Weekend Briefing No. 368

Welcome to the weekend. Wow! February is almost over. Here’s my March Playlist to kick off the next month.

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Prime Numbers

6.6 billion—Air taxi startup Joby is going public at a $6.6 billion valuation through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) formed by the founders of LinkedIn and Zynga.

150,000—Olympic organizers are requiring athletes to stay 6 feet away from each other, but they’ll also hand out 150,000 free condoms to them—and the internet is having a field day over the contradiction.

5.5—The average number of writers on a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 song in 2020 was 5.5 songwriters, up from 2.1 writers in 1990.

Perseverance

Ok. We live in the future! This week, we were able to watch the Mars Rover Perseverance live. This is mind boggling to me. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video with live play-by-play from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I recently read a book called Thinking Like a Rocket Scientist. The author worked on an earlier Mars mission, so I learned a little more about how much brilliance and problem solving goes into making this happen. It somehow gives me hope for humanity, and though the voiceover is all technical, it’s surprisingly emotional.  YouTube (4 minutes)

Can People Really Change?

I just started listening to Bill Gates and Rasheeda Jones’ podcast. I really love this episode about whether people can really change and whether societal change is possible. This is a particularly interesting year to think about in terms of change. On the one hand, it’s safe to assume we’re all ending the year at least a little different than we started it. The pandemic will leave a lasting imprint on all of us, just as older generations were forever changed by World War II—and life will never be the same for people who lost a loved one. On the other hand, 2020 has made it clear how polarized society has become and how set so many people seem to be in their beliefs. Rashida and Bill have a lovely meandering conversation with each other and Bono about change. (Side note: Bono is one of the main reasons I’m working in the social enterprise world. He’s had a profound impact on me personally. So, if any of you want to introduce us, I wouldn’t be mad.) Enjoy the podcast. Big Questions (51 minutes)

Attention Economy

Michael Goldhaber is the internet prophet you’ve never heard of. Here’s a short list of things he saw coming: the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essays, fandoms and online influencer culture, along with the near destruction of our ability to focus. Most of this came to him in the mid-1980s, when Mr. Goldhaber, a former theoretical physicist, had a revelation. He was obsessed at the time with what he felt was an information glut—that there was simply more access to news, opinions and forms of entertainment than one could handle. His epiphany was this: One of the most finite resources in the world is human attention. To describe its scarcity, he latched onto what was then an obscure term, coined by a psychologist, Herbert A. Simon: “the attention economy.” Attention has always been currency, but as we’ve begun to live our lives increasingly online, it’s now the currency. Any discussion of power is now, ultimately, a conversation about attention and how we extract it, wield it, waste it, abuse it, sell it, lose it and profit from it. New York Times (9 minutes)

Geoengineering

Geoengineering is the idea of cooling the planet by dispersing particles in the atmosphere, dimming sunlight and offsetting some of the warming driven by greenhouse-gas emissions. It has a precedent: Nature already does it in major volcanic eruptions. But could altering the Earth’s atmosphere to reflect back some of the sun’s rays be a solution to climate change? It would likely decrease global temperatures, but it might lead to climate wars. Humanity might become “addicted” to it for survival. And ultimately, would this technology only distract us from tackling the real problem of carbon emissions? Learn more about the science and the ethical issues it raises on this podcast. Brave New Planet (63 minutes)

NFT at Christie’s

Are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) a fad, or do they represent the future of the art market? That is the question Christie’s appears to be testing later this month when it becomes the first major auction house to offer a standalone NFT work of art. Given the unprecedented nature of the Christie’s sale, the auction house is offering Beeple’s work with an “unknown” estimate. Bidding starts at $100 (the auction runs from February 25-March 11). Beeple’s piece, a pixelated work, is comprised of 5,000 individual images created every day since 1 May 2007. It is purely digital. The winning bidder will receive an encrypted file without any kind of physical presence, and the transaction will be registered on the blockchain. Crucially, unlike the traditional art world, the provenance for all NFT purchases are public, immutable and available on the blockchain. The Art Newspaper (8 minutes)

On Craft

Fantasy is easy, and effort is punishing. Here’s what I know: If someone is much better than you at something, they probably try much harder. You probably underestimate how much harder they try. So much of getting good at anything is just the pure labor of honing your craft. Craft requires such a sustained tenacity. A lot of people want to be, but they don’t want to do. They want to have written a book, but they don’t want to write the book. They want to be fit, but they don’t want the tedium of working out. People make the best things when they love the process, when they willingly shoulder the inherent uncertainty and pain that comes with it. It’s almost like a form of prayer: You offer up what you can even though the reward is uncertain. You do it out of love. Ava (8 minutes)

Hurt

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been really into Song Exploder this Winter. I’ve been working my way through the backlog of the podcast and watching the Netflix series. The Netflix episode on Nine Inch Nails’ iconic track “Hurt” was powerful. In the course of Trent Reznor dissecting the song, he also dissects his life at that moment in time—his quest for purpose and belonging, his loneliness and the emptiness of success. He also shares how he felt performing “Hurt” with his hero David Bowie. Discussing 1995’s “The Outside Tour,” in which Nine Inch Nails supported David Bowie and would cover the song with The Thin White Duke, Trent enthuses, ​“I couldn’t believe it was real. It really felt like, ​‘How much better does it get than this?’ Being able to stand onstage next to that guy who’s my hero. That voice is singing this beautiful harmony with that song I wrote in my bedroom was mind-blowing.” Netflix (28 minutes)

Bookshelf

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. Led by its founding father, the great psychohistorian Hari Seldon, and taking advantage of its superior science and technology, the Foundation has survived the greed and barbarism of its neighboring warrior planets. Yet now it must face the Empire—still the mightiest force in the Galaxy even in its death throes. When an ambitious general determined to restore the Empire’s glory turns the vast Imperial fleet toward the Foundation, the only hope for the small planet of scholars and scientists lies in the prophecies of Hari Seldon. But not even Hari Seldon could have predicted the birth of the extraordinary creature called The Mule—a mutant intelligence with a power greater than a dozen battle fleets, a power that can turn the strongest-willed human into an obedient slave. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Algebra of Wealth—If you are a young person (relative term) and you’re looking to build wealth, what should you do?

Cultural Teleportation—Check out this Google Earth-type representation of the planet. Every green dot is a radio station. Click any dot to listen in. It’s like cultural teleportation.

WFH and Trust—Working from home (WFH) is eroding trust within companies.

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Lim Changwon.

Should We Work Together?

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Weekend Wisdom

Exploring and colonizing Mars can bring us new scientific understanding of climate change, of how planet-wide processes can make a warm and wet world into a barren landscape. By exploring and understanding Mars, we may gain key insights into the past and future of our own world. Buzz Aldrin

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