The biggest change in my lifetime

Published by Beto Dealmeida on

Reflecting about the biggest change I've seen in my lifetime

I'm 43 years old.

When I was 19, as an oceanography student, I participated in a research cruise that collected 605 KB of data. Back then, it was common for researchers to go out to the ocean once a year, collect a few megabytes of data, and spend the rest of the year analyzing the data. Graduate students would write their whole theses on datasets like this.

At the age of 35 I got my first big job in tech, working as a data engineer at Facebook. My manager left, and I became the owner of a growth accounting framework. One of the first things I did was to clean up a table that had historical data no one ever accessed. I deleted 2 petabytes of data. It would take 9 thousand years of daily cruises like the one I did in 1997 to collect that amount of data.

I grew up bored. As a kid, I read all the books we had at home. Books that I normally wouldn't read, that normally wouldn't catch my attention. I read them because I was bored. Being bored forced me to be creative, to go out and explore, to try to build things that would never work, to read book I would never read.

At the age of 43, I'm never bored. I have a never-ending stream of books, movies, facts, photos, shows, songs... all in my pocket. There's always an interesting video to watch, an amazing open-source project to study, a new inspiring jam. There's always some news begging for my opinion, there's always a urgent matter, always a tragedy of the day.

I miss being bored. In my lifetime we went from too little to too much. Too much information. Too much data. Too many songs.

We receive the news and we build our outrage, we laugh at how stupid our opponents are. That's our daily battle. We consume content, accumulating the knowledge and the ideas that someday we'll transform into creation — but that day never arrives. We consume passively, we respond passively.

What can we do about it?

A few months ago I read the article Make Your Own Bubble in 10 Easy Steps, and I found some good lessons there. The most important one to me was "Stop paying attention to things that aggravate you unless (a) they concretely affect your life AND (b) you can realistically do something about them.". Another one is to consume curated news: "If you need to know about world politics, read history books, not newspaper articles."

I've disconnected from Facebook and Twitter. I follow people on Mastodon that I like, and I interact with people that think like me. I try to act consciously, and not just as a reaction to the indignation of the week. And I try to allow myself to be bored. Because I miss being bored.