Bet on decentralization
A little more than a decade ago, the two dominant airplane makers, Boeing and Airbus, looked at where their businesses were headed and saw similar facts: air traffic doubling every 15 years, estimates that the number of travelers would hit four billion by 2030 -- and came to radically different conclusions about what those numbers meant for their future. Boeing figured that traffic would move away from big hubs and toward secondary airports. So it started to build a smaller, more fuel-efficient long-range aircraft, which became known as the 787 Dreamliner. Airbus, on the other hand, saw the rise of international traffic through major hubs and decided to bet on a big plane to connect those big airports.
Airbus bet on the continued dominance of the centralized hub-and-spoke model, with its implications of ever-further gigantism -- bigger and bigger planes serving bigger and bigger "hub" airports. Boeing bet on a decentralized model where the growth would take the form of more direct flights between smaller, local airports, bypassing the hubs.
From the point of view of an air traveler, it's easy to see why Boeing's bet was the winning one. Flying by way of a stop means being stuck on the ground in your plane at the "hub" or possibly having to hang out at an airport for hours waiting for your connecting flight, prolonging an already overlong journey -- and increasing the risk of delays, missed connections, etc. For most people, a non-stop flight is preferable when possible -- and that means point-to-point. If you live in Portland and you want to go to Copenhagen, you'll take a direct flight if there is one, rather than one that stops at a "hub" like New York or London.
(It's tempting to wonder if Airbus's decision springs from the same mentality as the European Union, another over-centralized entity which has forced a one-size-fits-all currency and set of policies on a diverse group of nations, with disastrous results.)
Some airlines have bet on piling on more luxuries, but I think this appeals only to the very wealthy (or those on expense accounts who aren't paying their own way). Everyone else would rather save money. If somebody offered you $500 to sit in a cramped uncomfortable chair for 10 hours, you'd probably take it. So you'd probably choose the no-frills air ticket over the first-class one if it's $500 cheaper.
The point is that the centralized, gigantist model which came in with the industrial revolution is on its way out. This first occurred to me with the way new power-generation technologies like solar give us the opportunity to break away from that model. We're used to having a small number of huge power plants which each generates electricity for a vast area (nuclear power in particular requires this model). This means that a failure of a single plant could black out a wide area, making such plants attractive targets for terrorist attacks, among other problems. Giant plants inherently involve more danger since generating so much energy in one place means you need something immensely powerful or massive to be present, such as radioactive fuel in nuclear power plants. Anything so powerful is difficult to control, and dangerous if it gets out of control, as Fukushima exemplified (and God help the world if this ever happens). Solar power allows for a decentralized system of many much smaller generating plants, far less vulnerable and far less dangerous.
We've had a glimpse of this problem recently in the fighting in Iraq. Earlier this month the insanely murderous ISIS/Islamic State organization captured the Mosul dam on the upper Tigris, the largest dam in Iraq. Having a terrorist gang in control of a major energy source presents obvious problems, and if the dam were to break or be destroyed (deliberately or as a result of warfare), the resulting flood would devastate the city of Mosul and perhaps even Baghdad. ISIS/Islamic State probably does not want to wreck Mosul since they control it, but even after Kurdish forces recently recaptured the dam with the aid of US air strikes, they found that the fanatics had booby-trapped it with explosives; removing these will be difficult and dangerous. And the site on which the dam is built is now known to be made up of weak, soluble soils and minerals which need continuous attention to prevent the dam from being undermined. For the sun-drenched, perennially violence-racked Middle East, decentralized solar power systems would surely be preferable.
Fukushima is probably not the last high-profile disaster that will result from the centralized / gigantist model. Each one will increase the attractiveness of decentralized, smaller-scale technology. Bet on that to be the look of the future.