Though some argue data is not the new oil, they’re in the wrong debate. We’re not going to pump data into our gas tanks to drive our car. Data is not going to replace oil as a resource. Rather, it’s about power. Whoever is crowned the ‘new oil’ is the new leader of the world economy. Well, the coronation already happened. And the new emperor is data.
You could say that we’ve had an ‘oil-first’ economy throughout the last 150 years. Our products, lives and political structures were centered around the world’s biggest power – oil. It set the foundation for our transportation (oil-based engines), factories (oil-powered energy), military (wars over oil), financing (oil paid in US dollars) and consumer products (plastics made from oil). Those who were connected to oil were connected to power.
Now, those who are connected to data are connected to dominance. Refer to the drastic flip between the top 10 corporations of 2007 with the top 10 list in 2017. That’s what ‘data is the new oil’ means. We will have a ‘data first’ world economy now. Oil will become emperor emeritus. It remains within the sphere of influence, but not at its core.
As someone born right at the fulcrum between Gen X and Millennials, the world started to feel misaligned especially when I went to college from 1997 – 2002. The world and especially the leading academics had succeeded in an oil-first economy and were training us to take the reins eventually. When I graduated into Silicon Valley, the tech fervor had just burst so the oil-first camp could say they would remain king of the hill. But something nagged at me as if I was last in line to a party that would end by the time I got to the front. Indeed, when a king takes his last gasp it’s a pretty convincing one that makes you doubt he’s dying.
But hindsight and karma must be sisters. From the years 2002-2017 the brightest university grads got wind and started pivoting towards data-first jobs rather than oil-first economy jobs. The rest of the world was slow to catch on until it was, “So obvious! How could you not have seen it coming?” Suddenly my paranoia from the early 2000’s seemed like a coupon I never redeemed before the expiration date.
It’s no wonder that people who are older than millennials are uneasy. The world they trained for and learned to value got ‘disrupted’. And who would really think to connect the source of their anxiety to an ‘oil-based economy’ making way for a new paradigm? (It must be the millennials and the horrible culture they’ve brought to the workplace with their avocado toasts!) Our older contemporaries seemed to project this anxiety by spending over a decade millennial bashing. Instead, they should honestly confront their fears and acknowledge that their uneasiness is not weakness, but a justified response to how we’re forced to live now. They need a hug. But the millennials will have to offer one later after their student loans are paid off.
In my small subcategory generation as neither a millennial nor Gen Xer, I’ve been forced to make a Sophie’s Choice when I should have listened to Cassandra years ago. 1) Either go for the spoils of the tail-end of the oil economy and see what I can savagely compete for among what’s left. 2) Or be late to the party by switching lines to the data economy and learn how to write all over again with my left hand. I chose the latter even though I have to get in the back of a new line. Yet, I’m hoping what I lack in youth is supplemented by the stability and efficiency that comes with wisdom and age.
Nonetheless, I am concerned for those my age or older who are floundering with identities that no longer produce the results that were promised. Age and experience are only assets when you’re self-aware. Equally, they can be anchors pulling you to the bottom of the sea. Those who are unaware that they’re subconsciously stumbling into a new suit are mumbling and grumbling. Those who resist it completely are yelling. And those who don’t even know what the heck is going on are drinking wine or numbing themselves with opiates.
We need some leadership on this issue. Not only are we assigned the task of becoming homemade stock brokers to manage our own retirement funds with stagnant wages, we have to figure out a new role in the changing world order too? Someone please help!
It’s a data-first world and we’re only living in it. Pardon me, I just had to.