Data is the New Oil
Ever wish you had an oil well in your back yard? Now you do. See what I mean in this week’s edition of “Isn’t That Ironic?”.
Note: This week continues a series of blog posts on what I think our current crisis portends for the future.
In 1980, seven of the top ten S&P 500 companies were in the oil business. In 2020, not a single oil company made the list. The largest five companies are all in the data business: Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook. All these companies make their money by handling data. Data is the new oil.
The process is ancient. It’s a constant fact of economic history—the slow rotation of dominant commodities. In the 19th century, control of railroads yielded the greatest fortunes. In the 18th century, it was control of the fur trade (in Canada). Throughout Medieval Europe it was control of land (hence the interminable wars over land). In the Roman Empire it was slaves. Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was at least partly motivated by his personal debts. His capture and sale of a million Gaulic slaves paid his debts and made him the richest man in Rome. In the 20th century, many of the largest fortunes were made in the oil business. Oil is not “dead”, as some people think. But another commodity has risen to dominance—data.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, crises propel trends that are already in place. The “data as a commodity” trend is securely in place. The present crisis will add jet fuel to this explosive trend. Businesses and individuals are turning ever more to online work, newer digital technologies, and making use of the incredible wealth of information available on the internet. It’s truly mind-boggling how much information we have at our fingertips. It’s like having an oil well in your back yard. The wisdom of sages and the techniques of terrorists are all in the palm of our hands. In past generations, kings would have conquered half the world to gain the power and wealth we hold in a smartphone. And what do we do with it? We play Tetris! How ironic. In this century, those who capture value from the information in our phones will amass unbelievable wealth and control the world. Those who ignore it will be cast into the dustbin of history.
But apart from material wealth, what does this mean for our spiritual life? For most of human history, our connection to the Divine has been mediated by priests, pastors, and shamans. It has been through this service of intermediation that religion has generated its wealth. Pay the shaman for the spell. Pay the church for the wedding or funeral. Pay to have your sins forgiven. This is the economic foundation of organized religion in every society—money in exchange for access to Divine power.
In the past, most people’s knowledge of God and connection with God has come through the weekly sermon and church service. Maybe they read the Bible at home, maybe not. Libraries and universities were few, far away, and for the rich. Today, every person on earth holds in their smartphone a portal into the minds of the greatest religious leaders and sages, and the greatest works of spiritual literature in the history of man—almost for free.
The massive distribution of data/information is fostering a democratization of all facets of life, (more on that in an upcoming post.) including religious life. No longer do we need the weekly sermon at our local church. In fact, it’s currently against the law! Our personal spiritual development is literally in our own hands—where it rightly belongs. Certainly, we can help each other but our own spiritual growth is ultimately a personal matter—our individual relationship with the Divine.
Your relationship with the Divine is in your hands.
The decline of organized religion over the past decades will accelerate. The rise of individual enlightenment is a major expansive trend of the 21st century. Dogma will decline. Experience will emerge. Each person’s experience of the Divine, in whatever way that happens, will become more meaningful and more powerful, both for individuals and as a force in society. It is truly ironic, but also a manifestation of a divine archetype, that from the ashes of organized religion will be reborn a new and more vibrant connection with God.
Your relationship with the Divine is in your hands. It always has been. Look within. God is inviting you to connect with Him.
God Bless You!
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