Why does this recession feel different?
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We all have felt this recession and its negative effect on us, our friends and the ones we love. It is perhaps the most defining situation in our lives today. If you are fortunate to have your job or business, you know someone who has lost theirs. If you have lost your job or your health coverage, or seen the dream of your own business turn into a nightmare of debt and sense of failure, it is hard to see beyond these harsh realities.

So why does the Great Recession of 2008 to 2010 feel so bad, and what might lie ahead?

Simply put, this is a reorganizational recession. It is not like any recession of the past 25 years. Humanity is in transition between two ages. We are leaving the Information Age and entering the Shift Age. When this happens, there is a period of economic disruption as the old order gives way to the new order. That is what is going on now.

If you are old enough to remember the 1970s, you will recall it was a very disruptive time. Things happened that we had never experienced before. High unemployment and high inflation at the same time? Uh, let's call that "stagflation." We had to invent a new word to describe what was going on. In hindsight, it is clear what the 1970s were. In the 1960s, America and all the developed countries of the world were Industrial Age countries. ("What's good for General Motors is good for America and vice versa.") By the 1980s, we found ourselves in the Information Age of PCs, cable TV, communication satellites and cell phones. So the decade in between, the 1970s, was the transition between the Industrial Age and the Information Age.

We are currently going through a similar time, though it will be much shorter, lasting around five years, from 2006 to 2011.

If you think back over the past three years, you can see it is the time when things got rough economically. There was rapidly changing technology, and we started to communicate in new ways. How many of you were on Twitter, Facebook or texting three or even two years ago? How many of you had an smartphone? How many of you thought that your home would always go up in value? All of this is much more change and disruption than in the few years before simply because we are in this transition between two ages.

The good news is that this disruption leads to destruction of old institutions, allowing new ones to blossom. The disruptive decade of the 1970s gave way to the incredible wealth and technological expansion and innovation of the 1980s and 1990s. Personal computers, cell phones, the Internet and email have transformed all our lives. The growth in all areas of your life that you have experienced in the past 20 years came as a result of this new age. The same thing will happen in the new age, the Shift Age. It could well be a new golden age of humanity.

There are going to be some very difficult and rough times ahead. We will have to pull together, be open and receptive to change. We have to understand that what was might be gone for good—but that what might be could make us forget what we have lost. If you have this perspective that we are in a time of historical significance almost unparalleled in human history, it will at least help you understand all that is going on a bit better. And understanding is always a good thing.

If you are a parent, then you also have a particular concern for how your children will make their way in this anxious and uncertain time. As a father of one son and the stepfather of another son, I think of this quite often. I want to assure you that it might well be one of the best times to be a child, a student, a young person moving into the world. Remember, we have entered the Transformation Decade, and isn't that part of what being young is about: transformation? We see things we have lost; they see the possibilities of what is to come.

In upcoming columns, I will discuss our children, why they are different and why those differences might be of reassurance to us parents instead of reasons to be alarmed or concerned. Remember, this is a reorganizational recession that is preparing us for something new, and who better to face the new than our children with all of their generational differences?

In tough times of disruption and even danger there is always opportunity. Do you see opportunities as you look ahead? What are they?

David Houle is an award-winning futurist and strategist who has launched successful brands and is an in-demand speaker about the future. He writes the popular futurist blog Evolution Shift and lives his life slightly ahead of the curve.


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