When I turned 30 about six months ago, I sat down in the garden at my parents house, looking over the city of Cherbourg, thinking about the earliest memories I could possibly remember. Most of them were in that house. It is easy to feel that you have fallen short of your own expectations of the future; what was then a wild sea of possibilities turned out to be more like swimming a river upstream.
As you get older, it seems that the decisions you make set you on a path that keeps getting narrower. However, not making decisions would mean that you’d stay where you are. I guess it is better to move forward on a narrowing path than to be stagnant. At least, that’s how I saw things. But sitting at that table on that afternoon made me want to revisit this. Maybe I could swim back to the ocean and see if I could explore other rivers. After all, I’m quite free. My parents are healthy and they do not need me at the moment. My sisters are growing our family. I’m happy and also healthy. What could possibly go wrong?
So, after working for fifteen years in the technology industry, I took an afternoon to think about the past, the present and the future. I thought about where humanity could go, and I thought about where I’d like us to go. I’m happy the way my last decade turned out but it felt more like I was safely floating around on a tube rather than making daring decisions that could make me keel over. I wanted to have a goal for the next decade— A star to follow, a core idea that I’d like to invest my time into and see how I could contribute to it. I found a few of them.
When I think about the future, one thing that makes me very excited is the idea of space exploration. The idea of humans living away from our planet, living a life that we couldn’t possibly imagine today is fascinating. I’m always excited when Elon Musk talks about his plans for SpaceX and having people go to Mars because although it feels like tiny baby steps, they’re necessary to achieve a much bigger goal that I hope I’ll be able to see in my lifetime. Depending on days, I am more or less confident that it is going to be possible.
Although the technical challenges are obviously tremendous (it is rocket science after all), there are many others that we would want to tackle before even thinking about settling away. A few of them piqued my interest and I thought that if I could spend the next decade of my life working on these few ideas, that would make me very happy. These challenges are at a first glance not related to space exploration but that I think we will need to overcome and get better at as we sail away from our planet so we improve our transition to a multi-planetary civilization.
That’s what I’m going to do.
If we’re going to be using democracy as the way to share governance amongst multiple human settlements, there are many things we need to fix and improve to make it work at a local, state and national level first. What could they be? Newsroom is about improving democracy by helping journalists better inform their readers. Better access to information means better accountability and therefore better debates and decisions. It’s a first step.
Many countries still have not adopted a democracy, while ours is evolving faster and faster every year. When you think about all the technological, health and other advancements we have had since the U.S. Constitution was written it makes you reconsider why things are the way they are and if they couldn’t be more optimized (for example, technology could allow us to be involved more often in the decisions). More important than optimization though, is representation. Are citizens represented the way they were when the U.S. Constitution was written? I think we can safely agree that they are more represented today. But it doesn’t mean we couldn’t do better.
Moving away from Ownership
Owning things isn’t very practical. As people are becoming global citizens, traveling often and very volatile, it doesn’t make much sense to have a place where you have all your belongings. What makes more sense is to be able to have access to what you need, whereever you are, when you need them. I see a trend where our generation is less attached to the feeling of owning things such as a house or a car, but that instead sees the benefits of a sharing economy and is willing to experiment with it on a bigger level. Co-living communities are a way to make the experience of living with friends and others a more fulfilling one than living by yourself in a suburban house, keeping you stuck there for years with a mortgage you need to pay.
What products and services could benefit from being shared amongst a group of friends, a community, a city, a nation? Think about your clothes. If you do your laundry every other week and you wear a t-shirt every day, chances are that you own at least 15 t-shirts. Each t-shirt is only worn once though, so it means every t-shirt is only used twice a month. The rest of the time, it either sits in your drawer or in your laundry hamper.
I’d be more than willing to share my t-shirts with someone, or even a group of people. I don’t need to feel like I own them. All I care about is that they’re in a good condition and are clean. That can easily be done. I don’t think that hundreds of years from now, we would still buy clothing that we would wear twice a month. That doesn’t make sense.
Will people on another planet repeat our way of living, owning a house, a piece of land, objects? I doubt that.
Treating Mental Illnesses
If there is one medical area where I think we fail as a species, it is mental illness. The pressure we put on ourselves to pretend like everything is going well when it’s not is slowly killing us, not only at the individual level but as a society.
We learned as a species early on that someone physically weak in our tribe represented a danger for the entire group so (hopefully more often than not) we took care of them instead of abandoning them. We’re taught as kids that if you cut yourself, you need to disinfect it and put a bandage on it. But when the cut is emotional, we’re told to stop whining about it and to move on. But cuts, when not cared for, can become the start of an infection and become much more serious.
I think meditation, psychedelics and technology (particularly virtual reality) have so much potential in helping us becoming better humans and this will be a requirement if we want humanity to be able to take the next big leap.. I see VR as a way to create safe spaces for people to explore and take themselves out of a reality that might not necessarily be ideal for them at that moment.
I remember being at a talk at Out in Tech, an event for LGBTQ+ people working in the technology industry where a woman on the panel was sharing how VR was powerful to her because she could be whoever she wanted to be regardless of her passing in the real world. This by itself is a great use of technology that could make so many people, especially the young ones, explore and understand who they are in communities where it is not always acceptable or possible.
Creating a more fulfilling Life
The word, ‘business,’ comes from busy·ness, the state of being active, or busy. It has nothing to do with creating monetary value. Actually, in the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari tells us that in the early days of Homo sapiens (this is us), we were probably spending most of our days chilling and playing with one another.
I don’t know what the future will be regarding work, and I’m much less confident about what I think it will be than I am for the three other topics I covered above. But I have a lot of hope. I hope that technology and automation help us move away from jobs that no one would do unless they were getting paid and do more of the things that are fulfilling us for their own sake, like our ancestors did.
So, what am I going to do? I’m going to focus on two issues.
Improving Democracy: From day one, Fabien and I worked on Newsroom to improve and protect democracy, so it fits quite well for this focus. Actually, Newsroom will be my main focus for the time being. I’ll write more about why we started Newsroom and where we see us going later, but this is very exciting, at least for me. If you want to try Newsroom, you can request an invite now.
Moving away from Ownership: I’m following the co-living spaces more and more, and I’d love to join one eventually. I have a few ideas on how to contribute to this spaces but for now, I think the best I can do is to share them with you either here or on Twitter.
Treating Mental Illnesses & Creating a more fulfilling Life: Although I don’t have the time to focus on them, they are important topics that I follow quite closely and I’ll make sure to write regularly about them whenever I have interesting things to say. I was talking about VR and Psychedelics: there’s a meetup about that on Thursday, obviously I’m going.
If you would like to discuss these issues with me, please reach out to me on Twitter. I’m always open to discuss and collaborate. These are important issues, the more we think about how to solve them, the faster we’ll get there.