Our great leaps in humanity never land us softly in Utopia. We land hard, and when we wipe the dust from our eyes, we see new problems that we could’ve never imagined.
You don’t have to look far for examples. All recent technologies have already revealed unintended consequences. Social networks have allowed us to connect with others in ways never imaginable. Yet it breeds addiction, validates narcissism, and creates an artificial division between us all.
Let’s change the topic to something more fun: green technology and electric vehicles. As I type these words, there’s tremendous excitement about electric cars. It’s not just tree huggers or a small group of early adopters who are stoked to try new things. Everyone is excited. Why? Over the last 10 years, Tesla showed people that electric cars can be cool, fast, and fun (everything the Toyota Prius was NOT.)
Here in 2021, it’s clear that EVs are the only thing certain about the future of the auto industry. Every carmaker is loading their lineup with EVs. Some are denouncing internal combustion altogether: our future is electric! Others are just having fun: the Ford F150 Lightning seems pretty impressive, an honest electric pickup that can also power an entire house for a couple of days during a power grid failure. If that’s not B-A, I don’t know what is.
What’s not to like about electric cars? We’re having fun and saving the earth too.
No. Not exactly. Those electric cars are powered in part by neodymium, cobalt, and lithium. Each of these elements seems to have a moral or environmental hazard:
- Sourcing neodymium is dirty, and one country owns almost the entire market. There will be serious geo-political consequences.
- When you source cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, you have to ignore child labor.
- Mining for lithium is severe and unsightly. This is open-pit mining that makes Captain Planet cry himself to sleep (NY Times).
Nature-lovers will be devastated when they see what it took to power their electric cars down the streets. The headlines in the coming decades will be defined by new environmental crises, all linked with our beloved electric cars. We never land softly in Utopia.
You and I can agree that innovation itself is not futile or problematic—quite the opposite. Innovation is central to who we are as humans. We have a gift for recognizing problems and adapting to find solutions. We’ve done this for thousands of years, long before microchips and social networks. It’s who we are. That’s a good thing.
But our zeal for new technology and new ideas makes us easily deceived. Standing confidence in the Present Moment, we look back and know more than ever. We glorify our big ideas today that have not been tested with time. In the Present Moment, we deceive ourselves, and we are easily deceived by others.
In fact, the Present Moment affords our most persuasive narrative:
- We look at the wrongs of the past as a foundation for our case.
- We are emboldened by the urgency of the present moment, and the wave of support (real or not) within society.
- We look to the opportunity of a bright future and point to Utopia.
- We finish with a call to action. We demand action.
The irony here is that this narrative is not new. Every decade, every century is defined by this same narrative. It’s the narrative that created the revolutions that you now despise.
So do not be charmed by this narrative. Do not be quickly inspired. Recognize it for it is: deceptive.
Everything bright and new will have unintended consequences. But with courage and clarity, we can make smart decisions today to minimize the damage in the future. This is your unique role as an adult. This is how you safeguard the things that matter to you most.
So refuse to be a part of an echo chamber that leads to wrong-headed decisions. Have the courage to ask hard questions to right the course. If you feel swayed by political pressure (aka Twitter pressure) or a desire to be popular, check your decisions with this model. If you are not sure where you stand, at the very least encourage bold people who stand firm when others are washed downstream.
Finally, know that this is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. That’s why they give these jobs to the grown ups. Class of 1997 Rules! ◾
💡 Good to Know💡
- Presentism is uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.
- Hindsight bias gives us unreasonable certainty in the causal relationship between past events and the present moment. This gives us baseless confidence to predict the future.
- Still want to predict the future? You should know about Crossing the Chasm and Gartner’s Hype Cycle.
Curious about electric vehicles and mining? Go watch the show Abandoned Season 1, Episode 4. Learn about the environmental bomb ready to blow when the Salton Sea finally dries up in Southern California. It’s absolutely terrible. Or maybe there’s hope? Some politicians in California may want to dig it all up. Maybe an open pit mine is better than a toxic dust storm? Read: Lithium Valley)