If you’ve ever slept outdoors or even just watched a survival reality show, you know the importance of fire. Fire is warmth, energy, safety. Fire bridges the line between comfort and discomfort. Even life and death.
Early humans’ ability to tame fire — which took hundreds of thousands of years to develop — changed the course of history. Human biology too. Taming fire led to cooked food which increased the calories in human diets, growing the size of our brains.
Fire was and is pivotal. But fire is also dangerous. It kills people. It’s difficult to tame. …
In the late 1990s, people around the world began to live in a state of rising fear of two missing numbers.
The computer bug known as Y2K threatened to wreak havoc on the global infrastructure through the tiniest of details: computers being programmed to represent years in two digits (“99”) instead of four (“1999”). Headlines warned that systems would go haywire — crashing planes, freeing prisoners, and potentially leading to “The End of the World as We Know It?” as a 1999 Time Magazine cover posed.
We laugh at Y2K today like it was just another Skidz-like ’90s fad, but that’s only because computer scientists successfully fixed the bug. (The immovable deadline helped: computer scientists had raised alarm over this exact issue since the 1950s but it took until basically the night before for anyone in charge to do something about it.) …
How’s your apocalypse going? Yeah, mine too.
Sending love to everyone right now. The chaos is overwhelming. Even more disturbing, it’s already normal. I write this as my windows are blanketed in smoke from the West Coast fires.
We’re hoping that 2020 is a blip on the radar. But at the same time we’re saying things like “when things go back to normal…” less and less. There’s unmistakable evidence that we may have entered a period of significant decline for the wellbeing of life on Earth. …
Last week I took an internet vacation. I didn’t go anywhere. I just wasn’t online.
I spent a lot of my time in the woods. I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest and have fallen in love with the trees. They’re incredible creatures.
You see a lot of these fallen giants covered in new growth.
For millennia, thinkers from ancient philosophers to modern cosmologists have grappled with the question of how time functions. In a book called The Fourth Turning, the authors William Strauss and Neil Howe sort the theories of time into three categories:
1. Time is chaotic. There’s no order at all.
2. Time is cyclical. Time is marked by repetition — the sun rises and sets, seasons change, and living things go through the biological cycle of birth, life, death. Until the Renaissance, this is how people experienced time, the authors contend. There was no technological progress. The world was a loop.
3. Time is linear. With the Renaissance and the acceleration of technology, humans invented the linear theory of time. In this theory, the authors explain, time is viewed as “a unique (and usually progressing) story with an absolute beginning and absolute end.” Humanity is always improving, and given enough time and technology, all problems can be solved. …
It’s getting harder to remember life before, but we’re still in the early, “in it together” phase of this crisis. Barely. The stratification of society that was already here is becoming clear again. The gap between who has power and who doesn’t — already big — is getting bigger.
The economy has been divided into a kind of caste system. At the very top are the owners of technocapital — Bloombergs and Bezoses and whatnot: they’re a tiny class of mega-billionaires. They have more than they can ever spend — and a single one could have bought all the ventilators America needed. Just beneath them is a larger, but still very, very small class of their seconds and thirds and fourths in command. “Product Manager” here? “CFO” there? “Fund manager” here? …
Two weeks ago I shared the Values Stack as an illustration of how values operate.
Values are expressed through three layers. At the deepest layer are a culture’s Morals. Those Morals are expressed as Rules. Those Morals are also positively expressed as Incentives.
Today I’m going to share three examples of the Values Stack in action, and propose a new value that I think will become newly important in a post-COVID world.
One of the most celebrated and non-controversial values in business today was nowhere on the radar just two decades ago. That value? Transparency.
Back in the 1950s, companies were transparent by default. Here’s how GM visualized its balance sheet in its 1955 shareholder…
My book This Could Be Our Future ends with a sci-fi snapshot of the future.
It’s 2050 and a new movement “led by some of the best and brightest of the Millennial and Z generations” has begun to change how the world works. This group is called the Bento Society. They’re dedicated to transforming how the world approaches value.
Whereas the previous world (our present day) was dominated by the values of money, power, and a belief in short-term individualistic financial fundamentalism (or STIFF, as it became known), the new world sees self-interest differently. After a series of crises, the belief in the importance of shared values and the Us space grew considerably. …
Gas is cheap but nobody’s filling up. Houses are full but streets are empty. Businesses are falling like dominos. This is our new normal.
It happened so quickly and drastically that we even talk about time in a different way, saying things like “Quarantine Day 15” to acknowledge life before and after the coronavirus pandemic hit.
In a crisis, reality changes. The normal ways of functioning stop working. We must match the strangeness of the situation with changes of our own.
We all move through life with a passive awareness of the world. Our instinctual mode — what psychologist Daniel Kahneman has coined System 1 thinking — allows us to respond to our needs on a moment-to-moment basis. But to be able to see the bigger picture, think conceptually about future events, and consider the needs of others, we need what I call an active awareness. …
When I was 10 years old, growing up on a farm in rural Appalachia, I went for a walk with a group of friends.
As we walked up the overgrown driveway and by the crumbling barn behind my house, I heard a strange sound coming from the grass next to us.
I distinctly remember thinking two things at that moment: 1) that I’d never heard a sound like it before; and 2) I still somehow knew it was a rattlesnake.
I turned toward the sound and saw a coiled-up rattlesnake hissing and shaking its tail, just as I feared. …