Why this Matters
Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) made an interesting comment at The Future of People conference at MIT two weeks ago. “There are so many interesting people, I don’t know what to do with them! Where do I put them? It becomes a storage issue,” he said.
“There are so many interesting people, I don’t know what to do with them! Where do I put them? It becomes a storage issue.”
He’s referring to a post-scarcity world of social connections and to Dunbar’s number, which says that humans are only capable of handling 150 relationships. He posits an updated version, that the limitation might be more modular, such as 150 relationships per network and not in total.
Taking theory into the real world — and straight into the world of my everyday life, Weinstein says “I can drop into any city in the world, say ‘Hey! Who’s into what I’m into?’ And we can connect as if we’ve been friends for years simply because we’re hooked into the same network.”
This being the new status quo, how do we get the connection and intimacy that we need in a post-scarcity world?
Living on the Sharing Economy
“There are no such things as strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.” — William Butler Yeats
I epitomize the sharing economy. Living out of my bags for over two years, I cat and dog sit on TrustedHousesitters, sharing puppy and kitty love in exchange for free housing. I use Uber, Lyft, and AirBnb in Bangkok, Shanghai, Copenhagen and Boston. I go “shul shopping” dropping in on Sundays to whichever church, monastery, or mosque that is nearby and strikes my fancy.
But the truth is that, after experiencing so much variety the only thing I want is a few intimate relationships. Nothing makes me happier in the world than seeing my old friends. Nothing, not even an engaging intellectual conversation with a stranger or a passing affair, can replace shared history.
Globalized Childhood, Interstitial Life
Shared history even I don’t even have much of. My family bought into globalization earlier than most.
My father is American, my mother is Chinese. Half my family is scattered throughout the U.S. in Ohio, California, and Texas while the other half is scattered throughout mainland China in Wuhan, Ganzhou, and Guiyang. We moved often and before Facebook Messenger was around. I’m not in touch with any of my friends from childhood, and only a few friends from adolescence.
To my mother’s chagrin, the truth is that I feel more connected to and understood by strangers that I’ve met through common interests than I do to many of my family. I have more in common with just about any coder in Boston than I do with my cousins in China.
However, my mixed blood gives me a reason to stay in touch, love, and care for people I never would have otherwise. It gives me empathy and compassion for people very different from me.
I live an interstitial, global life. Belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The life I live everyday will soon become the future for many.
I see more interracial, international couples today, meeting at universities and international companies in large cities around the world. Our world is mixing, and travel is becoming so cheap and convenient that the lifestyle I was born into without choice, will be available and accessible to everyone on a whim.
Those who dreamed of leaving their hometowns and getting away can travel endlessly. And they already are. Trading the stability I never had for the excitement, novelty, and exploration that I was born into.
Dreaming of the Impossible, A Dunbar’s Village Just For Me…
When I find myself dreaming of what’s impossible, I dream of true intimacy and stability. I dream of all my friends from all over the world together in one place. I wish that I could have a village with all my friends just for me. And they could have a village with all their friends just for them. That we could all have our different, stable, heart-warming realities that make us feel safe, secure, and needed.
I wish that I could have a village with all my friends just for me. And they could have a village with all their friends just for them.
I know that it would be impossible in our current world. If my friends from Nepal, Thailand, California, Seattle, Boston, Berlin, New York, Shanghai, Australia, and Washington DC were to live in one place — they would lose all their friends in their homes in their networks.
The technologies of virtual and augmented realities might make my dreams remotely possible #pardonthepun.
If I could see my friends faces, laugh and share jokes, share a meal and a glass of wine with them from across the world. I can’t tell you how happy I would be.
Using Technology to fill the #IntimacyVoid
My ultimate dream technology would be teleportation, warping the fabric of space and time so that I could actually share a hug, adventure or intimate moments with those I love. I don’t want to layer emotions on top of a robot trying to mimic those that I love. At that point, I’d rather just be in the Matrix, if I’m not already.
But we don’t have any of that yet, so I settle for seeing them once a year, sometimes once every few years. Sometimes once in a lifetime, only in touch by Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, or WeChat. I miss them.
So while yes, there is certainly no scarcity in the world for interesting people, in my world as a digital nomad and global citizen, there is a scarcity of intimacy and shared connection.