I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution, but if I did, it would be to never make New Year’s resolutions, which, of course, is self-defeating.
But it always seemed like a self-defeating exercise, anyhow. I mean, why should all vows of self-improvement occur on one specific day each year? If your resolution had to wait for the turning of a calendar, it couldn’t have been too pressing in the first place.
Still, New Year’s resolutions have a long and rich history, and they appear to be staging a comeback: 40 percent of 21st-century Americans make resolutions, compared with about 25 percent in the early 1940s, according to social scientist Stephen Kraus.
The ancient Babylonians started the practice, and later, the Romans made promises to the god Janus at the start of each year. In fact, the month of January was named after Janus, the god of gates and doors, of beginnings and endings. Janus was represented as having two faces—one looking to the future and the other to the past—and was worshipped equally at marriages and funerals.
He was also considered the initiator of financial enterprises, and according to myth, he was the first being to ever mint coins. The Roman penny bears his faces.
I think the Romans were on to something—that there’s a certain lesson there. By dubbing Janus the catalyst of all financial enterprises, maybe the Romans were saying that the best metaphor of constant change—of the fact that every ending is a new beginning—can be found in the business world.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where and when the churn occurs, but sometimes, it’s obvious. The Great Recession was one such inflection point; an abrupt ending to not only the short-term single-family boom, but also the long-held belief that houses could only ever rise in value.
Yet that same ending marked the beginning of the REO-to-rental market, which seems to grow more competitive, and mature as a niche industry, with each passing day. When you shutter a foreclosed window, a door of opportunity opens, as you’ll see in our feature story on page 34.
Other ripple effects of the single-family meltdown can be glimpsed in current apartment design trends, like the rise of the micro unit (page 24), and one-floor, garaged developments (page 22).
Technology also offers many bright lines, where beginnings and endings are intertwined. The creation of the iPod hastened the death of many record stores. The Kindle and Nook are already starting to do the same to bookstores, just as personal computers made the word processor obsolete.
And now, we’re inching toward the dawning of a new era. Earth’s population produced 1.8 zettabytes of data last year—enough to fill more than 57 billion iPads. So, we’re generating a ton of data. But the next big question in the information age will be about knowledge, not storage; about homing in, not expanding out: What can you do with that information? How can you use it to your advantage? As you’ll see in our feature story on page 40, the possibilities of data mining are only now being realized.
So, it’s in the spirit of beginnings and endings that we dedicate this issue to Janus, receiver of New Year’s resolutions. He’s got a tough job, after all—according to a recent study, about 88 percent of those who make New Year’s resolutions fail to keep them. MFE