To Be And To Last #34

This week we explore the Metaverse, the future we missed, and your own possible futures.

Will 2021 be the year of the Metaverse?

Among other science fiction books, Neal Stephenson’s excellent Snow Crash introduces the idea of the Metaverse: a complete virtual universe. Roblox’s CEO argues that 2021 will be the year we see Metaverse(s) become reality.

While we’ve certainly seen some gathering momentum in 2020 (Travis Scott on Fortnight and Lil Nas X on Roblox both drew tens of millions of viewers), I question whether technology is able to offer a truly compelling Metaverse experience just yet. Perhaps in another 10 years?

What happened to the future?

“Someone once figured out that the average American will spend a cumulative six months of life waiting for traffic lights to change.” - David Graeber

Speaking of the Metaverse, where are all the other futuristic innovations imagined by writers fifty years ago? Graeber’s unfortunately long Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit explores where innovation has failed to deliver on expectations and proposes some theories on why.

While I don’t know that I agree with the conclusions, the questions are undoubtedly important. We’re spending more on research than ever before, yet we’ve utterly failed to deliver on the space stations, the flying cars, and the artificial intelligence.

What can we do to improve the pace of change in the next fifty years?

Seeing your own possible futures

“Clearly, the quality of a decision cannot be solely judged based on its outcome, but such a point seems to be voiced only by people who fail.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

As humans, we’re pretty bad at statistics, and, by extension, decision making. Probabilistic thinking offers a captivating solution.

Lottery tickets come with very high upside opportunity, but an abysmally low average return. Becoming a doctor promises a certain career stability (and your in-law’s respect), but at the cost of so much overtime that you might actually make less per hour than your high school history teacher did.

By applying probabilistic thinking, we might find that starting a “boring” service business just might be the best choice for someone who wants a high likelihood of moderate financial success.

Why? Because if you made that choice in 100 different lives, you’d likely end up financially comfortable in 95 of them.

You don’t have any chance of Bezos-like, swimming-pools-of-money success, but you’re just as unlikely to find yourself at the opposite end of the financial spectrum.

I’m not yet done reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness, but this concept of probabilistic thinking is one element I’ve already found myself applying regularly.


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

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