Kevin Kelly is the author of Out of Control, What Technology Wants and his newest book, The Inevitable. As the founding executive editor of Wired, Kevin has made a career out of talking about the future. His insights and predictions are grounded in the present and fueled by optimism.
In this fast-paced episode, Kevin traces our human fears and inclinations from the days of the Internet back to the days of the Whole Earth Catalog. Stephan talks to Kevin about his new book, his predictions of the future, and how we an embrace them. You can read the full transcript with links below.
Stephan: Welcome Kevin Kelly. How are you doing?
Kevin: Really great to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Stephan: Where you are right now?
Kevin: I'm in Pacifica, California which is just the first town on the coast south of San Francisco. We're Big Sur's first beach here and currently it is overcast and foggy, as it usually is in July. The hotter the central valley in California gets, the cooler we are. We live in the air conditioning of California, so it's nice and cool. Probably around 18 degrees centigrade. And where are you?
Stephan: I'm in Los Angeles right now where it's quite sunny, but it's not too bad yet. It was in the high 40s Celsius a couple weeks ago, which was very hot — too hot.
Kevin: Yes, too hot for me.
Stephan: But I have been devouring your new book The Inevitable. I'm a big sci-fi geek, so I love any book that talks about the future in any capacity. And I think one of the things that always bugs me — especially in the world of movies, because it's more noticeable in movies — one thing that is very hard to get right is if this idea is true, what else is true about the world?
Kevin: Right. You're right you're exactly right.
Stephan: And I think that the format of your book is really smart in that it talks about these 12 forces and you can start to imagine scenarios where AI is a really big thing but also VR or some other thing. And that is a challenge, but in general can you share a little bit about the structure of the book and how you thought about that.
Kevin: Yes, so the book The Inevitable is talking about these long term leanings in technology that tend to move it in a certain direction, in the way that if rain fell in a valley, the path of the drop of water as it went into the river at the bottom of the valley would be unpredictable and completely chaotic. But the direction was inevitable, which was down.
And so that kind of a gravity is what I'm looking for. This kind of a force pulling it in certain directions at the higher general level while the specifics and particulars are completely unpredictable and actually up to our choosing.
And so these general tendencies are baked into the very nature of the technology, and they can be seen when when we're not trying to dictate what happens — when it's unsupervised. And so I was taking these trends which I categorize as verbs, because to emphasize this idea that where we're headed to is mostly about processes and movements rather than fixed nouns or products, and all these verbs are all feeding each other so the flowing and the sharing — you know the more sharing there is, the more flowing there has to be. The more flowing there is, the more sharing. And so these trends are all intermingling and feeding and codependent. I think if I had to rewrite the book again I would emphasize that inter play between the forces even more. But you're right. That is something that I was cognizant of, was that you can easier make a scenario of a world in which all these things are taking place and that does become a much richer world. They're feeding each other. They're co-dependent on each other and I was conscious of that structure in the book.
Stephan: One thing that started to make more sense to me as I was reading it is the "Cognifying" one. I like the way that word is structured because I almost think, and I think it be helpful for the listeners, to go into what some of these words mean. You have chapters titled "Becoming," "Flowing," "Screening," "Accessing." But I started to think of them more as becomifying, if that makes sense. Flowifying. Screenifying. Accessifying. Because it's the process of that thing beginning to emerge all over the place in everything that we do.
Kevin: That's a really great point. I wish I had thought of that — I would have emphasized it. But "cognifying," which is in the second or third chapter, it is an English word that does exist. I think it's pretty Latin. I use it to mean "to make smarter" because there's no verb in English that means "to make smarter." And we don't say "smartifying," or "smarting," or something, and none of those really work, but I'm using the word "cognifying" to mean "to make smarter." And that's the general task or job that we're doing these days is we're making just about everything smarter by plugging it into an AI will be a commodity, like electricity — something you just get on the cloud. And so the AI is flowing into things — it goes back to this idea of flowing. And I do think you could say the same thing, that there's "filterfying" and there's "accessifying," and that the nouns become verbs. Nouns become processes, and that's sort of what that is also showing — that things that we think of as solid and dependable are actually at the root, a process, a verb, a flow. Something that's mutating. Something that's becoming. So they're all kind of related like that.
“If you can access something anywhere any time, then you don't need to own it.”
Stephan: Let's get a little more specific, just so people can understand. Actually, the "Accessifying" chapter of your book was one of my favorite ones. Can you describe a little bit about what that trend means?
Kevin: The general drift is that most of the things that we have in use in our daily life, while they're hard and physical, we could best think of them as a process that's always being upgraded, and that we kind of are touching at a momentary ephemeral state of something that's changing, and that if you can actually then take that kind of process or service — even if it's a physical thing — and you can distribute it so that it becomes available to anybody instantly anywhere in the world like you can with a digital file, save music.
So music which was used to be on vinyl records, is now some bits. And those bits can be sent anywhere to anyone. At anytime, night or day, anywhere you are, you can access that music file because of technology, the way it can flow.
And so if you can access something anywhere, anytime, then you don't need to own it. In fact, ownership becomes much of a burden because you have to back it up, upgrade it, catalog it, maintain it, secure all these other things, and it becomes a bit of a burden.
Stephan: I talk about this all the time with the idea of self-driving cars because Uber is going in that direction because you don't have to own a car. It becomes more and more accessible to you to just jump in a car that's moving next to you. Back in the 50s let's say, the car was a symbol of freedom for teenagers growing up around that time. But teenagers growing up now, would probably see it as a burden and would see Uber as a sort of freedom, right?
Kevin: Exactly right. So if you can summon a car anytime anywhere, and it's there fairly instantly, and then it leaves, it disposes of itself when it's done, that is much superior to owning it. And so just as we've done with Uber, we can do with other physical things, not just the digital things. You can facilitate their arrival and their disappearance, and then you have people maintaining them. So there are some people who own some things, but the general default stance is that you don't own things — you access things.
Fifty years ago if you said, "Well you know, accessing maybe you could understand for digital things, but not real things like cars." It just shows you that if you have sufficient and appropriate technology, that will happen. And particularly if you have these auto driven cars, which doesn't matter how long it takes them to find parking spaces and whatnot. What are we going to do once we're inside these cars? Well, we're going to do VR. We're going to be working with screens. This is why some people think that Apple actually might become a car company because inside the car you'll be spending most of your time doing all the things you do with Apple products, and so it would be completely suited and fit to you. You'd step in, it would recognize who you are. It would give you your screen design — whatever it is. You would continue wherever you were last time you were in your car or in your office.
And so, that idea of moving away from ownership, which is the foundation of capitalism is a huge disruption. And then trying to imagine all the things that seem improbable right now to access and not own, like clothing. But in fact, there's a huge rental —
Stephan: Rent the Runway is a great example. They did that.
Kevin: Handbags, all kinds of stuff. Or 3D print them in a local area. So there's all kinds of new technologies coming along that celebrate this general movement away from owning them and making them flow more like bits. As we know, bits are really hard to own. No one really owns bits. The idea of ownership of bits is really problematic. It was at the whole foundation of the disruption by music because if I own something and make a copy of it, do I also own the copy or do you own a copy? So the ownership was really problematic with bits and so if we could make things flow like bits, that also disrupts their ownership.
Stephan: It's really weird because technology moves that way in a very slow pace and then suddenly it's there. You give a lot of great examples throughout the book of each of the trends and accessing is one that I think about all the time because we make packaging, so our kind of idea for Lumi is that we want to help make some of the infrastructure that moves the physical things around from one person to another, but I think people will be familiar with Spotify and Uber and Airbnb. And so then you challenge them to think: Look around you. What else could be turned into a service or a subscription? You point out furniture and I was like, "Furniture. That's a weird one." Is there a bed that could come into my apartment and then go away? That was a really interesting one and I think there are so many of those.
Kevin: Here's where I would go with that. If you think about camping gear, it gets better every year. So rather than clean and maintain everything, you're always getting the state-of-the-art camping gear. Well, chairs — office chairs in particular — are actually fairly high tech and they could be improving fast enough where you actually wanted to upgrade every two years. Anywhere you see lots of upgrades or upgrades would be important, that's where subscribing is better than owning. So look at what is upgrading really fast. So you know, camping gear, clothing, maybe chairs, office chairs, VR equipment. Kitchen equipment may at some point improve fast enough that there would be high-tech, like a sous vide. Where it's just changing fast enough it's like, why own it? You just subscribe it, and every six months they give you the latest version of it.
Stephan: There is a page on Wikipedia that for some reason I go to all the time, and it is a list of the oldest companies in the world. And there are many that have been around for two or three hundred years and most of them, I've found out, make beer and wine. But there are also a lot of them that make all kinds of random things like pickles and bells and all kinds of random things that people need. And I guess my question is, if you're an entrepreneur, how do you deal with the overwhelming nature of how fast things are changing right now and does it matter to try and build something that lasts?
Kevin: So I actually like Jeff Bezos's law, and he's repeated this many times, but I think it's really true.
Stephan: What's not going to change?
Kevin: Yeah, right. He says he builds his business on what's not going to change. Which is like, people want more selection and cheaper prices forever. They'll always want that. So I think that's maybe in one sense what those other companies that are still around are are doing, but there was another [guy] — I can't remember his name — who looked at ... the differences between good companies and the great ones. The great ones were the ones you were identifying as having been around, not just forever, but had a really high recognition of brand awareness and, you know, good vibes. And what they found out was that the difference was that often the businesses at some of these long term companies changed over time, like Nokia which began originally, I think it was a lumber company.
Stephan: They made rubber galoshes.
Kevin: Yeah. And maybe they transitioned into timber.
Stephan: I think so. It's crazy. Nintendo is also like that. Nintendo started in and the late 1800s and used to make playing cards.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, Apple actually used to make computers. Anyway, so I think that what endured was the was a core set of values and a core set of abstract principles, and that the business that they were in actually wavered and changed over time. So besides like selling something, [like] alcohol, you could also just have a really great enduring business by maintaining a certain set of values and the business that you're in would it would constantly, in our terms today, would pivot. And so what I'm guessing is, if we went into the future and companies like Google were still around, or Apple, or other ones that we don't know, I would bet that they're still not making the same thing that they made.
I've been predicting that Google, by 2025 ... their major revenue would be coming from selling AI. And so they'd no longer be an advertising-based company. They would be an AI company. That to me is a plausible shift, but who knows if it really happens. It's kind of like a person. It's like these days the skills you have are going to cost a change. Your entire occupation will probably disappear. It's very rare that people stay even in the same industry. What they're acquiring is kind of meta skills and values and attitudes, which is what people are hiring them, because the skills are going to be learned on the job. You're constant newbies. You're always having to learn and unlearn stuff.
Kevin: So I think companies are going to be the same kind of thing. There's a meta skill level for the company, and the actual industry or products they may navigate into from one industry to another. I find that very, very plausible.
Stephan: So what are those principles and meta skills that you really have to build into your company to make it lasting in any capacity?
Kevin: Well I mean, there's there's the obvious one of constantly learning, but there is one that is counter intuitive and it has to do with companies that are particularly successful. So it doesn't really apply to startups, but it kind of does. And that is — is that as companies like say an Amazon or even a Google — as they become more successful and as the culture of excellence (you know the Tom Peters kind of excellence where excellence is not in someone's department,) it's just embedded into the very fabric of the company. In my terminology of the way that biologists talk about a landscape and they have fitness excellence as a hill.
So you're climbing a hill, and it's also a computer science thing, "hill climbing." So hill climbing means that you're ascending to greater perfection, greater fitness, greater success, as you go up the hill. And you have the entire company, from the secretaries to the VPs to the janitor, do whatever they're doing to do it excellently. And the problem is that when you get to the top, you're at the peak. But whatever it is that you're doing may be dwarfed by a larger peak that's emerging nearby. You're stuck on a local optima, when there's a global optima. In the bigger landscape, there's even a higher peak over there and so the example would be like you're Olivetti-ing.
You're perfecting the typewriter and everybody in your entire corporation is working towards that excellence, and you make the most perfect typewriter, and you now have the most perfect typewriters in the world, but then there's word processors coming up which is a huger, bigger, higher mountain and you're on perfecting the optimal of this typewriter. And so the only way you can get to that larger mountain is by going down, and at that point it's impossible because everybody is pushing up. Everybody is working to excellence and there's nobody who's going to say, "Let's become less efficient, less excellent. Let's head towards chaos. Let's go down where there's less profit. Let's go where there's more no higher risk. Smaller margins. Smaller market."
I mean it's contrary to every single business impulse there is, and the more excellent a company, is the more difficult that becomes. And so in a certain sense you're asking for the approaches or the attitudes, or principles — one of them is going to be maintaining some ability to go in the wrong direction. Like, we're going to do something that's stupid in sort of a business sense. We're going to do something that is contrary to everything that an accountant would do. We're going to do something that's high risk, low margins, high uncertainty, unproven, dangerous, life threatening, you know whatever it is. And it takes a kind of a crazy person, you know like a Steve Jobs or others to force that, because everything, and all the natural instincts everyone has, is to go in the other direction.
“It's actually easier to start something new than it is to change.”
Stephan: Yeah. You know as you're describing this I was wondering, what would we say to the executives at Olivetti if we could go back in time? And I'm not sure what the right answer is because when you think about companies like Microsoft for example. They saw things coming. To some extent they knew tablets would be a big thing and they made a tablet ten years too early. They saw that mobile was coming and they made a smartphone ten years too early, and then they kind of fizzled out. They weren't at the right place at the right time, so to speak. It's very hard, right?
Kevin: It's extremely hard. In fact, it is so hard, that it's actually easier to start something new than it is to change. This is why startups will forever, in general as a class, will forever have an advantage over the incumbents because it is so, so difficult to move the incumbent. Which is one the reason why I don't worry too much about the natural monopolies of the Microsofts and Amazons and Googles, because they're only there for a limited time. Now the thing about the startups of course ... individually, the likelihood of any one startup succeeding is like zero, one percent or whatever it is. Most startups will fail, so the startups are plagued by the challenge that statistically, whatever they're doing is also going to fail. And that's a problem that the big companies have — is that try something and fail. It's like a startup.
So you know only, say five percent of them work, so they would have to do this a hundred times to get it to work. Startups do it because they're desperate. They have no choice. Big companies want to buy their way out, so they'll try to spend money on it to purchase their way out. That's like predator or prey — the natural balancing of the world. Why the whole world's not just big companies is because they're going to get stuck in their success, and the startups have the advantage that they have nothing to lose. But they have the disadvantage that they're probabilistically going to fail. So the whole thing as an ecosystem works great.
Stephan: I don't know if that's reassuring if I'm a person who is just making jams and selling them at my local farmer's market or something. What happens when you know all of your trends occur and I'm just trying to sell my jams or making something that is a craft of some sort?
Kevin: Well, so there's several things to say. One is, the way VCs today use the word "startup," it's a very particular and peculiar definition which is something that was going to scale, that has growth embedded in it. When most startups in the country, in the world, are mom-and-pop enterprises that aren't going to scale into a fortune, but they can make a living. So the VCs denigrate that as a lifestyle business. So I think there's a huge future and there's a huge opportunity. A lot of these lifestyle businesses, they're very profitable. They're just not going to scale and to take over the world. If you're satisfied with making a living versus making a fortune, there's a lot of room in there. But I think the idea of just making jams is not going to be enough for anybody. I mean jams are a commodity, so you have to do something special. You're going to have to keep pivoting.
Stephan: But beer is a commodity, and there are companies that have been making the same beer for a thousand years.
Kevin: And there's a lot of beer companies have gone out of business too.
Stephan: That's true. That's very true.
Kevin: Just making beer alone is not enough is what I'm saying. They either had some marketing smarts — there's other things going on. When you're making a commodity, you're taking the commodity and you're adding X. It's like selling water. How do you sell water, which is free. Well, you tell a story or you have a brand. You're adding something as an interface to something that's a commodity. There's all these other ways, and so if you can make jams, you have to do something in addition to that. You have to tell a story, you know, whatever it is that makes extra. Beer is the same thing. Pabst, whatever it was, was a beer that was dying and then they did some marketing of the right type to appeal to hipsters and it took off, and so the point is that you don't have to aim for the millions to succeed, and this is my Thousand True Fans theory, which was actually not in the book. And that is that if you are connecting directly with your fans, you're not going through distributors, publishers, broadcasters, or whatever, you're just having direct connection. You can reduce the magnitude of your audience by many factors and depending on how many there are of you ... it's a thousand times each person. In that order of magnitude, you can actually make a living.
If you have these true fans and a concentric circle of avid fans, not just true fans, but the idea being that if you have direct contact to use this technology, you can work with a much smaller audience. The niche audience works when it's facilitated by technology which reduces the degree of the challenge that you have to go. You don't need to have a million customers. You don't need to have a hundred thousand. You can have in the tens of thousands. That's going to be adequate to make a living. And if you think about it in those terms, well then I can do something with making jams. I can do kind of something where I am a producer at a small scale. A thousand, five thousand, ten thousand, that's within the range of a family, lifestyle business.
Stephan: And I think what's cool about the present and the future is that now those thousand people can come from literally anywhere in the world. It doesn't have to be your local village that you live in. I say that it's the best time to start something weird, because you can find a thousand people who like that weird thing that you're into.
Kevin: Right. You're exactly right. The niche is now drawing from a pool of seven billion people instead of just your local neighborhood. So they're all just one click away too. That's the other thing, even the item on the longest tail is actually just one click away from the best seller. And so it's very viable to have that kind of thing. But, there's several caveats about that theory. There's two. One is that this does not appeal to everybody. Dealing with your clients, your customers, your fans, becomes a lot of what you do. And there are many artists and creators who don't want to deal with that. They just want to paint or photograph or dance whatever it is. They don't want to have to deal with their fans, and that's fine. Then they'll have to have an intermediates. And then the second thing is you just have to kind of keep multiplying that for the number of people who are actually on your team. So if you have ten people, then it's going to be ten times as many. But outside of that, I think it's a very, very viable option for many people.
Stephan: Switching gears a little bit, you've been talking about the future for a long time. Why do you do it? People like E.M. Forster wrote this amazing book in like 1906 called The Machine Stops, and it's just incredible, but nobody remembers it. You remember it and a few other people probably talk about it, but does it matter if you're right? Is that why you're doing it?
Kevin: Well first of all, as you might notice, and I'm the first to talk about this, the things I'm talking about in this book are all present already. Marshall McLuhan had this great quote. He said he's always careful to never predict anything unless it was already happening. I'm very likely to be wrong about lots of the stuff, because I just don't know what I'm going to be wrong about. But my aim is actually to get people to behave more optimistically to embrace this stuff. When we embrace it rather than try and stop it, prohibit it, turn it back, turn it off, outlaw it, we'll overall reap more benefits from it and will minimize the harm.
What I'm trying to prevent is the natural reaction to be scared of it, to be fearful, to want to turn it off, turn it back, turn it down. You know, the efforts that I see of people trying to outlaw Uber in Austin, it's just like, that's just so counterproductive to set you back. The same thing about the music industry's thirty-year war on copying. You can't stop the copying. It just, it wants to copy. You have to work with the copying. I don't mean like getting rid of copyright. I mean making copyright work with the copying. Don't keep extending it like 70 years into the future. All that kind of stuff is ridiculous. You have to work with it. Same thing with tracking — tracking is coming, tracking is inevitable. What kind of road we have with tracking is not inevitable. Let's try and work with the tracking and surveillance that comes. Same with AI.
Kevin: We had one fatality and there are going to be many more, but it's nowhere near the million people that humans kill every year. So we're not going to outlaw human drivers. We need to prepare ourselves and rehearse for this, so that's why I'm talking about it coming in and it being inevitable. It's not whether I'm right, it's getting people to prepare for this rather than try and freak out and try and stop it.
Stephan: Yeah I think the thing that's hard is that the word "inevitable" sounds kind of ominous, but what I love about what you're saying right now is, what if we could actually be positive an optimistic and enthusiastic about it? Because, you know once the genie is out of the bottle, eventually it works itself out and people get used to things. There's a transitional period that can be difficult and frustrating and a lot of stuff gets displaced, but what if you looked at it optimistically? What would that look like? Seems like it's a better life.
Kevin: People behave much better when they're optimistic. They think longer term — that's the main thing is if you believe that there's a future, if we believe that we're going to be here for a thousand years, or five hundred years, a hundred years, then you behave differently. And we will be if you accept the fact that AI is inevitable. It's going to be everywhere. We're going to work with AIs. They're going to replace a lot of the tasks that we do. And you're not going to say, "Well they're going to take over and kill us." No, they're not. They're going to make more new jobs. They're going to make us richer or they're going to they're going to help the poor people everywhere in the world ... I mean if we can do that, then we can avoid all kinds of crazy and stupid stuff that people will want to throw up in the process of it.
Having said that, there's going to be conflict and there's going to be people who lose their jobs, like half the truck drivers in the country which is the most common occupation in America. Rather than like, "Okay, we're going to outlaw that," which some people are going to be calling for that, we should think about other ways in which we can deal with this fact and transition, train, retrain, educate, rather than say, "Okay, we won't let AIs drive trucks," which I know some people will start to say. And I think we would make better ancestors, as Jonathan Salk talks about, if we actually embrace these things now.
Stephan: I have one last topic that dovetails perfectly into this. Sitting next to me I have this book that's become very meaningful to me which is the last Whole Earth Catalog. And I know that you worked on that. It was published before I was born, but somehow I've been really getting back into kind of the ideas that were happening around that time. My edition is from 1971, but I know that you worked editing one in the 80s is that correct.
Kevin: That's correct.
Stephan: What was your role in that?
Kevin: The Whole Earth Catalog was an oversized... they call it "tabloid," so it's like the size of a newspaper. And it was printed on newsprint, and it was bound together into a book and it was mailed out. Well, initially it was mailed out a couple times a year, then eventually every couple of years, and it became a really fat book. And in that book, even though it was called, a catalog it was a catalog only in a kind of a conceptual sense that it was descriptions of different tools, and books, and a lot of book reviews that described things that would help individuals or small groups do stuff. Most of the reviews were written by readers and it didn't really have any advertising and so one way to think of it was a user generated web that was printed on newsprint. So it was users who were enthusiastic about sharing something that they would send into us editors and we would give it kind of a binary decision of yes or no and then print it with their own voice without very much change at all. Well actually, we typeset it and printed and took pictures, and it was printed rapidly on really cheap newsprint and sent out. So it was like the closest thing you could do to having the web without having the web.
If you read it now, you'll recognize it because they were blog posts. There were basically people blogging on newsprint and my role was at first as a contributor and I was contributing about travel because that's what I was doing. And eventually I was hired to edit the publication, the magazine, and then I did some of the catalogs after Stewart Brand who was the founder left to write some books. And this oversized catalog had tools in the broadest sense of the word — things that were helpful that you could use. And it's hard for young people today to kind of understand the significance of it. It became a million plus bestseller. Even though bookstores hated it because it was hard to shelve, a lot of it was sold by mail and it kind of actually launched a lot of the small publishing that still exists today because Stewart, in the catalog, told how he made the book, disclosed all the finances of the book, and the process in which he made this book and it's kind of do-it-yourself way, a really low rent way of buying and renting some really cheap, ingenious equipment. So anybody could actually desktop publish way before computers and it launched kind of the small publishing business in part because it also reviewed books that were printed by small press.
But I was saying that in the era when it came out and the early 70s, it was the only place you could find this kind of information which was mostly kind of utilitarian or prone to how-to information. If you went into a typical bookstore in 1970, there was almost nothing in the bookstore. It was some bestsellers, there was the occasional random little thing, and there was actually no place to go. There was no internet. There was no place to go to find stuff about how to do anything.
Kevin: And the Whole Earth Catalog was the first place to take together all this obscure knowledge of someone who knew how to make lumber from trees with a chainsaw, or to build your own house, or to grow your own food, or to start bees, or to do home schooling, or anything. It kind of searched the world, or mostly the English speaking world, for anything that had this kind valuable information, and it brought it all together into one place. And it brought it together in kind of a very interesting design on the page. But the idea was, here was this uber index, this Yahoo, this Google search, for how-to information, which was impossible to find any other way. And that was this amazing, marvelous miracle at the time. And if you go back to it now, it doesn't have the same impact because you can just use your phone and search for something and you'll get a YouTube clip that will tell you how to do something. That was like a million miles away when the Whole Earth Catalog came out. Before that there was no other way to find this information.
Stephan: Yeah, but at the same time, if I was going to build a cabin in the woods today and I didn't have the internet, I would still want this. A lot of the information is still very relevant. Maybe some of the recommendations are a little bit out of date, but it's amazing how you as you flip through it from "How do I do Beekeeping" to some really trippy article or review about Buckminster Fuller's newest book or something like that.
It's opinionated in a way that I think feels relevant to me today.
Kevin: Right. You'll recognize the voice because it's the blogger's voice. This opinionated, informed enthusiast. Again, that was also completely unknown and completely refreshing in 1970 because believe me, the New York publications did not talk with that tone at all. It was completely absent, and people who came across it like myself were like "Oh my gosh. This is like real people talking in real language about real things that I had no idea, and I really want to know about.
And I saw the first one in Woodstock in 1970 right at the end of high school and it was like boing boing boing "This is mine. This is for me. I am this," and it changed my life. I enjoy nothing more myself than spending a late night looking through the old Whole Earth catalogs and reading them because it does something to me —
Stephan: Here’s what it is, and I was going to ask you this question. It's a weird question and this is what I think about when I read the Whole Earth Catalog: What does it mean to be human? That is the question that I ask myself when I read it. Because my definition of like a great human being is my grandfather, who I just actually went to visit last weekend. He lives in Santa Barbara. He's 85 and he was an NASA engineer, but also did things like grow his own vegetable garden. You know, went lobster fishing and did these things to feed his family on a very primal level. And I love that idea that human beings can be at once very curious about the biggest things in the universe and also have to deal with the practical nature of staying alive and eating and breathing and drinking water and that kind of stuff. And I think the Whole Earth Catalog asks both of those questions, or challenges their reader to explore both of those things.
Kevin: Wow, yeah. I haven't felt that, but I see where you could get that. And so for your listeners, by the way, I think there are probably used copies on Ebay somewhere. I think the Cool Tools gives you the more practical aspect and I think I didn't try to capture the bigger stories that I think Stuart was doing with the Whole Earth Catalog. If you have a chance, readers, you should seek out ... like the last Whole Earth Catalog I think was actually the the biggest of them all. That was in 1982, maybe? Take a look at it. I always saw it as a catalog of possibilities, of what a human could be. It was like, "Oh my gosh. I had no idea I could do this. If I could do that, I could do even this." There is no limit to the possibilities of what I or humans could do.
Stephan: Tools to me are the most interesting thing to create and to design. I love making tools and creating tools for other people and Cool Tools and Whole Earth are tools for finding tools. And to me, the extension of a tool is a utility. The pipes, the infrastructure, the things that you don't necessarily even think of as a tool. Like you were talking about AI for example as being a utility for the future. Like a faucet, you know, there's just like a smartness pouring out of it. So I have a fascination with tools because I think that's what humans are. We like to make tools that extend our body and allow us to go places and do things that we aren't naturally capable of.
“We're just now at the beginning of the beginning. The first hour.”
Kevin: Yeah, I agree that that is the higher art — is that we're the tool makers and making tools that facilitate. They call them the "enabling tools" like the Internet, which is a tool that enables all these other things.
And I think you're right, that I do see AI and some of these others as enabling tools in the future. And then I think mastering those will be the meta skill that will facilitate the making of many other things. You know, people have said for a long time that the biggest, most important mention of Silicon Valley was making the startup system and I have long said that the only invention that China did not invent before the west was the scientific method. It was only when they missed, and that was yet the most important one, because once you know the scientific method you can accelerate the invention of all these other things that were just done by trial and error.
So there are these meta tools that we're involved and I think we haven't discovered all of them yet. We're just now at the beginning of the beginning. The first hour. And there are no AI experts. There's no VR experts. There's no experts in cognification or tracking or even the Internet. I think in 20 years, 25 years, 30 years, you'll look back and you'll say, "You didn't even have the Internet back in 2016. You thought you did, but you didn't really have it." And I think all this stuff that we're doing right now is still at the beginning. All the experts are ahead. None of us are late. You can start and you can become the expert right now if you wanted to. And there will be a lot of new tool sets invented in the future. That's my hope is that everybody alive is presented with some opportunity, some tool, some instrument that will help express their genius and share with others. And that's what I'm working to, is to increase the choices and possibilities in the world for the present generation and future generations, just as I've benefited from the past. And my book, The Inevitable helps people prepare for this coming abundance and that we can again maximize the benefits and minimize the harm.
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