I believe that the financial and economic crisis is accelerating the change from the industrial to the information society. The magnitude of the change is likely to be on par with or greater than the transition from agricultural to industrial society (I am intentionally saying “society” instead of “economy” because the change affects all parts of how we live). This is scary if you are stuck in the old and exciting if you are helping invent the new.
Take the automotive industry. There is a distinct sense that huge companies such as GM are dinosaurs that have seized to be effective. Even Toyota is struggling. But it is hard to see what the future structure of the industry might be despite tantalizing glimpses, such as the emergence of new innovative car and transportation companies in the US and abroad. This is scary if you are working at GM and exciting if you are at BetterPlace.
Or consider education. The existing system is definitely breaking down. For instance, the cost of degrees has been rising rapidly, far outpacing inflation. But the value of many traditional degrees has started to decline in a world that has a global labor market for those disciplines (e.g., engineering). At the same time though, it is easier than ever to learn something entirely on your own using resources such as Open Courseware or mentors in communities on the net. This is scary if you are in college (or preparing for college, or paying for college, or worse yet in debt following college or a graduated degree) and exciting if you have found your passion and have the economic freedom to pursue it.
Journalism provides another great example. The Tribune Company has filed for bancruptcy. Even the New York Times has been retrenching. If you are a journalist at one of these traditional companies you are likely to be scared. That might also be true if you are simply a consumer of these papers and don’t feel at home on the web; or even if you are web savvy, but are concerned about the missing economics to support investigative reporting. But if you are right now building something new such as the Huffington Post or a news reader/aggregation service you are excited.
For those of us lucky enough to fall in the excited category, it is important to recognize that right now and probably for quite some time there are far more people for whom the transition is genuinely scary and we should not be dismissive of that. That is especially true since nobody really knows where this is going.