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High Resolution

Photo, public domain.

In the second decade of the 21st Century, the single most important change in how we live our lives may be… resolution! That’s right, resolution. It’s HD on your big-screen TV, or pixels per inch on your tablet or smart phone. If you’re inclined towards the outdoors, you may already have a 4K camera mounted on a helmet to show your adventures to the rest of the world. In business, a monthly update is no longer good enough you want daily or  live info on what’s happening. Everything that can be measured, and that’s just about anything in the physical world, is being remapped for higher resolution and greater visibility.

Is it all good? It depends on who you are.  For visual resolution, there’s a big advantage to being young, and beautiful. When news became TV, instead of radio and newspapers, there was much talk about how reporters got prettier and the news stupider. If you haven’t noticed, now that every broadcast that matters is HD, there has been a big turnover in the news, and the average news team seems to have shaved 5 or 10 years off their average age. Physical beauty is a difficult thing to quantify, but wrinkles are not. If you’re in media, you already know that you have a short shelf life, especially if you are a woman. But we also live in a time of extensive and relatively inexpensive plastic surgery.

Media stars are very aware that they live in an increasingly hi-rez word. Every nip and tuck of the surgeon’s knife, and every drop of Botox underlines that awareness. HD shows every wrinkle,  and as 4K resolution screens enter the market, wrinkles will look more like a crater on the moon than an imperfection on a human face. Of course, if mainstream media stars have a problem with hi-rez, consider the future of pornography. It can be argued that every major innovation in media for the last few decades has been heralded by pornography. Videotape  took off when X-rated movies became available for home use. Cable TV didn’t really take off until the Playboy channel, and other “late night” content became available. DVD, on-line porno sites and all the rest each kickstarted streaming media and much of the technology we interact with every day.

As part of the evolution, the US pornography industry has grown to an industry with revenues between $4 and $10 billion a year. Despite the vast amount of wealth that this industry produces, its biggest stars are treated poorly. And the fans? Their unrealistic expectations have driven plastic surgery to new heights, or lows. However, even the best surgery today cannot stand up to close inspection under HD and the coming 4K standards. Will plastic surgery go hi-rez? Will new techniques be developed to better hide the scars, imperfections and tell-tale signs of the surgeon’s touch? Probably.

Think about it. Years ago, when corrective eye surgery was introduced, it was done with a knife. Now the most popular of these techniques, Lasik, is performed with a computer-controlled  laser. It is faster, safer and more accurate. Cosmetic surgery today is much more advanced that it used to be, and  incorporates many non-surgical techniques. Injections of Botox and even more advanced chemicals can erase years from your face. Of course, it does require a very steady hand and considerable experience, or you might erase all expression from your face. And you do need to get used to the idea that you are being injected with toxin from the deadly anthrax bacillus.

Which  brings us back to corporate America. At this time in the last century, most corporations were privately owned. Today, most of the biggest are public, and we have their stocks and bonds in our personal retirement and investment portfolios. Part of the deal about being a public company is that you have to provide a variety of public information. Public corporations must provide transparency into their operations.  And now that transparency is moving towards hi-rez. Business and government always pay a bit of a game over revealing profits and being taxed. But when it’s a public company, in their efforts to “spin” the profitability issue for the government, how much visibility is lost to the investor? Or is it the little investor that the big investors (or the inside management team) are trying to mislead?

This is the crux of the new regulations hitting Wall Street. For the past few years there have been monumental fines for questionable (and undisclosed) Wall Street activities. That doesn’t help the small investor or customers who complain about undisclosed and unethical activities. However, as these fines reach into the Billions of dollars, Wall Street is not reforming their activities. Instead, financial firms are merely moving money out of dividends and other areas that are important to small investors, and using it to build huge reserves to pay off fines.

We closely scrutinize our media stars, and when they show the first signs of imperfection, we are ready to move’em out and replace them with fresher and less blemished replacements. Yet, the firms that manage our money have far more blemishes, and we have been far slower in replacing their big stars. Perhaps, as all of the “too big to fail” legislation adds hi-rez  financial reporting, those blemishes will become just too visible to ignore. When the hi-rez revolution hits financial reporting in America’s biggest corporations, perhaps they too will turn to a corporate version of plastic surgery. What do you think corporate America needs… something they find a bit toxic or a scalpel? And that’s my Niccolls’ worth for today!


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