A letter to the future from some little time after 2020
Epistemic status: a curiosity, part of an exercise done with one of the groups that began as a cohort of the RedQuadrant tool shed
I remember 2020 as tsunami — wave after wave of crashing overwhelm to deal with — Covid, collapse all around, ultimately of the ecosystem, and grasping systems for attention and energy of all kinds, and the swirling in the waves, fighting and like being in a washing machine, occasionally a moment of calm, then my own attention and desires pulling me back into the turmoil. Actually, looking back, my own holding on to things.
Somehow, in the Autumn, it began to start. A great giving up, a turning away — much more like riding just a few waves, but perhaps closing out the storm with shutters, connecting to those who seemed to resonate, withdrawing investment from the roiling systems — at first it felt scary, post-apocalyptic, even irresponsible. One by one, many of the podcasts on sensemaking and Game B and post-conventional Buddhism and the like came to an end, like little stars winking out. People left social media, I lost touch. More and more people were growing food at home, opting out but not radically, just quietly, connecting more where it was important. Some people couldn’t handle it, they couldn’t find a place in the arena where the fights looked increasingly staged, for entertainment and drama, and they couldn’t connect to the soft threads of the new connection. We lost some good people that way, burned up in the drama or with no supplies in the vacuum.
But the withdrawal started to look like something. Not the former grand plan of the Modern Macy Conferences, reuniting the next wave thinkers from across disciplines and building the new meta and trans-disciplines and crushing the old dinosaur system like an asteroid. Instead, a strong, matted, mycorrhizal connection between people and communities. There were some dramatic victories. The boycotts, the fake ticket bookings to Trump rallies writ large. And, of course, there were some who got carried away with that, and turned it into the next stage of cancel culture. Their followers were noisy, but few.
I knew something had really changed when the commercialisation system tried to take hold of the new cultural movement; when new drugs flooded in and undermined some people’s lives, when agents provocateur began to show up. But, this time, they didn’t derail us — the new sell-outs sold out, sure — but they didn’t make it that big, didn’t undermine the whole thing. The tone of conversations began, again, to descend into the particular, to be contextually situated and practice-based. Every now and again, money couldn’t buy dominance — relationships were too important to people. Even the blow-out ‘crazy 20s’ after the first pandemic were a little more local, a little more creative than commoditised, a little more home-made. The music and art was amazing. As, to be honest, were the drugs and the parties — but not for too long, for most.
I don’t know what you hold, tomorrow. Apple still sits on more wealth than whatever whatever, VCs still buy market share and their unicorns undermine sustainable businesses. But there’s a different tone to the conversation about ethics — not judgemental, just reserved, stepping back, thinking longer-term, not resisting but not drawn, not separated — people are doing what they reckon’s right for them and their families and their friends and communities. We all had to accept a step down in our ambitions, in a way — but very few of us feels a loss thereby. Actually, it feels like we’re resting, regenerating, striving less, thinking more but less frenetically. Mulching. We know, a little better, what multiplies in the sharing — and what gets diminished. And we’re connecting across generations, across families, and trying to focus on what’s important. A little less bullshit. It feels like this might be more important than the hollowed-out hulk of the old system.
Except… as Alan Watts said, ‘those of you who’ve chosen to be square, well… you’ve chosen the wildest trip of all’. And it seems as though so many young people — unusually serious, thoughtful young people — well, they’re studying management. And public management. And science, and marketing. And they’re taking something with them as they head off into that mainstream world. I wonder what will come of that?