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Blip 000: Weird present

“The present moment is all we have.” Put that in a text box over a sunset photo and you will get about 15,000 likes.

collage of IG posts about the present moment

Be fully present as you compulsively check how many views you've gotten

And it’s true of course, but can we get some acknowledgement of just how weird a moment it is?

You’re reading this on a screen, either attached to a personal computer or a smartphone.

The former has only existed since around 1970, and the latter has only been a thing since the 2000s. Your grandparents didn’t read newsletters on screens, nor did their grandparents, nor anyone else throughout the ~15,000 generations of humans who preceded you.

You’re special! Additionally: Things are weird!

Not so much if you focus on your surroundings—the people around you also spend time reading stuff on screens. And if you look back to 1970, there’s a perfectly coherent progression from personal computer, to the growth of the internet, to mobile phones.

For that matter, if we look back to the invention of the printing press (1000 years ago in China, or 600 years ago in Europe, depending on how you define it), the newsletter itself seems like a logical development.

Those timelines aren’t weird. But this one is:

Technology that existed before we were born seems eternal, and tech that was developed during our lifetimes seems inevitable. But neither is actually the case.

We spend our waking hours doing stuff that the vast majority of historical (and prehistorical) human beings never even heard of. Making spreadsheets, driving trucks full of processed foods and plastic across the country, posting inspirational quotes on ad platforms and feeling insecure about it. Weird things to do. Even weirder: We act like they’re normal.

I’m not here to say we should put an end to spreadsheets or trucks or social media. I’m just saying that we’ve got to talk about it. In particular:

To be clear: This is not a primitivist argument. I won’t try to convince you that you’d be better off living 200 years ago. (Or 2,000, or 20,000, or … you know.) Personally, I’m a huge fan of bicycles, electric blankets, and command line text editors. I don’t want to give them up—that’s the whole point.

Because I’m concerned that some of the amazing tech we’ve so rapidly adopted has side effects we haven’t fully considered. Or dependencies on resources that won’t last forever. Or both.

Given that, I’ll spend time each month observing, documenting, and researching how we live now compared to how we used to live and, crucially, how long we can realistically keep it up. In 500 years, will we still have spreadsheets, trucks, and social media? (Do we want to?)

I’ll focus on the smalltown U.S. south, because that’s where I live, and because it’s a fascinating place. I’ll share the findings that surprise me, and I’ll work to find the others who are also thinking about *waves hand* all of this.

And if you’re still reading: You’re the others. What ideas, concerns, and visions do you have for the future? How do we ensure the well being of the young people who will outlive us, and the ones who will (hopefully) be born a thousand years from now?

I don’t expect you to solve it, of course. But I’d love it if you shared anything from a passing thought to a utopian manifesto. We’ll figure it out together.

Hope to hear from you soon but if not, I’ll have an update for you later this month.

    © 2023 Brian David Hall