I am currently writing a private memo (that is a note for myself) to think through what it would take to reimagine political journalism in India. I know the problems. How do we fix it?
The memo is stuck. Struggling with some foundational arguments. Which is fine.
I am writing this post to share a framework I often use while thinking of solving problems in the future: taking a big-picture view of human history and placing the current moment and the time to come in that big story arc.
Here are two writers with some numbers. So striking.
(1) Alvin Tofler in his excellent 1970 book Future Shock:
…if the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately 62 years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes.
Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in caves.
Only during the last 70 lifetimes has it been possible to communicate effectively from one lifetime to another—as writing made it possible to do.
Only during the last six lifetimes did masses of men ever see a printed word.
Only during the last four has it been possible to measure time with any precision.
Only in the last two has anyone anywhere used an electric motor.
And the overwhelming majority of all the material goods we use in daily life today have been developed within the present, the 800th, lifetime.
(2) Here is Wait But Why’s Tim Urban:
If you divide the 100,000 years of human history to a 500-page book (with each page being 200 years), on the first 499 pages we had 1 billion people or fewer.
Then, on the 500th page, we’ve crossed the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 billion person threshold.
For the first 499 pages of the book, we barely used any energy at all — we got around with sailboats and walking and running and horses; we developed submarines and cars and planes and space travel all on page 500 alone.
Communication was just talking — and maybe letter writing — for the first 499 pages; on page 500, we have FaceTime and the internet.
Just pause and think about that for a second: We woke up in an incredible anomaly of a time when we were born. So we have to ask ourselves: What does that mean about page 501? What does that mean about the future?
Tim is right. Just pause and think about it. I am.