This Week in Upgrades: June 20

Hello, friend. Are you enduring a heat wave? 2016 is well on its way to being the hottest year on record, and the 108° forecasted high for today where I live is definitely confirming that. Stay cool, stay safe, stay woke.

So many great Upgrades this week. At least we have that going for us.

Ever wonder how big the universe is? We seem to have figured it out.

NASA is looking for explorers for Mars, and they’ve made some sweet posters for the campaign.

In other NASA news, they’re developing an all-electric plane–possibly paving the way for a cleaner era of air travel.

Similarly, Harley-Davidson is apparently going to launch an all-electric motorcycle in the next few years. Nice.

These are 2016’s 50 best restaurants in the world. Congrats to Massimo Bottura on #1. His Chef’s Table episode is delightful.

Speaking of restaurants: for the first time, Americans are spending more eating out than on groceries for home.

Do you know how far your food traveled?

The latest in a long line of studies suggests coffee does not cause cancer. This coffee-drinker is relieved (until the next study comes out).

Popular foods renamed as their calorie count will probably make you think twice about eating them.

What makes for great dialogue in a film?

If you want to be a good boss, choose philosophy over a business degree.

What will self-driving trucks do to the trucking industry? Another reason young Americans are giving up on modern capitalism, and why we need a new American Dream.

A reminder that self-driving public transportation will also soon change the way people and goods travel.

Snapchat is launching an online magazine about device culture. Interested to see how this turns out.

Emojis are becoming crucial for text message communication.

Have a fantastic week! 🎉

 

 

 

 

 

 

People Change

When my wife and I got married, she and I decided we would both have her last name as our shared surname. I’ve written more about that elsewhere, and you’re welcome to read some of that here if you’d like. When people found out, the reactions were many and varied. You’re joking, right? You’re upending tradition! That’s odd. That’s so cool! I’ve never heard of that before, but now that I think about it I wonder why more people don’t talk about that when they get married.

I can’t recall a single person who was totally neutral or disinterested–everyone had an opinion of some sort. Though some of the opinions were shocking to us, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. It’s a very rare human being that goes through life without ever judging, critiquing, or stereotyping everyone else around them. As soon as you meet someone new, you begin to form an opinion and an impression of them. That impression doesn’t change much after the first few encounters.

Because most people want the impression to stick. When you can put other human beings in neat little boxes that you made, you feel a sense of control and understanding. The world is complex, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes confusing. If you can condense the people in your life into impressions that fit in manageable little boxes, then they will be one less thing that can change and surprise you in ways that make you feel uncomfortable.

But the reality is that people will always change. Change is one of the most constant, real features of the universe we live in. It’s the reason we all need to find our lifeline: the thing or things that give us grounding and perspective no matter what’s going on or how chaotic it feels. Permanently packaging other people into oversimplified boxes should never be one of the ways you try to handle and minimize the ever-present change you’ll encounter.

People will change names. Change hairstyles. Change hometowns. Change career aspirations. Change hobbies. Change worldviews. Change their attitude and emotional style. Change their fashion. And a million other things. Other people’s change will constantly blow up your boxes. If you don’t acknowledge and accept it, you’ll be working with a stale and distorted version of them. That’s not healthy for you or them.

Sometimes people change for the worse; sometimes for the better. That’s not really for you to judge. If you’re close to them, and they’ve told you they trust your perspective and input, maybe the time will come when you two dialogue about how life is going and what you think about how it might go differently. Even then, it’s ultimately their life to live as they see fit, and you have to be OK with that.

More often than not, it won’t be your place to give any commentary at all. You should simply affirm their exploration of who they are in whatever way they are trying to realize their potential and happiness. We all should be exploring, trying, failing, learning. It’s deeply hypocritical if you allow yourself to do so but come down hard on others for changing and growing.

Celebrate your friend’s new hairstyle. What is it to you if it’s a color or cut you feel uncomfortable with? Celebrate your relative’s decision to strive for a career as an artist instead of a career as a scientist. Celebrate your neighbor feeling more confident as they exercise more, eat better, and improve their health.

Perhaps sometimes you feel unsettled by others’ change because it reminds you of the change you haven’t made. Instead of trying to cram people back into the box you made for them, welcome their change and use it as inspiration to finally do what you keep telling yourself you’ll do. Change is not a zero-sum game with all the other human beings on this planet. You don’t need to criticize or undercut someone else so that you can get a leg up.

No matter what, people change. Maybe you need to change how you handle that reality.

The Common Good: Imagination

If someone had asked you what you think about “Harry Potter” in 1996, the year before the first of the seven celebrated novels was published, you probably would have stared at them in confusion. Before any of us knew what someone was talking about when they said muggle, Quidditch, or Dumbledore, the entire universe of Harry Potter existed only in the mind of author J.K. Rowling. Fast-forward to the present week, and the third Wizarding World of Harry Potter is set to open in Universal Studios Hollywood, allowing people to smell, taste, touch, and hear the world of the story in physical form. You can kick back with friends over butterbeers in Hogsmeade or take a picture in front of Hogwarts.

The power of imagination is astonishing. What once exists in only one person’s brain can go on to sweep through the rest of the world, causing new structures and ways of life to emerge. Words and images, on a page or in a speech or on a screen, can create dramatic social change. Imagination has shaped the world we live in now, and it can shape the world we live in tomorrow.

Before there were cities, cars, computers, the 40-hour workweek, hospitals, political parties, recycling, and countless other things we take for granted as normal now, certain people thought them up, shared their ideas with others, and constructed them as real, concrete things in the world.

We used to have great imagination about what society could be like. When no other country had set aside expanses of nature to preserve for the enjoyment of the public for generations, America created a National Parks system. When the United States was rife with some of the worst racism and structural inequality in its history, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famously profound speech about having a dream of a different kind of humanity. When for centuries people had looked up at the moon and wondered what it was like over there, John F. Kennedy proclaimed in 1961 that we would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade.

Where are we at now?

Is the United States a country that treasures nature even more than when the first Parks were formed? A good chunk of Americans won’t even acknowledge the science of climate change and the painful consequences to come in our lifetime.

Is America a country that’s realized Dr. King’s dream–respecting the life and worth of every human being no matter their race, gender, age, or other uniqueness? We have a contending presidential candidate succeeding largely because of racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rhetoric.

Is the United States spearheading greater space exploration, pushing the limits of what we know, where we can travel, and who can go there? NASA is so strapped for cash that any real space endeavors are being contracted out to private companies like SpaceX. Though space is the necessary frontier for the future of humanity, things are hardly different–if not worse–than the days when we enthusiastically launched astronauts to the moon decades ago.

Our collective imagination has disintegrated and died out. Our visions of what this country could be are uninspired or nonexistent. We’re stuck in the status quo, occasionally fighting over relatively negligible changes.

When we should be coming up with a compelling, comprehensive vision of what work in the 21st century should be like so that every person has the resources they need to live well, it’s “pie in the sky” to even move for something as meager as a $15 federal minimum wage. To be sure, $15 would be an appreciated improvement for many people, but it’s an amount that’s still almost $4 per hour shy of where it should be if minimum wage had increased at the same rate as overall productivity. We should already have a $19 minimum wage nationally; instead, we’re bickering about maybe going to $15 sometime in the next decade. We’ve hardly begun to think about how we’ll deal with rampant unemployment as more and more jobs are taken over by automated technology.

We have to get back to dreaming big, together, and transforming society into the better world it can be. Take what we know about what’s good for people, look at where we’re at today, and invent a future that brings everyone closer to the common good.

If we can turn Hogwarts and butterbeer into real things for millions of people to see and taste as if they were actually wizards, we can surely imagine and construct a better world in the theme park of our nonfiction world.

 

A Letter to the US of A

America,

What a time to be alive.

Kendrick Lamar and the Broadway musical Hamilton have set new standards for artistry, social commentary, and transcendent performance.

The National Park Service, “America’s Best Idea,” is celebrating its 100th year.

Automakers are about to release the first truly affordable electric cars. They’re also testing self-driving ones. We will soon see roads full of cars that do not require gasoline or humans.

Astronaut Scott Kelly just returned from a yearlong mission on the International Space Station so that we can better understand what will happen to human bodies when we start journeying to Mars and beyond.

At the same time, in recent months, we have also seen some of the most jagged edges of human nature tearing through our country. Too much of the campaign for the next president has unleashed undercurrents of discrimination and hatred. Self-interest and fear of the other have led to everything from rhetorical jabs that make people uncomfortable in their own skin, to full-on physical violence that damages bodies. Space has been opened up for many Americans to feel good about being their worst selves.

What are we doing? What are you doing?

It’s not just one person or one candidate. There’s plenty to decry about Donald Trump. As the leader of an impassioned movement, he could certainly do much more to be a unifier as he boasts. What’s unifying about promoting walls, bans, and deportations, and scapegoating and insulting people of all kinds? At the same time, he is just one individual at the forefront of the movement. There’s a collective of millions of Americans retreating to tribalism, voting for authoritarianism, and inciting violence.

No one should be subject to discomfort, injustice, or danger because their genetics and worldview are different than someone else’s. But many are experiencing exactly that.

We can’t even dialogue about some of the most urgent issues we’re facing–climate change, socioeconomic inequality, suboptimal education, and overpriced healthcare–because we’re stuck in the quicksand of primal power plays and eye-for-an-eye blows.

We are at another watershed moment as a country. The things that divide and damage are rampant. We can either reject an us-versus-them ideology and work together for the flourishing and equality of all. Or we can let the brokenness become deeper fault lines–causing more serious shockwaves than we’ve seen yet.

What do you choose? What will we choose?

America has a complicated, sometimes messy history that’s brought us to where we are. We’ve already been down paths of our worst selves. We’re wiser and stronger than that now.

It’s time to wake up and strive to be our best selves to each other. That’s making America great.