It takes decades

It takes decades for significant change to be realized. This has serious implications for urban policy and leadership because the timescale of political processes by which decisions about a city’s future are made is at best just a few years, and for most politicians two years is infinity. Nowadays, their success depends on rapid returns and instant gratification in order to conform to political pressures and the demands of the electoral process. Very few mayors can afford to think in a time frame of twenty to fifty years and put their major efforts toward promoting strategies that will leave a truly long-term legacy of significant achievement.
Geoffrey West, Scale, 2017


I first came to the United States in September 1961 to attend graduate school in physics at Stanford University in California. I took a steam train from King’s Cross Station in London up to Liverpool, where I boarded the Canadian steamship the Empress of England and sailed for almost ten days across the Atlantic, down the St. Lawrence River, eventually disembarking in Montreal. I stayed overnight before taking a Greyhound bus that deposited me in California four days later, having spent one night at the YMCA in Chicago, where I changed buses. The entire journey was an extraordinary experience that transported me across many dimensions, not least of which was anamazing introduction to the variety, diversity, and eccentricity of American life, including an appreciation of its immense geographical size. Fifty-five years later I am still trying to process everything I experienced on that road trip as I continue to grapple with the meaning and enigma of America and all that it stands for.
Geoffrey West, in his book 'Scale', 2017

Everything nowadays is ultra

Everything nowadays is ultra, everything is being transcended continually in thought as well as in action. No one knows himself any longer; no one can grasp the element in which he lives and works or the materials that he handles. Pure simplicity is out of the question; of simplifiers we have enough. Young people are stirred up much too early in life and then carried away in the whirl of the times. Wealth and rapidity are what the world admires…Railways, quick mails, steamships, and every possible kind of rapid communication are what the educated world seeks but it only over-educates itself and thereby persists in its mediocrity.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1825 From Goethe's Letters to Zelter, London: George Bell & Sons, 1887 (as quoted in Scale by Geoffrey West, 2017)

Seven thousand years in 90 minutes

A few hundred thousand years ago in early human (or hominid) prehistory, growth was so slow that it took on the order of one million years for human productive capacity to increase sufficiently to sustain an additional one million individuals living at subsistence level. By 5000 bc, following the Agricultural Revolution,  the rate of growth had increased to the point where the same amount of growth took just two centuries. Today, following the Industrial Revolution, the world economy grows on average by that amount every ninety minutes.
… It is impressive that an amount of economic growth that took 200 years seven thousand years ago takes just ninety minutes now, and that the world population growth that took two centuries then takes one and a half weeks now.
From Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom
Life generates energy from microscopic electrical motors that are embedded in cell membranes and run off electrical currents driven by pH gradients across the membranes. It is impossible for words to do justice to these amazing molecular machines.
Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling, Oxford University Press, 2013

The past and the future

The Cascadia subduction [earthquake] zone remained hidden from us for so long because we could not see deep enough into the past. It poses a danger to us today because we have not thought deeply enough about the future. That is no longer a problem of information; we now understand very well what the Cascadia fault line will someday do. Nor is it a problem of imagination. If you are so inclined, you can watch an earthquake destroy much of the West Coast this summer in Brad Peyton’s “San Andreas,” while, in neighboring theatres, the world threatens to succumb to Armageddon by other means: viruses, robots, resource scarcity, zombies, aliens, plague. As those movies attest, we excel at imagining future scenarios, including awful ones. But such apocalyptic visions are a form of escapism, not a moral summons, and still less a plan of action. Where we stumble is in conjuring up grim futures in a way that helps to avert them.
The Really Big One—An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest, The question is when. Kathryn Schulz, New Yorker, July 20, 2015–

All in acceleration...all at once

…The three largest forces on the planet — globalization, Moore’s law and Mother Nature — are all in acceleration, creating an engine of disruption that is stressing strong countries and middle classes and blowing up weak ones, while superempowering individuals and transforming the nature of work, leadership and government all at once.
— Thomas Friedman, New York Times, January 13, 2015 (link)

Mike Lydon on Embracing Impermanence:

“We’re seeing a lot of these things emerge for three reasons,” Lydon continues. “One, the economy. People have to be more creative about getting things done. Two, the Internet. Even four or five years ago we couldn’t share tactics and techniques via YouTube or Facebook. Something can happen randomly in Dallas and now we can hear about it right away. This is feeding into this idea of growth, of bi-coastal competition between New York and San Francisco, say, about who does the cooler, better things. And three, demographic shifts. Urban neighborhoods are gentrifying, changing. They’re bringing in people looking to improve neighborhoods themselves. People are smart and engaged and working a 40-hour week. But they have enough spare time to get involved and this seems like a natural step.”

via New York Times: It’s Time to re think ‘temporary’, December 19, 2011

A frieze of horses and rhinos near the Chauvet cave’s Megaloceros Gallery, where artists may have gathered to make charcoal for drawing. Chauvet contains the earliest known paintings, from at least thirty-two thousand years ago.

A frieze of horses and rhinos near the Chauvet cave’s Megaloceros Gallery, where artists may have gathered to make charcoal for drawing. Chauvet contains the earliest known paintings, from at least thirty-two thousand years ago.

What emerged with that revelation was an image of Paleolithic artists transmitting their techniques from generation to generation for twenty-five millennia with almost no innovation or revolt. A profound conservatism in art, Curtis notes, is one of the hallmarks of a “classical civilization.” For the conventions of cave painting to have endured four times as long as recorded history, the culture it served, he concludes, must have been “deeply satisfying”—and stable to a degree it is hard for modern humans to imagine.

From First Impressions: What does the world’s oldest art say about us?
By Judith Thurman, June 23, 2008, New Yorker 

Contrast the mind-blowing concept of 1,000 generations of cultural continuity with Sir Ken Robinson’s statement at TED in 2007,

If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise that’s been on parade over the last 4 days, what the world will look like in 5 years time…

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? [At around 2:20]

It's just so much easier

To get an idea off the ground…over this last decade the barrier to entry has been lowered quite a bit, to where if you have something new you want to explore it really is a couple thousand dollars to get something off the ground and launch it.
— From This Week in Tech episode 228, a conversation between Digg founder Kevin Rose [quote starts around 22:00]

Host Leo Laporte and <a href="" title="wikipedia">Robert Scoble</a> talk with Rose about how much easier it is to get stuff done now. 

Kevin Rose: If you wanted to start a company back in 2000 it was a lot more difficult than it is today. You’d actually have to go out and buy dedicated servers, and there was no Amazon S3. There was no EC2. To get an idea off the ground today (or even just a few years ago) over this last decade the barrier to entry has been lowered quite a bit, to where if you have something new you want to explore it really is a couple thousand dollars to get something off the ground and launch it. 

Leo Laporte: That’s a really good point, that’s completely changed everything hasn’t it?

Kevin Rose: Absolutely, especially the way that we scale websites. It was really difficult back in the day. And the fact that you can go and just launch new server instances in milliseconds depending on what the load is of your current site, based on EC2 — it’s just so much easier than it was even just a few years ago. 

Robert Scoble: what I was putting up on screen right here was a Twitter room, or Twitter list, of a bunch of people who are covering the Iranian protests. This was pretty difficult to do even a year ago. And now we can see 346 people, all who are covering the Iranian protests, most of whom are actually in Iran. It’s pretty amazing that we can connect to each other this way.