In San Francisco, where you would believe everything is zooming toward the digital, humanless, software-based solution, a slow movement is sideswiping speed. And no, it’s not artesian -- nor does it have to do with increasing the number of bearded guys with slow ways of preparing coffee or the production of handmade, bespoke (insert any product at this point).
It's long-term thinking that is sideswiping speed. Long-term thinking is simply a way to consider what we gain from short-horizon perspectives. The question at the center of long-term thinking is what we sign up for in the long run, given the way we live in the short run.
The Long Now Foundation is the epicenter of long-term thought. You may think you've never heard of the foundation -- you have, actually, I'd bet. Have you heard of the underground clock Jeff Bezos is building, sunk into a desert mountain far, far away? If so, you’ve heard of Long Now. The clock is one of many projects created by the curiosity around how to get past short-horizon perspectives.
What does slow thought encompass, you ask? Reflections, mostly, about how the short game is changing the way we live. Here's a quick quote from futurist, Paul Saffo, who spoke recently at Long Now:
“Mass participation (is) the new normal. Stuff is cheap; status comes from creation. Value is created by engagement -- from Wikipedia..to Google…to Airbnb to Uber..Burning Man sets the standard of “no spectators.” Makers insist that “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”
What's the takeaway here? The market has driven us to change our perception of freedom. Wildly convenient and seemingly "freeing," the mass interdependence of the digital world is changing our definition of freedom. By creating interdependent economies via machines we may believe we’re "freer" because the convenience of it all feels very liberating. However, here’s the million-dollar follow-up question: What are we freeing ourselves for?
We don’t have role models of what to do with freedom beyond applying it toward more short-term gains, more connections. We're buying more gadgets that connect, essentially storing up a huge warehouse of "freedom." What are we using it for, except to buy more gadgets? I think we may not have an application for our freedom yet that has long-term value; we may lack a mentor for how to understand long-term approaches to what "freedom" means.
I came on this thought when a friend said he felt we lack role models for what a balanced life between the digital and the human might look like today. Then I watched the absolutely fantastic documentary about Studio Ghibli, of Spirited Away fame. One of the storylines follows the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. He retired rather than follow animation into the digital realm a la a route you could imagine Pixar having gone if it had begun as a 2D studio.
What's remarkable about what he did was that he chose to stop, slow down and think about how his long-term would look if he followed the market. His retirement is a statement that the market could not deliver freedom to Miyazaki by his definition. What he makes us recognize is that outcomes for the mass are not likely to produce satisfaction for the one. He is perhaps the first, but I hope not the last mentor to offer this lesson. His teaching is radically simple: The long-term thought is a question of what drives you. The short-horizon is what drives the market. The two may have nothing in common.
Miyazaki is perhaps the first, but I hope now one of many you'll start to notice around you, who are role models not for the short-horizon, but a long-perspective about the human pace of life.