As the end of 2010 approaches, I think about all that has changed in recent years and how those changes are pulling us in one direction or another.

Let’s look at how the world is communicating. In 2010, Facebook crossed the threshold of 500 million accounts worldwide. One hundred million people joined the ranks of those who tweet with Twitter. Sales of iPhones increased by 40 percent in the past year, and more than 6 billion text messages were sent.

These are massive changes that are bringing the world into closer contact. The potential for constructive relationships and collaboration is huge.

Another change is where we are living and working. According to Roland Berger Strategic Consulting, more than half of the world’s population of 6.8 billion people now lives in cities, the first time that has happened in human history.

The international consulting group forecasts that not only will that population shift result in megacities but also that technology will have to change at an even faster rate to sustain the expectations and well-being in a new era of urbanized consumers. It stresses that development of nonfossil fuel energy sources is absolutely necessary.

This year, the United States added 1,200 megawatts of potential wind-generated electricity. China added 7,800 megawatts of wind power in a country of 1.35 billion people.

We also heard the announcement in September that the U.S. recession technically ended in June 2009. Though the past year has seen a degree of economic stability return, millions are waiting to see the benefits reflected in their paychecks and peace of mind.

Early data regarding holiday shopping suggests that more consumers pried open their wallets with a growing sense of confidence. That’s great news. Nevertheless, voters continue to fear our growing public debt.

According to, the accumulated national debt (the total amount of money we have borrowed and owe to run our government) has more than doubled from $5.6 trillion in 2000 to nearly $14 trillion today.

In the same period, the nation’s gross domestic product (the value of all goods and services sold) has grown by only 50 percent, from $9.8 trillion to $14.7 trillion. Those are unwelcome changes, given their long-term consequences.

The population of the United States has increased by 9.7 percent since 2000, but the work force has increased by only 2 percent and the number of retirees has grown by 17 percent. In the same period of time, the ratio of government spending to the nation’s gross domestic product has jumped from 36 percent to almost 46 percent.

The new Congress and a chastened president know they have to deliver austerity measures if they expect to have another term in Washington. The same is true in statehouses across the nation. Given politicians’ survival instincts, we should expect policy changes, or we’ll have another election in which we replace the majority party until somebody gets it right.

Turning the ship of state is not going to be fast or easy. It will take patience and resolve. It will require employing all the communications tools at our disposal to explain, justify and persuade Americans that the sacrifices are necessary and worthwhile.

We cannot shock the system with draconian cuts and disrupt the economic recovery, but we do have to set our sights on a long and realistic horizon to balance our budgets and forever change our expectations of government.

But here is the wild card: In this past election, middle-aged and older voters were crucial in voting out congressional Democrats and gave the GOP a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2012, the younger voters who propelled Barack Obama into the White House with a strong congressional majority may return to the voting booth. Their experience during the intervening four years will determine if the pendulum swings back toward the president and his party or if the GOP is given more time to apply its solutions to our stubborn challenges.

If it seems as though time is flying and changes are occurring faster than ever, there is a good reason. According to National Geographic, the massive quake in Chile in February is thought to have shifted the rotation of the earth, shortening the day by 1.26 millionths of a second.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebration, but let’s not waste any time getting to work on the changes that matter most.

What do you think, and what are you going to do about it?

Tony Payne is a lifelong resident of Maine who is active in business, civic and political affairs. He may be reached at:

[email protected]