While the rich traverse the globe in an instant, the rest of us will be staying put

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Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash

In September 2017, from an auditorium stage in Adelaide, Australia, Elon Musk offered a dramatic vision of humanity’s kinetic destiny. The occasion was the annual International Astronautical Congress. Musk was there to give a presentation on the BFR, the massive rocket vehicle his aerospace startup, SpaceX, is developing to power the first manned missions to Mars. (BFR officially stood for Big Falcon Rocket, but Musk, with his adolescent geek’s sense of humor, had long hinted it really meant Big Fucking Rocket. He has since renamed it Starship.)

At the end of the 40-minute talk, Musk played a concept video showing the BFR launching from a floating pad off the shore of New York City, exiting the atmosphere, circling Earth, and reentering to land on another maritime platform near Shanghai. Total travel time: 39 minutes. “If you’re building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, why not use it to go to other places on Earth as well?” …


Tech elites are embracing stoic mantras while they chase immortality. Can Silicon Valley have it both ways?

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Credit: mbolina/iStock/Getty

Peter Thiel, the billionaire technology investor and sometime Donald Trump adviser, has a cute line about death. “Basically, I’m against it,” he likes to say when the topic comes up. It comes up quite a bit, actually, because Thiel has spent millions of dollars of his personal fortune, and even more of his partners’ money, funding anti-aging research. In addition to backing numerous biotech startups working to extend human lifespans through his venture capital firm and his personal foundation, and taking human growth hormone to rejuvenate his own cells, Thiel has told me he is “very, very interested” in parabiosis, an anti-aging treatment that involves transfusions of younger people’s plasma. …

What would it take for you to stop being an American? It’s a question a lot of us are turning over in our heads right now, in one form or another. Donald Trump is one big reason. When people say they’d consider moving to Canada if Trump gets elected president, what most of them mean (I think) is they wouldn’t want to live in a country where immigrants or Muslims don’t have the same basic rights as other Americans, or, more generally, where ignorance and hatred and bigotry are not just condoned but celebrated and rewarded.

I’ve been thinking about that question more in light of our country’s toxic relationship with guns. Every time there’s another mass shooting, I wonder: Who are the people who think this is an OK state of affairs, an acceptable tradeoff between an individual’s rights and those of his neighbors? What’s the imaginary scenario they find scarier than the reality of kindergarten classrooms and movie theaters and nightclubs full of bodies, of tens of thousands of annual gun deaths? …

Is your smartphone making you stupid? There’s an app for that

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Every three months, Mark Zuckerberg gets on a conference call with his investors to brag about how much of the world’s mental bandwidth his company is monopolizing. It’s an alarming amount. The average Facebook user spends 40 minutes a day liking, commenting, sharing and friending, mostly on mobile phones. Multiplied across Facebook’s user base of 1.3 billion people, that’s more than 850 million person-hours every day. The typical user of Instagram, which Facebook also owns, spends another 21 minutes bestowing tiny red hearts on other people’s vacation photos. …

Scene: A hangar bay on STARKILLER BASE. A squad of STORMTROOPERS is boarding a transport. The trooper bringing up the rear hangs back to speak with his captain at the foot of the ramp.

STORMTROOPER: Captain, permission to speak sir?

CAPTAIN: Permission granted. Make it quick.

STORMTROOPER: Sir, its these new melee weapons we’re supposed to carry. I don’t understand the point, sir.

CAPTAIN: How’s that, now?

STORMTROOPER: Well, sir, this thing — it’s basically a lightsaber-blocker, right? That’s what it does?

CAPTAIN: I suppose you could say that. Your point?

STORMTROOPER: See, sir, pretty much everyone knows there’s only one Jedi left in the galaxy, Luke Skywalker. And the rumor is even he’s been in hiding for years. So we’re all lugging around this heavy thing for fighting Jedi, when there aren’t any Jedi left to fight. Seems a bit excessive, don’t it? A little over-cautious, that we’d have this standard-issue piece of equipment to defend against a single hermit? …

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What if humankind invented a technology that gave us the answers to all of our most pressing problems as a species — and then we just ignored them?

This scenario occurred to me while reading Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile of Nick Bostrom, the Transhumanist philosopher, “Superintelligence” author and director of the Future of Humanity Institute. Bostrom believes powerful artificial intelligence is “the key, or the portal, we have to pass through to realize the full dimension of humanity’s long-term potential.” …

Chasing viral sensations like The Dress is one way to build an audience. Ignoring them is another.

If you work in the media business in 2015, you have an opinion about Buzzfeed. Is it evil? Is it genius? Do the people who work there really spend their days mooning over corgis and “Saved by the Bell,” or are they secret cynical panderers? Should we be happy that Buzzfeed has created so many jobs for journalists, or resentful that it has undermined the value of other publishers’ traffic, forcing them to adopt copycat strategies in a vain effort to keep up? …


Jeff Bercovici

Writer/editor. Business and tech for Inc. magazine. Author of "Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age." It's bur-KOH-vuh-see.

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