I found myself continuing the thread started in my Solarpunk newsletter issue: If you want people to change their ways, tell them Tales To Inspire, not Tales To Condemn.
Initially, I wanted to link Mister Money Mustache’s article “Efficiency is the highest form of beauty”, where he extols virtues of a certain extent of frugality not to maximize column D3 in his spreadsheet, but because it appeals to him aesthetically:
The reason I pursue and love the idea of finding new ways to live life in an industrialized world, is the same reason I love music, and art, and writing and all of the beautiful, advanced, inspiring things that people do. It’s because Efficiency is Beauty.
I agree with MMM, and it’s easy to laugh at us both as engineers, but this is very close to the classical conception of beauty:
The classical conception is that beauty consists of an arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony, symmetry, and similar notions.
Mister Money Mustache points out, that the opulent spending of the western world is not only in bad taste, but it also has a huge environmental impact:
Look at me! I can afford to grow all these impractical colorful feathers! Or dump water on this big green lawn and pay servants to water it, and I’m not even here because I’m in Monaco this month. Now, come have sex with me because you know you want some of these superior genes.”
But what appeals to me the most in MMM writing is that he does not dwell too long on condemning overspenders, nor the listing of 937 ways to cut your coupons, but focusing on a bright vision. Where most FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) advice consists of sprinting to retirement, leaving you with the Now What?! question, he presents the beauty of simplicity and the environmental benefits. His master plan is (was?) to use his influence and promote the desirability of being mindful with your resources:
you can fix the whole problem by doing just one thing: demonstrating and celebrating efficiency in your own life. (…) Start by attracting the top of society, allow them to demonstrate that your idea is desirable, then watch the rest of the world follow.
This reminded me of Tesla’s fantastic Master Plan from 2006. It lays out a strategy of starting with an expensive car for rich people, and use these high margins to invest into lower-margin offering:
“The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium” (…)
Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
But what Elon omitted from the memo is that by entering at the high end of the market, and convincing the influential customers, he proved that it is desirable to own an electric car. The only people who were able to afford the Roadster (Tesla’s first car) were celebrities and rich folk. By riding this wave of hype (and I think we all agree that Tesla does create hype), he popularized electric cars, so that every major car manufacturer is switching away from the combustion engine to a more efficient electric engine.
On a more directly environmental note, Arnold Schwarzenneger has recently pointed out that constant alarms don’t make people act. They make them tuned out. From the Austrian World Summit:
Climate activists have succeeded in persuading many people that we’re on our way to human extinction and picking up speed, but people “tuned out” the climate change activism movement because it is “stuck in despair and confusion.” (…)
Schwarzenegger warned that with the onslaught of news coverage of potential flooded cities, burning forests, and rising seas, “Is it any wonder people are confused or tuned out?”
I care deeply about the trees, climate, and environment. But I find myself tuning out as well. After all – I have to focus on my daughter, job, and life, and the constant climate anxiety does not help. If I devoted my whole life to doomscrolling, that wouldn’t help either. If we want to have a better future, we have to present a cool and compelling vision to work towards. The beauty of efficiency, sexy and insanely fast cars, and fresher air (what Arnold proposes as the first step) are all attacking climate issues indirectly but more effectively because they are easy to get behind.
Let’s kickstart the cool future with more tales to inspire. Maybe we’ll have the boybands back.
Maybe you have tales to inspire you’d like to see in these emails? Let me know!
Interesting things from the Internet
Inside the imaginarium of Solarpunk Architect
Continuing with the Solarpunk theme, I urge you to check out the work by Luc Shuiten:
since the 1950s, Luc (now 77 years old) has been designing for the future urban landscape based on his concept of “archiborescence,” blending organic and manufactured elements for homes, commercial buildings and even entire cities of tomorrow.
There is no evidence of office meetings boosting innovation
Whenever the discussion about Remote Work comes up, somebody cries
“Yes, but you need to collaborate in person”
The argument that usually follows is that these magical brainstorming sessions with the whiteboard are the fuel for innovation, and the only reason the economy still keeps going. The funny part is that we still have no hard data that this is the case.
This New York Times article with a self-explanatory title “Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It.” takes a closer look at this myth, and found no evidence of “chance office meetings” boosting innovation, nor productivity:
Yet people who study the issue say there is no evidence that working in person is essential for creativity and collaboration
It is true, that being in the physical office can be beneficial for some, but at the expense of other workers, and the interests of the business itself:
The idea you can only be collaborative face-to-face is a bias,” he said. “And I’d ask, how much creativity and innovation have been driven out of the office because you weren’t in the insider group, you weren’t listened to, you didn’t go to the same places as the people in positions of power were gathering?”
In fact, when I worked in the “Open Office” space, I remember doing everything in my power to avoid my coworkers so I can get some job done:
Contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions, a study found. People found it distracting, so they wore headphones and avoided one another
The Potato Paradox
Fred brings home 100 kg of potatoes, which (being purely mathematical potatoes) consist of 99% water. He then leaves them outside overnight so that they consist of 98% water. What is their new weight? The surprising answer is 50 kg.
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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.