Most people are not yet born

[…] recognize that at least in terms of sheer numbers, the current population is easily outweighed by all those who will come after us. In a calculation made by writer Richard Fisher, around 100 billion people have lived and died in the past 50,000 years. But they, together with the 7.7 billion people currently alive, are far outweighed by the estimated 6.75 trillion people who will be born over the next 50,000 years, if this century’s birth rate is maintained (see graphic below). Even in just the next millennium, more than 135 billion people are likely to be born. 

~ Roman Krznaric from, https://blog.longnow.org/02020/07/20/six-ways-to-think-long-term-a-cognitive-toolkit-for-good-ancestors/

50,000 years is somewhat of course. But it’s a good estimate of the span so far of recognizably-like-current-us human history. It’s obvious that today, most people are already dead. It’s those trillion yet to come that warp the brain and create perspective.

This article from The Long Now Foundation has 6 good examples of explicit ways to think long-term, rather than short-term.

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Our responsibility

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.

~ Richard Feynman

The way we communicate

So, don’t feel bad about procrastinating when you need to write—humanity put the whole thing off for a couple hundred thousand years! By a conservative estimate, we’ve had writing for about 4% of the time we’ve been human. Chatting is easy; writing is an arduous chore.

~ Erika Hall from, https://alistapart.com/article/conversational-design/

The more time I spend texting—in all its various forms—the more I’m growing to understand the allure of the mode of communication. I’m a digital immigrant, born far enough before cellular, wifi and the Internet in general… or at least the publicly accessible one. Anyway. As an immigrant, I’ve always found the written form—email, forum, message boards, etc.—the easy form of communication, and the ephemeral “texting” the more challenging. Like anything else I suppose, the more you use it, the more you become accustomed to it. I’d say I’m a solid C+ at texting these days. The digital natives can spot me in 10 seconds. But I’ve learned to appreciate the medium.

After reading this piece from Hall, I’m shifting my opinion: I used to think it was, in descending utility, spoken word, written word, and then texting. But now I’m thinking texting slots in as better than the static written word precisely because it’s a form of two-way communication. When I write… *ahem* I get to spend all the time I want, preparing this salvo of characters to be launched at you. *tap* *tap* Hello? Is this on? …yes? Okay, now I can broadcast at you on and on and on and on and on until your eyes glass over and you stop reading. On the other hand, texting requires me to interact with you, not quite in real time, but it’s an interactive conversation.

Hey there! havent talked in ages!!! :D Wats up??

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All of humanity’s accrued knowledge

As I elaborated in last week’s episode of my podcast, Neil Postman argues that it was the introduction of mass-produced longform writing that really unleashed human potential — ushering in the modes of critical, analytical understanding that birthed both the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, the foundations of modernity. It allowed us to efficiently capture complex thought in all its nuance, then build on it, layer after layer, nudging forward human intellectual endeavor.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/06/27/on-the-exceptionalism-of-books-in-an-age-of-tweets/

I’ve often ranted against lack of attention-span, and wasted time. But Newport, and in particular some things he’s quoting and talking about from another article, make the point that all of human history is encoded in written form. Why is that so? Because it works, and it works really well.

There is a place for visual and auditory information, of course. Those tools of communication are power tools compared to writing—well, almost all writing. As I’ve said many times here though: One can have the power tools after demonstrating mastery with the manual hand-tools.

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Fine tuned indeed

It seems almost paranormal, but I think it’s just more of nature’s evolutionary fine-tuning. Being such social mammals, it would make sense for us to have an uncanny sensitivity for detecting, another person’s sentiments toward us, even when they’re not advertising them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/05/how-to-get-rich-in-the-kindness-economy/

In recent years I’ve elevated my perception of the subtleties of interpersonal communication—everything beyond the spoken word—from one of those, “I don’t know how I do that,” skills to be something I explicitly practice and notice in others. This is one of the things which makes great actors and actresses: Their ability to produce all the subtleties makes them feel very real to the majority of people who do not detect subtleties consciously. (They of course feel very real to me too. I’m saying I now better understand why and what cues are causing me to feel that way.) This is a super-power. Once you are reasonably competent at detecting what is affecting you, you can then use that information intentionally.

There’s been an enormous amount of discussion recently about facial expression, masks, posture, and intention. In effect, a huge number of people are getting a crash master-course in using and detecting all this subtlety.

I think that bodes well for all of us.

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Not spinning out of control

Because, like you, like seemingly everybody, I have also felt as though the world is spinning out of control and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m exhausted from all the stories of shootings and attacks and bombs and the constant stream of awful stuff that is happening out there. I, too, feel desensitized and dejected from the seemingly constant carnage raging across the planet.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/crazy-world

There was a period of time when I felt that the world was spinning out of control. It is not.

Over a couple decades, as I spent less time on dysfunctional social networks, less time on instant gratification, less time on consuming mindless media, less time on bite-sized tripe posing as information, less time on pre-digested opinions… Well, over a couple decades I’ve come to realize that humanity is awesome. Sure, we progress in fits and starts, with setbacks small and large scattered about. But progress we do none the less!

If you see an issue that you think needs addressing, then please do set about affecting change. But do so sans hysteria, sans hyperbole, sans click-baity mindless louder-just-to-get-attention fluff.

The way you make the whole world better is to make one piece of it better; Then repeat.

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Presuming, of course, you actually know of something better to do

“If you don’t dedicate your time and attention to working with this roto-mill,” the clerk warns, “you might miss out on some benefit that we’re not thinking of now. I don’t see how you could afford such a risk in today’s age of modern yard tools.”

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2014/03/17/would-you-buy-a-yard-tool-if-you-had-no-idea-what-to-use-it-for-so-why-would-you-sign-up-for-snapchat/

Maybe I’m going about this all wrong? We—me, Newport, everyone that I’m following and reading—keep saying things like this. (Read the article, it’s super short.) I keep talking about how engaging in certain things is a waste of one’s precious time. But it occurs to me that maybe for some people it is not a waste of time. Maybe for some people, playing Nimecraft, scrolling through Bacefook or Twettir is actually the best thing they’ve yet found to do with their time. (Data point: I do remember when that was the case for myself!)

Today, I have a list of things that I want to do—that I enjoy doing, that yield benefits, and which make me and the world a better place. I also have a list of things which I find pointless which I do not want to do. Maybe it would be far more useful for me to be asking, rhetorically, of the world at large:

What do you want to be doing with your limited time here?

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The size of your identity

I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people’s identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity. By definition they’re partisan.

Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html

There are two ways I can think to aim this: outward as a way to lecture others, and inward as a way to lecture myself. Lately, I find I’m choosing to aim inward with every lesson I encounter. I’m frequently trying to catch myself being untrue to my morals.

Yesterday I was asking myself: What would it mean to be, “so good, they can’t ignore you?” Asking myself such things is an ongoing theme, and I’ve always considered it from the mindset of more; from the mindset of searching for ways to improve by addition. Yes, I’ve intentionally left the subject unspecified here. Thinking about Graham’s article this morning leaves me wondering if the best way—for me today at my current place in my personal journey—might instead be to improve by removing things.

What would that look like, specifically?

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P.S.: The question, “what can I do to be so good they can’t ignore me?,” is part of my personal list of daily reminders.

Nothing fancy

That’s what you and I need right now.

We need the Kiwi virtues.

Nothing fancy. Nothing heroic. Just do our part and be there for our mates in trouble.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2020/03/kiwi-virtues-in-a-time-of-trouble/

I still cannot imagine what the English experienced during the second world war. I’ve long known what, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” was about. But even now that there is a real danger, I still feel zero urge to panic.

Things to do, or not do. Places to go, or not go. Sure. Decisions to be made. People to be helped. Lessons to be learned. Work to be done. Priorities to be reality-checked. Sure.

But, panic? Hoarding? Stigmatizing people? …no thanks.

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The difficulty setting

But a strong work ethic will keep on opening doors for you, again and again, for years to come.

~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2018/04/05/its-not-what-you-do-its-how-you-do-it/

MacLeod’s point about work ethic is spot-on. A certain type and quantity of work ethic is necessary for success; however you wish to define success for yourself, you’ll need work ethic to succeed. It’s necessary.

But it’s not sufficient. The game of life has initial difficulty settings, and we each have little control over that.

Are you born in a country that protects your rights? Are you raised by people who care for you, and create an environment where you flourish? Were you lucky enough to inherit good DNA (as opposed to having a genetic disorder)? Did you grow up in a safe and healthy community (or did people steal your things, threaten you with violence, etc.)?

Work ethic and initiative can enable you to overcome almost all of the challenges the random initial conditions of life might set up for you. You can even change the difficulty level of your own game. But it’s harder.

You’re probably not responsible for more than a handful of people (children, parents, family, etc.) You do not need to sacrifice yourself for others. But if you have extra time, extra resources, extra skill, extra knowledge, or extra ability, what happens to the world if you choose to try to change the difficulty setting for others?

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