A talk every grad should watch- Attention is the new scarcity

  Albert Wenger of USV.   Image from recode.net.

Albert Wenger of USV.  Image from recode.net.

At school, we've got our grade 8's graduating soon, and high school was let out last week.  University's been out for a while.  But even if you're not graduating, and you're already out in the big bad world, this talk is on the highest order- it's wise and relevant for anyone trying to figure out how to navigate the world in a meaningful way.  The e-mail I got it in calls it the Video of the Week, but I think it's the Talk of the Century. 

I follow this investor named Fred Wilson, one of the most interesting people out there.  He invests mainly in tech.  He and a couple other guys founded their investment firm, Union Square Ventures to invest in internet-related businesses in New York before it was sexy to invest in New York (the 80's) and before anyone had really figured out the internet.  They've grown quite a bit now.  They have a few more partners, one being this really grounded and thoughtful German guy named Albert Wenger.  Even though I dont' always agree with him, he's consistently impressed me with his thoughtfulness and articulation of the trends in tech and its social and political contexts, and this latest talk is no exception. 

Here, he goes through history and shows how we're at a unique time in history with the democratisation that tech provides.  He talks about the different scarcities that societies have been build around.  In the hunter-gatherer age, the scarcity was food and there was a pecking order around who got what.   In the agrarian age, there was a scarcity of land, and everyone fought over that.  Then in the scientific and industrial age, there was a scarcity of capital, which obviously wrought many a fight. 

In today's tech age, it's a scarcity of attention.  The philosopher who kind of posited this idea to the West in the 80's was Jacob Needleman (who probably got it from Gurdjieff, as he's a Gurdjieff student), and Needleman phrases it more as TIME being the great new scarcity.  They're both correct.  We're at a time now when - thanks to tech- we have so much potential to do good in the world, yet so much potential to waste it because there are more things distracting us than ever before. 

The skill we need to learn now is how to manage our time. This is what adulthood is all about anyway- managing your time intelligently, but now it's even more critical because without that mindfulness of the value of your time, you could spend all your life on the internet.  It's important to ask those big questions- "Who am I?", and "Why am I here?"-- and turn off the internet long enough to really soak in those questions before we get to a point in our lives where it's too late, and we realize we've wasted a good chunk of our lives.  It's only 22 minutes.

Then if you're interested in the backstory, here's philosopher and professor Jacob Needleman with a philosophical breakdown of the problem of the scarcity of time- he essentially calls it the greatest cause of human suffering in the west.  The wisdom here is deep.