We are living in a modern Renaissance

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Alex Ely

  • Managing Director, Chief Investment Officer — US Growth Equity
  • Read bio

I believe we are living in the most revolutionary time for humanity and society since the Renaissance, maybe even greater. The changes that are occurring are leading to massive disruptions in many industries and are also changing the ways we live, work, and play like never before.

The kickoff of the original Renaissance is often attributed to the invention of the printing press around 1440 by a guy named Johannes Gutenberg. This technology was available in 200 different European cities and towns by the end of the century. What an incredible invention: mass communication for the first time in history. You may say that there already were books, which there were, but they had to be written one at a time and they were all in Latin. The only people who could read them were kings and queens and monks – that was it. The literacy rate among common people was literally 0%. After the introduction of the printing press, people wrote books in their own vernacular. And what happened? Some of the greatest ideas in history.

Democracy, liberty, private property, and freedom – all were formed during this time, culminating in our constitution a couple hundred years later.

We all know there were great artistic advances made as well. As an example, William Shakespeare created 1,500 new words, including “elbow” and “awesome.” He also made content more engaging by introducing literary devices like foreshadowing, the comic interlude, and the anticlimax, all tools we use in our stories today.

Power structures were upended. The Catholic Church was upended by the establishment of the Protestant faith. Monarchies were transformed by the development of the nation-state. All of this was only possible with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press.

In financials, in the late 1400s, there was a friar named Luca Pacioli in Italy who invented double entry accounting, creating collateral for the first time in history. This changed the way loans to individuals and small businesses worked forevermore. And even equities were invented in the early 1600s as shares of the Dutch East India Company were exchanged for the first time.

Today, the same types of sweeping changes are happening, and it is because of the Internet. I know the Internet has been around for 25 years or so, but many of the changes we are seeing in society today, like social media and digital payments, require a mobile solution. The first iPhone didn’t come out until 2007. And even then, it wasn’t great. You couldn’t download certain things. Accessing the network was difficult at best. It took years before we had 4G technology and unlimited data plans. We are really only a few years in.

So, what are the numbers? In 2010, 10% of the world’s population and 27% of the people in the United States had a high-end smartphone. Those numbers are now 43% of the world and 81% of the US that have almost all of the world’s information, education, and content in their pockets. And what’s changing? Everything. The same way it did during the Renaissance.

Let’s go backward. When it comes to financials, how many different payment solutions and changes to currency could we have? We have cryptocurrencies, PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, not to mention GoFundMe, crowdfunding – You name it. This changes the way every political campaign, charity, and small business works. If you aren’t leveraging digital payment capabilities, you lose. End of story.

When it comes to power structures, the movements against racism and sexism are accelerating, and it is because of the network. Not just because of the ability to report these things, but also the empowerment of people by coming together online. As an example, although it is a horrible topic, a few years ago I was reading about sexual assaults on college campuses in The New York Times, and I looked into the numbers. The number of sexual assaults reported on college campuses and in the military has quadrupled in the last decade. Quadrupled. Now, of course, the number of assaults hasn’t increased to that degree, but the reporting has. And that changes society forever.

When it comes to arts and content, the bottleneck has been blown clear off. How many new shows can Netflix or Amazon make? People are making a living off YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

Finally, this brings us to ideas. As you can tell, I am very passionate and optimistic about where the world is headed. This isn’t just a job for me; it’s embracing the future and where the world will go. I’ve given you some ideas as to how the world is changing, but there are so many more. The world is finally coming together for the first time in history, and the impacts on humanity and society will reverberate for centuries to come. We are living in a modern Renaissance and it’s incredibly exciting.


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The views expressed represent the investment team’s assessment of the market environment as of June 2021, and should not be considered a recommendation to buy, hold, or sell any security, and should not be relied on as research or investment advice. Views are subject to change without notice.

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