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faster FASter FASTER Vol 59

December 7, 2014

If you and your friends are still having the Beatles vs Rolling Stones argument, you must be Boomers !

Its really hard today to fathom a way forward, to plan for the future, to figure out what to do next, what with all the data available. All kinds of Social Media, new mobile services, news looking like entertainment, entertainment that looks like news, scams, hacks, lies, hook-ups, crowd starters, crowd pleasing, plenty of fish, You Tube cat tricks, where is it all heading ? I say data, because unless you can parse thru the noise and see the information, you are just overloaded. How anyone can see or plan for the future is a challenge for sure !

There was a great article in the NY Time magazine, by Adam Davidson, called Welcome to the Failure Age. Please find it and give it a study. Essentially, it talks to our risk taking over the ages. From Mesopotamia, risk was something to be avoided. Taking a risk, like planting an unknown crop, could spell famine for you and your family.

Kinda makes you wonder about the first person who decided to suck a cows teat ! What kind of conversation would that have been like ? Yeah, I dare you to, ah, I don’t know, go tackle that large animal, and suck its tit ! What, are you scared ?

Over time, we mitigated risk by having lots of kids, and as we learned to cook – meaning we could keep protein longer and safer – so we had more calories to share. We could feed more kids, and kids were an insurance policy against all the risks in our lives, from wolves, to snakes, to mother nature.

We were hunter gathers because we followed the animal migration, because being close to food mitigated risk. We became farmers because crops lowered our risk of surviving the hunt, so we allowed carbohydrates into our lives. Wheat and corn we learned from the natives, increasing our chances of survival. Overall, we were risk adverse.

The article has a great section on the color purple, and why it was once so expensive that it was only affordable by Royalty. A young chemist, because his family was rich he had leisure time, who could afford to spend time experimenting, found a dye process that was far cheaper than the old way, so the colour purple became available to the masses.

Another great story is the hoe, an agricultural instrument we all have in our garages. Its probably 2,000 years old, but still in use today. Amazing, considering smart phones usually last just 2 years before they are junked. You have to read the article to get the point.

Risk taking really took off in the industrial revolution when, counter to the best attempts of the Luddites, society started to have extra time and money as successful machines helped increase income, and spare time. This success begat more success, but also allowed for constant failure, as the age of innovation started. No one could trust that yesterday would become tomorrow. It was a scary time for most. Agriculture advancements meant that less people were needed to tend the fields to feed the masses. Think of the feudal system. Second and third sons could risk being sent out to govern the Empire, as they were not needed at home, Empire then increased the overall wealth of the society by bringing back riches from the various conquered lands. Spices, lumber, precious stones, gold, all the result of excess people, due to risk takers.

So, today we embark on the 3rd Technology Age, the advancement of computers. Like the last two, there will be economic upheaval, the roadkill of companies that failed to see the changes, and new endeavours rising out of nowhere. Facebook ! Where will all the steelworkers or aluminum workers go when graphite becomes of universal use ? Just like the farmers in China today, they are going to go where the jobs are, and learn to adjust.

One point of all this change was that society had to adapt, and adapt quickly. As the article mention’s, the path to innovation is littered with failure. New ways of dealing with the high rate of change had to be found, like social programs and family assistance. To protect the new inventions, laws were invented. Contract law, patents, the commercial court system, all were needed because of risk takers. Based on the technology of today, what new laws are needed ? Perhaps we should start with protection our privacy, more training for displaced workers, and some way to limit the government intrusion into our personal lives

The second point is the speed in which this “failure to innovation to failure” loop is occurring is increasing. Its scary. I get that. Many jobs available today did not exist a generation ago. Its why you should not think that retraining is a bad thing – its the only thing. I graduated in 1977, and its humbling to ponder my current cachet of knowledge. I doubt I could fix almost anything in my house if it broke. Also, remember that you already learn something new every time you buy a phone, or coffee maker, or a car.

To think you, as a Boomer, can wallow in your thin knowledge that you are safe on your couch, that your pension is safe, that you can retire forever, is folly. We must work to keep the concrete out of our brains, just like we work to keep the hardening out of our arteries. It’s a scary time, this feeling of understanding less and less of life. Just think of our parents, and what they have seen, take heart, and venture out.

Next on Boomers – WTF !, what’s your credo ?

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