Top 10 Ideas Changing the World

April 1, 2009

A renewed focus on human capital, a need to reinvent suburban wastelands and crumbling highways, a groundswell of ecological awareness, and a growing desire to look and act “the same age forever,” are just several of the top 10 ideas that Time Magazine says are changing the world right now.

The annual top 10 list, which appeared in a special March 23 issue of Time this year, reflects what the publication says are new answers to new questions wrought by today’s economy, environmental and geographic challenges, medical advancements and shifting collective consciousness.

Time‘s top 10:

1. Jobs are the New Assets: Though the last decade saw many real-estate investments and stock-portfolio values skyrocket, today’s recession and many assets’ subsequent loss in value is causing Americans to re-evaluate how they define themselves, putting much more emphasis on the fact that they have a job – their human capital – and less importance on their dwindling assets. This, experts say, is leading to a society that may more carefully live within its means and may ultimately focus on finding increased job satisfaction.

2. Recycling the Suburbs: The housing bust is causing the American suburbs as we know them to die, Time said.? This, combined with changing demographics – including a lower number of overall households with children and a rising preference for urban amenities – is steadily wiping out the recent “American Dream” of a suburban house with a big lawn. Though environmentalists are applauding the demise of car-addicted sprawl, experts acknowledge that the country will face a huge challenge in “remaking” the far-flung, abandoned infrastructure to create things people will want to use again.

3. The New Calvinism: Recent religious trends in the US are showing a resurgence in what Time calls “new Calvinism,” complete with “an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity and…predestination.” The shift, which may in part be driven by people’s need for blanket assurance and the security that an all-knowing god and a predestined life can bring in troubling times, is steadily gaining steam.

4. Reinstating the Interstate: President Obama’s plans to revitalize the crumbling and decrepit US interstate system can potentially reinvigorate not only the roadways themselves, but also create new and creative energy and transportation systems along them that will help Americans use power more efficiently, enable public transportation and be better for the environment. Though the government’s ownership of the interstates and the land surrounding them can potentially clear the way for innovative projects, states, regions and other governing bodies and organizations involved in the revamp must work together in unprecedented ways to make it happen.

5. Amortality: A term recently coined by Time writer Catherine Mayer, “Amortals,” embodied by such celebrities as music producer Simon Cowell and singer Madonna, are those who live in the same way, look the same, and do the same things from their teen years until they die. These extinction-dreading amortals, as Mayer calls them, could very well relegate age-appropriate behavior to history books and could have social, medical and commercial ramifications.

6. Africa as Business Destination: Though news media accounts that portray Africa as a “hopeless place of war and famine…populated by tyrants and children with flies in their eyes,” generate the popular belief that Africa needs charity dollars, many multinational corporations, including Ecobank and other Chinese firms, are finding that business investments in parts of Africa offer some of the world’s highest returns. This shift toward “trade, not aid,” is changing the way the world relates to Africa, and transforming the African psyche to one that actively contributes to the world economy rather than taking handouts from it.

7. The Rent-a-Country: The end of food isolationism caused by last year’s high oil prices is giving way to a growing number of food-growing deals between nations, where countries with plentiful, arable land supply food to other nations with the money to pay for it. Though this idea is not new, there is a rising consciousness that many of the food-growing nations cannot even feed their own people and investors face growing risks of popular and governmental backlash. Still, the model has potential if economic and regulatory conditions can mutually benefit all parties involved.

8. Biobanks: Officials at the US’s National Cancer Institute are spearheading an effort to set up the country’s first national biobank, which would store tissue samples, tumor cells, DNA and other biological material from the American public. Though deposits into such a biobank could ultimately bring about advancements in medical science and improve the overall population’s health, the challenge will be gaining the public’s acceptance and trust and maintaining the privacy of “depositors” by restricting access to researchers and those who have permission to access the information.

9. Survival Stores: Retailers throughout America are cutting prices and offering deep discounts to entice shoppers to buy, but the shop of the future might not look anything like what we have today. Instead, Time says today’s stores may give way to places that offer consumers the opportunity to buy low-cost, long-lasting durable goods and also provide experiences to help them cope during difficult times. For instance, a so-called survival store might offer a bicycle to replace the car a consumer can’t afford, and also offer yoga or financial planning to help address stress and money problems.

10. Ecological Intelligence: The global economy and the complicated supply chains involved in producing many of today’s products have grown faster than most consumers’ ability to understand the environmental and ethical consequences of this production. Over the past several decades, industrial ecologists have been using a method called LifeCycle Assessment (LCA) to break down these production processes and supply chains and help major companies improve their ecological consciousness. Recent web startups, such as Good Guide are helping consumers do this too, because ultimately, ecological intelligence involves understanding that what we do in the world is interconnected with everyone else, Time said.

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