’d hazard a guess that they were around 10 to 12 years of age.

The interview questions were asking what they thought life would be like in year 2000.

What’s interesting is that their answers were things you’d most likely expect to hear from kids today.

They spoke about things like: atomic/nuclear bombs being dropped on society; a “cabbage pill” that you eat for breakfast; overpopulation of the earth leading to wars and poverty; the planet becoming too hot to live on; computers and automation taking over that will put people out of jobs, with the result that there’ll be no jobs; people being regarded as just statistics; machines being everywhere leading to a boring world with nothing to do; rising sea levels, with just islands left. And one kid even remarked he doesn’t look forward to living in the world in 50 years’ time as the world is in “such a state now”.

It’s a remarkable piece of footage, and does credit to those kids for telling it like they saw it.

If you want to view the clip, you can check it out here.

Maybe you were also just a kid in the 1960s, perhaps the same age as the kids in this clip. If so, I’d love to hear from you if you can remember your worries and what you thought the future would look like back then.

I point this out, because my view is that if we interviewed a bunch of similar-aged kids today, the answers wouldn’t be that different.

I think we’d hear things like nuclear bombs, rising sea levels, takeover by automation and robotics leading to no jobs, overpopulation, and so on…

That’s not to say that kids are particularly gloomy, but that they are a pretty honest conduit of the societal mood at any given time. That is especially so at an age where they’re capable of absorbing the world around them, the information that’s coming at them, and the views and beliefs of the people they’re closest to.

Hence, I would think that what kids around the ages of say 10 to 15 think of the future is a good gauge as to what the bulk of society thinks about the future.

Now when you think about it a little deeper, you then ask yourself, how did the last 62 years pan out? However, and before I get to that answer, I want to take you back to a more recent bit of history.

UK playing catch-up 22 years ago

I saw a picture online recently that had an article from 5 December 2000 from the Daily Mail. The headline was, “Internet ‘may be just a passing fad as millions give up on it’”.

As I’m always sceptical of such things, I went to the Daily Mail online archives to see if I could indeed find the article.

I couldn’t. That doesn’t mean that the article isn’t real. It just isn’t in the online archives. But I did find some other headlines from 5 December 2000…

  • NHS strains under fat Britain
  • Card fraud expected to rise at Xmas
  • Am I too young to buy shares?
  • TV meningitis campaign launched

And then I saw, “UK playing catch-up on the net”.

Honestly, most of those headlines are the same fear-inducing things that you get in the papers today. They are pretty much the same things that you’ll get in the papers tomorrow… and in 22 years’ time.

In other words, it’s a question of the same stuff, in a different decade.

The article about how the UK was playing catch-up on [the inter]net, though, had me interested. It opened with, “It may be the age of the online revolution, but the majority of us are still reluctant to either shop or bank on the net.”

It then went on to talk about how hackers and poor service were things that kept the people away from doing financial transactions online.

There was also a survey by American Express that noted that 85% of Americans expressed fears about making online purchases. In Australia, the figure was 87%.

And it was only 22 years ago that just one third of UK consumers even had access to the internet.

Now, 22 years is a long time, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not that long ago. And just like our kids from the 1960s, the same fears and worries that people had in the 2000s are still the same kinds of worries they have today.

Obviously some of the technology has changed, and changed quite a lot. However, people are still worrying about many of the same things.

So, it was the same for people in the 1960s. It was same in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and today. Fundamentally people are predictable. We worry about the same stuff. We have similar motivations and we have similar needs, wants and desires.

Of course, this is not applicable to absolutely everyone: however, for Joe Public, it’s true.

Now, the predictability also means that if you’re an independent thinker, and you’re able to sit outside the masses or away from Joe Public when it comes to these things, you find that opportunity starts to peek around the corner.

Study society to understand the future

If you give in to the fears and worries, then you’ll inevitably do nothing. That’s default mode for many people, I can’t do anything about it, so I’ll do nothing.

But if you were worried about robotics and automation in the 1960s, there is a good chance that you’re worried about artificial intelligence and quantum computing today.

If you were worried about rising sea levels and overpopulation in the 1960s, there is a good chance that you’re still worried about those exact same things today.

However, many of the problems are still in the future.

Are there insufficient jobs for the now overpopulated world that we live in? Are we actually eating ground-up bugs in pills yet? Or is there a shortage of eggs?

My point is that (usually) things are not as bad as they actually seem at the time. And the bleakest of outlooks generally ends up with society and the world muddling through.

But this time it’s different, I often hear bandied about.

I’ve heard that phrase on and off for the last 20 years of my professional life. It’s never different. There is no “new normal”. Things are the same: in fact, many things are better.

You’ve just got to teach yourself to sit outside the noise from the masses – or Joe Public, if you will – and lower the cone of silence.

Once the cone is lowered, you will clearly see the opportunities that are available from the future. Those opportunities invariably are linked to technology in some way. The most successful investors understand this.

With the masses or away from the masses? That is the key question. I know which side of that fence I’ll be on.

Do you?

Until next time…

Sam Volkering
Editor, Exponential Investor