The government says we've been in a recession for the past year. Experts say it'll be at least another year before it's over. And everybody says it's the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Nice sound bite. What does that mean?
Who knows? We can be sure that this downturn will be totally differerent from the Depression, and that it will be different from the many recessions we've suffered every decade or every other decade since the '30s. I'm not an economist or a historian, but it seems to me that this recession will be something unprecedented.
One reason is that that there was no Internet or mobile technology in the 1930s. That means individual people and companies today have very-low-cost, high-efficiency alternatives for doing a wide range of activities. That will accelerate the demise of those things fated to be replaced anyway.
Here are 10 things that I believe won't survive the recession:
1. Free tech support
The practice still employed by some companies of paying humans to answer phones and solve consumers' problems with hardware or software will become a thing of the past. PCs, laptops and hardware peripherals, as well as application software will be purchased like airline tickets, with price becoming the sole criteria for many buyers. In order to compete on price, companies that now offer real tech support will replace it with message boards (users helping users), wikis, wizards, software-based troubleshooting tools and other unsatisfying alternatives.
2. Wi-Fi you have to pay for
Everyone is going to share the cost of public Wi-Fi because the penny-pinching public will gravitate to places that offer "free" Wi-Fi. Companies that charge extra for Wi-Fi will see their iPhone, BlackBerry and netbook-toting customers -- i.e., everybody -- taking their business elsewhere. The only place you'll pay for Wi-Fi will be on an airplane.
3. Landline phones
Digital phone bundles for homes (where TV service, Internet connections and landline phone service are offered in a total package) will keep the landline idea alive for a while, but as millions of households drop their cable TV service and as consumers look to cut all needless costs, the trend toward dropping landline service in favor of cell phone service only will accelerate until it's totally mainstream, and only grandma still has a landline phone.
4. Movie rental stores
The idea of retail operations where you drive to a store, pick a movie, stand in line and then drive home with the movie will become a quaint relic of the new fin de siècle (look it up!). The new old way to get movies will be discs by mail, and the new, new way will be downloading.
5. Web 2.0 companies without a business plan
The era when Web-based companies could emerge and grow on venture capital, collecting eyeballs and members at a rapid clip and deferring the business plan until later are dead and gone. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Twitter. Sand Hill Road-style venture capital is shrinking toward nothing, and investors in general will be hard to come by. Those few remaining investors will want to see real, solid business plans before the first dollar is wired to any start-up's bank.