Y2K, Redux

Nov. 24, 2015
It's been almost 16 years since Y2K.

It's been almost 16 years since Y2K. That's hard to believe. Do you remember where you were that day? Where were you on New Year's Eve, 1999? At a party? At a bar? Chillin' with friends? Asleep at 10 p.m.?

Maybe you don't remember. Maybe you were too young. Two of our editors were only 10 years old that day. If all of the computers in the world had gone berserk that day, they probably wouldn't have cared. But not in this day and age. 10-year-olds are so plugged in it's passé to see them burning up smartphones. Actually, it's more than that. It's significant not to see one tearing up Candy Crush on an iPhone . . . and, of course, the kiddos' parents, who are on their phones nearby, couldn't care less.

For me, that's a Y2K redux. We're actually on the other side of that technology mountain we could only scarcely see back in 1999. At that time, we weren't overly mesmerized. The mountain seemed small-or at least manageable. Pike's Peak, maybe, but not Everest. As it turned out, the only small thing was our perspective. The mountain was more massive than we could ever have imagined. We were farther away from it than we thought (getting online was just the beginning). And were moving toward it faster than the speed of dreams. So, as the ball dropped in Times Square and the artist formerly known as Prince sang, "Two thousand zero zero party over, oops out of time," we had no clue that in the span of 10 years our most precious family photos would exist no longer in basement closets, but on Facebook's cold storage server farm in Luleå, Switzerland . . . and who knows where else.

I can see some of you rolling your eyes. You're throwing darts at me, saying, "Zac, did you just get DSL yesterday or what?" I understand your point, but I think you're wrong. It's one thing to have something new come into your life-whether it be new tech, a new pet, a new relationship, a new car, a new child, a new way of doing things-but it's another thing entirely when that something new becomes normal through all parts of life, like "plugging in" truly is now.

At Y2K, and for about a decade thereafter, things were different. People were plugging in, but there was no feeling that one needed to unplug from time to time to keep sane. Unplugging was done by Eric Clapton and Natalie Merchant on MTV, and you had to catch those acts live, on your VCR, or on the CD you bought from Target . . . which you had to physically get and trust it would be good-because there were no reviews on iTunes or Amazon to tell you otherwise.

So why am I writing about new tech if it's now normal? Because even though we've finally come to the point where we've accepted that technology is changing everything faster than our ability to predict it will, there are still important people in our industry who are failing to grasp what this means for dental.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA) annual meeting in Bonita Springs, Florida, where an impressive number of the high-level decision makers gathered to network and listen to A-list presenters on the state of the dental industry. Yet, even in the face of unsettling evidence, I heard naysayer after naysayer deny that our profession would be turned upside down in the next 25 years. I heard people ridicule the idea that hygienists would one day make house calls and be independent from dentists, that corporate dentistry would not represent the majority of practices in 2050, or that dentists would one day be trained using a medical-school model. Will these things come to pass? I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows definitively. But if the post-Y2K world has taught us anything, it is that you're an idiot if you think you have all the answers.

In the keynote address at the DTA meeting, astronaut Mike Kelly told the story of how this phrase came to be posted in NASA's mission control room: "None of us are as dumb as all of us." The words were posted in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy, when engineers' voices were drowned out by groupthink and hubris. The words now serve as a warning to those who think the future will be what we comfortably agree it should be.

In this issue, we are introducing our new editorial advisory board. These individuals are the first of a growing list of experts and emerging leaders who are telling us, unapologetically, what they see in the market. We're listening, and we hope you are too. We are honored to work with them, and we look forward to sharing their commentaries with you in 2016. We also want to hear about what you're seeing. Let us know where you think the industry is going . . . and maybe we'll end up there, or somewhere entirely more unexpected and beautiful.

Either way, I'll see you there.

Zac kulsrud | Senior Editor

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