A recent conversation with Steven Kotler for the podcast (coming soon, y’all) added some additional heat to some of the slow-cooking thoughts I’ve had on abundance over the last couple of quarters. In the conversation, I called him a techno-optimist, roughly meaning someone who sees and talks about the ways in which technology can and is making the world better. He literally co-wrote the book on this.
My wonder of late has been on how we harness the power of collaboration that COVID-19 locked. The global crisis broke down the long-standing barriers between countries, organizations, and everyday people. To Steven’s point, regardless of people’s personal qualms about the COVID vaccine, if you look at how quickly we developed the vaccine – and how difficult it was – it’s nothing short of a miracle.
Here’s the thing, though: that we did it showed that we had the capabilities to do it the whole time and that we’re truly in this together.
Similarly, consider how in the few months of the lockdown, we actually abated or reversed some of the ecological damage we’ve created. Those few months show that it’s possible for us to make far more progress in preserving and actually making this one world we have better for us now and future generations.
We’ve yet to see the true innovations that the global crisis will unlock. Potential permanent flu vaccines. Local “3D printing” of seed and agricultural chemicals. Better genetically modified plants. (Aside: the bias that the developed world has against genetically-modified plants is grossly out of touch with the number of people who starve because “natural” plants can’t survive the environments and fauna where they live.)
Even the way that the crisis wrecked our global supply chains is creating innovations that could radically change the appalling asymmetry in access to goods throughout the world.
At the individual and community level, remember how many people had a nightly routine of ringing bells for frontline workers and solidarity? I loved it but knew it was only so long before we returned to being isolated residents.
All of the above is set in the backdrop of our concerns with and the facts of how technology, especially the Internet, is making us worse off. I find myself being in the weird position of being a techno-optimist and radical humanist at the very same time that I’m much more pessimistic about what we’ll do with our capabilities because of the amazing technology most of us use so much that we don’t fully appreciate it: our smartphones. Given how technology and culture influence each other, I’m concerned that the ways we collectively use these devices are overriding the very possibilities that the devices create.
I’m not playing out some idle fancy that we can go back to the days before smartphones and I don’t want to.
The task ahead of us is to more fully address what we’ve lost when we gained this abundance.
To look up from our phones and see the people in front of us.
To experience the world rather than merely viewing it through a 6.9” screen.
To experience the flow and empathy we get from being in nature so that we better understand our place in the world and what we can do.
And maybe, just maybe, we won’t need a global crisis to tap into the potential and connection we have all the time.