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Surviving the 21st century

surviving the 21st century 816x427 - Surviving the 21st century

Change is inevitable, in anything. Nothing can forever remain constant. And change coming is just as sure as all living things die, eventually. But change doesn’t always mean moving forward. Sometimes, out of necessity, change means going back to the way things were. Again, not necessarily by choice, but as a matter of need.

At the supermarket checkout recently, the woman at the register looked with obvious wonder at the carton of eggs I intended to buy. She picked up the box, held it up, and looked all around it. When I asked her why she did that, she said it was her first time to see a dozen eggs sold in brown carton, and not a plastic tray.

This, of course, is an example of how we “changed” back. Imagine her surprise when I told her that eggs used to be sold in cartons, up until about maybe 25 years ago. I reckon she was born after the carton era, when tree huggers were in vogue, and when eggs were already sold in plastic trays or crates, rice in plastic sacks, juices in tetra packs, and soft drinks in plastic bottles.

The marriage of technology and necessity has brought the world to where it is now, and from where I sit, given all the things happening locally and globally, I have a strong feeling that many of the industries we see now will not survive the 21st century. They need to reinvent themselves, to adapt, to match skills with emerging needs and opportunities.

I had a chat recently with a friend with a small business. His family owns a shop that retails car accessories and provide car services. Given the declining market for his goods and services as well as skyrocketing rent, he says he can survive maybe another two to three years, at most. Sad news indeed, but more so for about a dozen people in his employ — all relying on him for their livelihood.

It was then that I mentioned to him my open invitation to a foreign company to establish a presence in the Philippines, and to bring here their technology and expertise in converting particularly old cars — 1960s to 1970s Porsches, Beetles, and Kombi Wagons, among others — into electric vehicles. The company supplies the conversion kits as well as the battery packs, and do the installation/conversion.

In my friend’s case, I believe, this can be a major breakthrough in revitalizing his business. But I told him that he should be willing to change and to learn something new. He needs to reinvent himself, to recognize emerging needs, and more important, to gain access to new products and new technologies. If opportunity is certain, the capital will come. Some investors can be like sharks when they smell blood.

The Philippines, with a population of more than 100 million people, and with per capita income growing, is ripe for new products and new technologies. Slowly but surely, our cities are becoming unrecognizable to those who have not been here in the last 30 to 40 years. Much has changed not only in infrastructure but also in terms of products and services.

When I first started covering a beat as a newspaperman, I typed out my stories on whatever typewriter I could get my hands on prior to deadline time. While personal computers were already on the market at the time, they were very expensive. And, most press offices had only typewriters. Next to the typewriter, the most used “equipment” were telephones and fax machines.

Of course, with typewriters still in fashion, we also kept “hard copies” of our stories. There was no diskette or hard drive or flash drive to store them. Our version of the hard drive was a pigeon hole on a shelf filled with type-written stories, piled up chronologically by date. So, we were literally swimming in paper in those days. One also had to be friends with the photocopier.

As I moved up from the typewriter, it came to a point that I would go to the beat lugging a pilot’s bag. In it were a big Toshiba laptop, bought second-hand; a power supply as big and as heavy as a brick; and a slim dot matrix printer. With this set-up, I could type on a computer, save my work in a disk, print out a story, and then fax it to the Editorial offices. I could work “anywhere” as long as there was a big enough desk and also access to a telephone and a fax machine.

Then came the era of pagers, then cellphones, and then smaller laptops. The fax machine was set aside in favor of modems or dial-up access, and we started using the internet and e-mail to file stories. Fewer people went back to the office to file their stories, more reporters worked remotely, and large newsrooms started to look empty. Many files also became “soft” or were kept in electronic copies.

Nowadays, I read newspapers and do my columns at home on a slim 11-inch laptop. All information — research materials, references, and written columns themselves — are stored in a hard drive and then backed up on an external drive. Columns are e-mailed to Editorial via a DSL broadband service, while within the home everything is on a wireless network. I confirm receipt of my column via mobile through Viber. On occasion, I type out parts of a column on a smartphone with a data plan, and then e-mail it to the office, even as I sit for coffee in a café.

Over the years, newsrooms and newspaper people have had to reinvent themselves, to change their processes, to learn new technology, and to adapt to market changes as they recognized emerging needs and opportunities. Yes, I truly believe that newspapers will eventually die — just like everything else. But, the need for information, and modes to deliver them, will remain. Thus, for people now creating or developing content, remaining relevant means adapting to change.

We have been lucky to experience the tail end of the 20th century. We are just as fortunate to have witnessed the dawn of this new century, as well as the significant and dynamic changes in technologies, our environment, and the way we do business. And, the hard lesson from all this change is one thing the Marines have known for a long time: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.

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