The glass is half-full, isn't it? 

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OK, big picture.

The last five or six years have been challenging and confusing, on a personal level for some of us, on a local, national and even international scale for most of us.

We all remember the financial meltdown in 2008. Its impact on personal finances was felt by many; its impact on the North American and European economies is still being felt. But for another perspective of how our lives have changed in the last few years consider:

• The first iPhone was released on June 29, 2007. The Apple App store was introduced in July 2008;

• The first iPad was released after the 2010 Olympics, on April 3, 2010;

• Groupon was launched in November; 2008. Its IPO was on Nov. 4, 2011 when 35 million shares went public at $20 each. In the last year shares have gone as low as $2.60, although they have gained since CEO Andrew Mason was fired in February and closed last Friday at $6.36;

• In June of 2008 gasoline was nearly $1.50/litre in Vancouver; in December of the same year it was 78 cents/litre. Today it's about $1.30/litre.

The rapid rise and fall of Groupon is an interesting example of how quickly tech stocks can flame out, but group buying is far from dead. It's one of the things that has shaped our behaviour in recent years, just as smart phones and tablets, oil prices, search engines and social media have. As travel industry consultant Peter Yesawich has said, these tools, combined with the slow economy, have influenced consumers' expectations. We consumers now expect good value and we have the ability to compare and to validate before we buy. And for most of us value trumps loyalty, whether we're buying gasoline or a vacation.

But the confusion and challenges of recent years aren't confined to technology. We are struggling for direction and understanding. The struggle is symbolized by things like the recent proposals for greater gun control in the U.S. According to some polls, 90 per cent of Americans are in favour of more rigorous background checks on people buying guns, yet the proposals couldn't get support from 60 per cent of senators.

It's confusing when the governments of Canada, Alberta and B.C. seem determined to pump and dig all the oil, gas and coal out of the ground as fast as they can so that it can be sent off to other countries, and at the same time we're warned, repeatedly, about the impact burning fossil fuels is having on the environment.

It's challenging when economies around the world continue to sputter along year after year. There have been, and continue to be, plenty of people lecturing about austerity, reducing debts and reigning in spending. But there are many companies sitting on huge bundles of cash, and we're wondering why economies aren't growing.


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