I spent my childhood in a small town, where the human population (825) was substantially outnumbered by the wildlife. It was a place where time seemed to move slowly and events from the outside world percolated slowly into the local environment and rarely affected us immediately. The single individual who filled the role of reporter, editor, circulation manager, printer and advertizing executive of the local newspaper struggled each week to fill its pages with "news." After all, there were only so many deaths, marriages and births to report.
The slowmoving world of my youth has been eclipsed by instant communication, where news flows across the planet in milliseconds, from farflung sources to a globally distributed audience. It has all been made possible by the explosive growth of inexpensive computing systems, mobile communications, the worldwide fiber network, and the rise of cloud services and social networks. Today, there are few places on the planet where one can be truly incommunicado. (See The World Is Small.)
In a world of global interconnectedness, we are united not only by ubiquitious and nearly instantaneous communications but also by coupled economic systems. The European sovereign debt crisis , pressure on the Euro, the fractious debate over raising the United States' debt limit and the interdependence economies and global trade mean that we truly are residents of Marshall McLuhan's global village.
Although the free flow of information is a wonderous thing, the concomitant decline in social and economic hysteresis now means that single events can have global effects on a frighteningly small timescale. Sometimes this can be humorous (e.g., the latest news on an entertainer's social antics), other times it isnewsworthy (e.g., a world sporting event), and still other times, it is profound (e.g., a social or government revolution).
The rapid, worldwide response to news of economic uncertainty has been both newsworthy and worrisome. It has affected European, U.S. and Asian financial markets, with fear and uncertainty in each driving response in the others. Without doubt, it is an exercise in global crowd psychology and behavorial economics that has implications for individuals, families and their future.
In a world where information traveled by sailing ship or steamship, our economic markets were much less tightly coupled. Consequently, there was time for more reflection and deliberation, even if the global markets may not have been efficient in a market sense. I am not suggesting we return to that past. We cannot, nor would we wish to do so.
Like all complex systems, our global economic and social environment operates on multiple time scales. Some of these are amenable to human reflection, others are increasingly driven by real-time communication. It is important that we remain cognizant of the power and value of timely reflection and discussion and of the personal effects of our market actions. (See Disruptive Innovation: Changing Lives.)