Is History Repeating Itself?

My recent memo to the BuzzFeed staff 


Hello BuzzFeeders,

I wanted to take a moment to explain to you why I’m convinced we’re at the start of a new golden age of media and why BuzzFeed will have a big role to play.

I’ve been reading a history of the media industry called The Powers That Be by David Halberstam at the suggestion of Ken Bensinger, one of our new investigative reporters. The stories in the book, which was first published in 1979, are great reminders that even traditional media companies like Time Inc., CBS, and the New York Times were once small startups. In those early days, they had many similarities to BuzzFeed and other new web startups that are emerging today.

We have so much to learn from these early media companies and in many ways it feels like we’re at the start of another formative era of media history where iconic companies will emerge and thrive for many decades. It will take luck, talent, and hard work, as well as a willingness to learn from the past and embrace the future, but BuzzFeed has a real shot to be one of the great, enduring companies of this new era.

Let’s start back in the 1920s with Time magazine.

Time began as a clipping service in a small office. A group of writers subscribed to a dozen newspapers and summarized the most important stories, rewriting the news in a more digestible format.

BuzzFeed also started as a clipping service in a small office seven years ago. Instead of subscribing to newspapers, we surfed the web (and used technology) to find the most interesting stories and summarized them into a more digestible format. (You can ask Peggy or Scott how it worked in those early days!)

Of course, both Time magazine and BuzzFeed evolved from our respective early days to become much more ambitious. As Time and BuzzFeed emerged from our respective youths, we both expanded into original reporting, commissioned longform features, and built teams of foreign correspondents. In our case, it only took a few years to go from summarizing web trends in our little Chinatown office to reporting from Syria and the Ukraine with local security, body armor, helmets, and satellite phones. And both Time and BuzzFeed grew by creating irresistible lists such as Time’s “100 Most Influential People” and BuzzFeed’s “42 People You Won’t Believe Actually Exist.”

The big breakthrough for Time Inc., the company, came 13 years after the launch of Time, when printing press technology advanced to enable the launch of Life, the pioneering magazine filled with vivid pictures of people and events. It figured out how to cover cheap paper with a glossy coating, making a mass-produced photo magazine economical for the first time and creating a smash hit that enabled aggressive investment in print journalism at Time and photojournalism at Life.

The big breakthrough for BuzzFeed also came after our early clipping service days when smartphones became social and could display vivid pictures and video for the first time. Suddenly our lists, quizzes, and videos could be seen and shared by an audience of billions of connected readers right from their phones. Social and mobile converged, becoming the primary form of distribution for our content. The leverage provided by this massive reach is why we can make aggressive investments in journalism and entertainment. (We are still in the midst of this shift, with mobile, social, and global distribution accelerating faster than ever).

There are a bunch of other examples in Halberstam’s book that suggest history is repeating itself, and we can learn lessons from these old-school media companies’ early days. For example, I noticed that all the successful companies he describes in the book built really great businesses. The publishers who ignored the business side didn’t thrive or survive for long. This might seem obvious, but the opposite was also true: Companies that only or mostly cared about business didn’t thrive either. The organizations that went on to become multibillion-dollar juggernauts built great businesses AND had values that went beyond just business.

The New York Times is a great example. At the start of World War II, the Times was locked in a fierce battle with the Herald Tribune to be the No. 1 paper in New York and the U.S.

One reason the Times beat the Trib was because it was a better business. The Times gained a big advantage by publishing listings of all the garment merchants visiting New York City to do business. And its editors put these commercial listings on the paper’s front-page (!), ensuring that everyone in the industry needed to buy the Times and advertise with the Times.

But the Times also won because it didn’t sacrifice its editorial values and mission in pursuit of short-term profits. As World War II progressed, newsprint was rationed. There was less room in both papers, and both papers had to choose what to leave out. The Trib chose to print all the ads and cut back on news, while the Times cut back on ads to maintain its full news coverage. The Times faced angry objections and threats from its advertisers but it didn’t yield. Instead, it provided maximum coverage of the war, and took a financial hit for several years. After the war, the Times emerged as the unparalleled paper with more subscribers, more advertising revenue, and became, by many measures, the leading newspaper in the world.

The obvious lesson from this story is that we need to build a great business while remaining true to our readers and editorial mission.

A few other relevant stories from the book:

In 1928, when William Paley left his family cigar business to build CBS radio, the conventional wisdom was that radio would never be a big business. Years later, Edward R. Murrow was denied access to the British Press Club because it wasn’t thought to be possible for a real journalist to work in any medium other than print. Again and again, the conventional wisdom was dismissive of every new medium; each new communications technology was seen as a fad, a tool for demagoguery, or the end of journalism. And always these skeptics were proven wrong, usually by newbies who didn’t care about the old way things were done. Murrow for example, never made the transition from print to broadcast — he started in radio and moved to TV — so he had no bad habits to unlearn and could speak clearly into the microphone or camera with an emotional fluency most print journalists lacked. One of Murrow’s contemporaries, a writer named Robert Landry, summed up Murrow’s advantages:

“Murrow has three advantages over correspondents for the greatest American newspapers: 1) He beats the newspapers by hours; 2) He reaches millions who otherwise have to depend on provincial newspapers for their foreign news; 3) He writes his own headlines. That is to say he emphasizes what he wishes—whereas the newspaper correspondent writes in cablese.”

Today we see a similar phenomena happen again and again. The media industry establishment initially dismisses, and then embraces, the new communication technologies the internet has given us: blogging, Twitter, social, mobile, web video. And the people who pioneer the new formats, do the most innovative and creative work, and who bring the rest of the public from skepticism to enthusiasm, are mostly the ones who don’t care what the establishment thinks, who come to the industry with a fresh mind without anything to unlearn, and who have a broadly optimistic disposition toward new communications technology. I don’t need to spend too much time connecting the dots. Obviously I’m describing the team at BuzzFeed!

Of course, there are limits to these historical comparisons. These days, media companies don’t have natural monopolies or oligopolies where one or two newspapers dominate a local market or a handful of broadcasters are the only options on a limited dial. There is more competition, the market is more fragmented, and gatekeepers have less power. Advertisers have more ways to reach consumers so they aren’t as dependent on publishers and can negotiate lower rates. In fact, some smart people in our industry don’t think it is possible to build a huge new media company anymore, that the golden age is over, and that all the growth now will be limited to pure technology companies.

This pessimistic view is wrong because it is focused entirely on what has been lost (monopoly pricing power, etc) and ignores what has been gained. This is a common psychological trap: People tend to be overly focused what is lost, while under-appreciating gains. We need to resist that mistaken thinking, and to help, here are some of the amazing advantages we have because we are doing this today:

1) Technology

Technology has replaced geographic- and spectrum-based distribution monopolies as a competitive advantage for publishers. Our tech team, product team, and data science team have built a very powerful publishing platform that allows us to serve our readers better. We have spent years building publishing formats (lists, quizzes, video, longform, short-form, breaking news, photo essays, explainers), stats and analytics, optimization and testing frameworks, integrations with social platforms, native-mobile apps, and a user friendly, visually pleasing design. This is a massive investment that is very difficult to replicate, it is part of the reason that the best editorial talent wants to join BuzzFeed, and it creates a virtuous cycle where a growing number of talented people use increasingly powerful tools to do their job.

2) Scale

At the start of the golden age of publishing, a circulation of 1 million readers was considered large and even at the peak, reaching 10 million readers was considered a huge hit. Since those days there have been many exciting developments that have enabled a publisher to reach 10 times or even 100 times that scale. Literacy rates have grown, educational attainment has increased, the internet has connected people around the world creating a global audience, social networks have made it easy to share and discuss media, mobile phones enabled access to news and entertainment for billions of people even when they aren’t at home or at an office. The BuzzFeed of today, thanks to these massive technological and demographic trends, reaches more people than the combined circulation of the 1950s versions of Time, Life, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. It is very hard to beat the scale of the social, mobile web! In the U.S. today, BuzzFeed reaches more people each month than networks like MTV, CNN, or Comedy Central, we reach more more people globally than the print circulation of all the biggest newspapers or magazines, and as we continue to expand internationally the benefits of this scale will become even more dramatic. The golden age of media never saw numbers this big!

3) Diversity of Talent

We don’t just have a much larger pool of readers: The pool of talent for hiring has also vastly expanded. The early days of U.S. publishing were tough for anyone who wasn’t a white Protestant male living in the same city as the local paper. Even Jews like Adolph Ochs, the publisher of the Times, struggled to gain acceptance in New York society. According to Halberstam, this is why in the early 20th century the Times focused on publishing boring, respectable stories designed to appeal to Wall Street WASPs and why, for much of its early history, the Times resisted hiring and promoting Jewish reporters for fear of appearing “too Jewish.” Fortunately for BuzzFeed, times have changed; we can attract the best talent to our team regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, and we can recruit beyond just New York in a growing list of global cities where we have expanded: Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, London, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Paris, and soon Berlin, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City, and many more. Technology and scale are essential, but if you don’t attract the most talented people in the world you can’t thrive in a global market. Fortunately, we have access to the best, most diverse pool of talent in history and that is why we’ve been able to build such an amazing team.

All this suggests that there are major trends bigger than us that bode well for the future of BuzzFeed; that what we are doing has a strong precedent grounded in the history of newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV; and that exciting possibilities have been unlocked by the global internet, social networks, and smartphones that would make an earlier generation of media companies jealous.

The team at BuzzFeed has built an amazing company. I’m so grateful and excited to be working with all of you who have made this possible through your amazing work and creative ideas and can’t wait to see what we will do in the coming years.

But let’s not forget that despite the wonderful opportunity in front of us, our future success is not inevitable. We could easily blow it, stop innovating, get lazy or arrogant, and give our leadership position to someone else. The next couple of years will be critical. We need to stay humble, playful, and creative, work hard, keep learning from our successes and mistakes, and rise to the occasion. We’ve got an opportunity to build the next chapter in media history!

I’m really looking forward to sharing this amazing adventure with you,

Jonah

Next Story — Dear Akilah,
Currently Reading - Dear Akilah,

Dear Akilah,

I recently noticed your campaign against BuzzFeed on Twitter. You claim BuzzFeed is stealing your ideas and the ideas of other independent video producers; you launched an online petition against BuzzFeed, you encouraged your fans to contact our advertisers, you described us as “mother fuckers,” and you said our stealing is “egregious.”

I’m writing because you aren’t just attacking BuzzFeed the company, you are attacking the many talented video producers who work here, creative people just like you, who are inspired by the work of others but always strive to add value and originality to their creative work. Many of them are very upset with the substance and tone of your public attacks on their work.

We value the work of independent producers and we take your accusations very seriously. As a result of your campaign, I asked my team to conduct a thorough internal investigation to look at your allegations in detail.

We just concluded the investigation and wanted to share the results with you and the public. We don’t think you were intentionally misleading your fans or the press; you probably were not aware of the prior work done by the talented and diverse team at BuzzFeed. But even a cursory investigation shows overwhelmingly that BuzzFeed’s video producers have created work that predates the work that was allegedly stolen.

Here is one of your tweets attacking us and the two images you used as evidence that we stole your idea:

And here is the actual chronology, showing a BuzzFeed video featuring the image of a woman with her blanket over her head a year and a half before you posted your video:

In addition, we made a YouTube playlist of our introvert content with 19 videos on it — the earliest from August 2013, one and a half years before your “How to Be an Introvert” video. We also have made at least seven videos about staying in and what people do when their roommate is away, several videos about Netflix, and countless posts on BuzzFeed.com dating back many years.

You also spoke on behalf of other independent creators, and we’ve investigated their work as well. Again, the chronology shows that we aren’t stealing ideas from these producers:

  1. Life Before Vs. After Being In A Relationship / Having Kids:
Eh Bee Family’s LIFE BEFORE KIDS vs. LIFE WITH KIDS vs. BuzzFeed’s Before Vs. After Kids

2. If We Treated People Like We Treat Pets:

CREATURE’s WHAT IF WE TALKED TO OUR COWORKERS LIKE WE TALK TO OUR PETS vs. BuzzFeed’s If You Talked To People Like Your Pets

3. Baking Without A Recipe:

Theo McCoy’s BAKING COOKIES WITHOUT A RECIPE! vs. BuzzFeed’s People Try Baking Cookies Without A Recipe

You also point to a few cases where chefs and food bloggers complained that Tasty did not give proper credit for recipes that were adapted from outside sources. As I’m sure you know, chefs frequently borrow and remix each other’s recipes and also independently develop similar recipes. However, we strive to credit generously when we are actually influenced by others. We’ve recently taken a further step by implementing a system for documenting recipe creation that will make it easier to address disputes and provide credit when we are influenced by others.

In conclusion, your claim that BuzzFeed is built on stealing ideas is patently false, and even a little research would show that BuzzFeed producers have made work that predates the alleged theft. Our talented, creative team has been making media for years, and the work they do has had a huge impact on video formats, framing, voice, and the culture at large. I’m proud of the work they’ve done and continue to do.

If anything, BuzzFeed would have a claim that people are “stealing our ideas” since we have prior work that is clearly informing the work of independent producers and other media companies. Nevertheless, we think it is largely positive to have a creative exchange on the internet, where people are influenced by others, and push each other to improve. It benefits society when many people contribute their viewpoints around things like introversion and other forms of identity; these are themes of life that should be celebrated and not owned by any one person or company.

Like all creative people, the talented producers at BuzzFeed are influenced by others, but our analysis shows that they are doing original work, adding value, and improving and contributing to the culture of the web. Many of them were deeply hurt by your accusations: They developed original work and were accused of stealing, and we decided to share this analysis publicly so their peers in the industry would know the truth about their original contributions. We’re also launching a public crediting system this summer to highlight our collaborative process of making videos and the specific contributions of individual contributors.

Finally, BuzzFeed is developing new programs that will allow independent producers to collaborate with our team and get the benefits of BuzzFeed’s resources and cross-platform, global audience. We think this program will help independent producers understand how we work, help clear up misinformation, and build trust through new opportunities for creative collaboration with our team. I can’t share more now, but we value the work of independent producers and have some exciting things in the works!

Please let me know if you’d like to discuss this more in person. You can DM me on Twitter to connect.

Thanks,

Jonah

Founder/CEO, BuzzFeed

Next Story — This is Your Life in Silicon Valley
Currently Reading - This is Your Life in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley — Photo Credit — Vadim Kurland

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley

You wake up at 6:30am after an Ambien-induced sleep. It’s Friday. Last night at The Rosewood was pretty intense — you had to check out Madera and see if there is any truth to the long running Silicon Valley rumors. You were disappointed, but at least you did get to see a few GPs from prominent VC firms at the bar. Did they notice you? Did you make eye contact? You remind yourself they are not real celebrities — only well known in a 15-mile radius to the Techcrunch-reading crowd.

Your non-English-speaking nanny shows up at 7:30am on the nose. You are paying her $24/hour and entrusting her (and Daniel the Tiger) with raising your child. You tell yourself that it’s ok for now — when he’s old enough he’ll (someday) be in public school in the Palo Alto school district.

You commit to being a better parent this weekend and spending more quality time with him as you browse through the latest headlines on Flipboard. You recently realized he may not be the next Mark Zuckerberg after all — still you send him to a music school even though he’s only 3. You swear he’s a genius because he can say a few 4-syllable words and can clap perfectly to the beat of “Call me Maybe”. He’s special. He is destined for greatness and you’ll make sure he achieves every ounce of it. After all, both of you are so smart and accomplished.

Cal Academy of Sciences — Photo Credit: Brook Peterson

You ask your nanny if she has any availability to watch your son this weekend. Bummer — you wish Cal Academy of Sciences hadn’t sold you on the annual pass 11 months ago. You figured you’d be going there every weekend, but only ended up going the one time. Not a break even proposition for you.

Your wifi enabled coffee maker downloads the perfect instructions to brew a cup of Blue Bottle — and you don’t have to do anything. The Roomba purrs in the background while you continue to read from your smartphone. You see a few articles about Trump and how crazy he is — somehow this comforts you.

You decide to share an article about Brexit from “The Atlantic”, which will somehow shed light to all your friends as to why it happened. The article is 1,000 words long — you only read half of it, but that’s good enough. It captures all the arguments you’ve been wanting to make for the past two months to your friends. Will this be the Facebook post that finally spurns your friends into action? You realize your Facebook friends all agree with your political views and social views already.

Fifteen minutes — only 3 likes — better luck next time. The Facebook Newsfeed algorithm totally fucked you — you should have shared from your browser, not your phone, and perhaps at a more optimal time.

But then you realize another friend already shared the article. You feel stupid.

Youtube office in San Bruno — photo credit Travis Wise

Your spouse hurriedly gets ready for work — you are a two income family and you have to be one for now. The spreadsheet shows that with only three more years’ savings, you can finally afford that 2 bedroom condo in San Bruno. So what if the weather is shitty 340 days out of the year? At least you’ll be homeowner in the Bay Area — and nothing says you’ve “made it” like being able to afford a down payment. Besides, San Bruno is “up and coming” — and Youtube has an office there.

Your commute to work sucks, but at least its an opportunity to catch up on Podcasts so you can have great conversations over cocktails with your friends. Should you listen to “Serial Season 2” today? Or should you listen to that amazing “Startup” podcast? So many choices, so little time. You instead decide to expand your horizons by trying a new playlist on Spotify — something about Indian-infused-jazz music. It sounds great. It makes you feel cultured.

You decide to park your car using “Luxe” today. You justify it to yourself by saying that parking garages are only $10 less expensive. And you have to spend all of that time walking back and forth. And besides — today you are meeting some friends after work for dinner and you’ll be on the other end of town. You can’t decide whether you’ll take Uber or Lyft to the dinner from your office — decisions, decisions.

You are the Director of Business Development at your startup. You aren’t even sure what that means, but the startup seems to be doing well. Your company recently raised a round and was featured in Techcrunch. You have 5,000 stock options. You aren’t exactly sure what that means, but that must be good. If you exit, maybe that will mean money toward a down payment.

Your day starts in Salesforce. You have to email a bunch of people. You briefly contemplate a business idea you have that will totally kill Salesforce and Facebook at the same time. But you need a technical co-founder. Eventually you’ll get to it — after all, you’re smart and destined for greatness yourself. And your friends all tell you how you should start something someday.

Your 27-year-old CEO calls an ad-hoc all-hands meeting and regales about company culture and how your mission is to “kill email because it’s broken”. He wants to make every enterprise company in the world switch to your product. He’s never worked for an enterprise company, or any other company at all.

The sales team got rowdy the night before. They missed their quota, but it was not their fault — it was implementation’s fault for fucking up a major deal. Also — marketing didn’t send them enough inbound leads for them to hit quota. Maybe next quarter. You trade emails with your college buddies on Gmail about how ridiculous Kevin Durant is for joining the Warriors. You come to realize email is working just fine for you. You feel depressed for a moment. Your summer intern is trying to figure out a Snapchat strategy.

Philz Coffee — photo credt: Rick.

It’s time for that afternoon coffee to keep you going through the day. You head over to Philz with some co-workers. You order a vegan donut and very clearly ask the barista for 3 Splendas. He was clearly a Splenda short, but the line is long and you want to be civil. You are above mentioning something like this to the barista — you let it pass and feel a “micro aggression” bubbling inside.

You have to decide where to go for dinner tonight. You look at Yelp for a place that’s within 1 mile and is rated at least 3.5 stars. But really you’re looking for something 4 stars plus and at least $$$. What will your friends think of you if you pick a place that’s too cheap? But you also don’t want to go $$$$ because that’s too expensive. You have good taste. This comforts you.

You realize your reservation with your spouse at the French Laundry is coming up this weekend. Your calendar app reminds you of this. You’ve been looking forward to it for months. You can’t wait to take perfectly Instagrammed photos of the meal to go along with your perfectly Instagrammed life.

#San Francisco is trending on Twitter. You realize the San Francisco journalism community is angry about something — they are full of rage at the way a homeless person is being treated. The reporters all share photos and videos of the homeless person, but no one talks to him.

It’s time for some afternoon Facebook browsing. Your friends are all doing SO well. You are secretly jealous of your friend who just bought a house in the Noe. You speculate as to how rich they must be after their exit from LinkedIn. Even though they were only employee #500 they must have done well. You briefly try to do the math in your head. Maybe that can be you at your current startup. It’s only a matter of time.

More browsing. One friend was employee #5 at a company that just sold to Twitter. They must have made so much money, you think. You like the status, but you are jealous. Another friend’s kid seems to be more advanced than your kid based on the Vine they just shared of them playing the piano. Damnit, need to be a better parent.

You go to Redfin to see how much they paid for their house.

You briefly daydream about how you once had an opportunity to work at Google pre-IPO. And that you could have joined Facebook right after IPO — and imagine that — the stock price has tripled in a short amount of time. Would that have been the big break you needed?

Your CEO grabs you in a panic and asks you to do a quick analysis for a board member. The board member was base jumping in Mexico and panicked about something related to burn rate and strategy. The CEO’s job is at risk.

Microsoft Excel — photo credit Collin Anderson.

You do the grunt work and analysis, and finish it just in time for him to breathe a sigh of relief and tell you what an “Excel Ninja” you are. Your analysis makes you realize the company maybe should have saved money on office space, and perhaps the rock climbing wall and Segways. You realize your CEO knows nothing about your business.

Your mind briefly drifts off and you think — “is this all really worth it? should I move to Seattle, Austin, or maybe even Florida?” After all there is no state tax and you could live a great quality of life there with an actual house with your beautiful family.

You browse Redfin again. Hmmm. Maybe not Austin — what about something less ambitious like Fremont, Morgan Hill or Milpitas? That wouldn’t solve your commute problems, you think. It would be more affordable though.

Delicious looking cupcakes — photo credit Frederic Bisson.

You know what? If you move to Austin you could somehow get by. After all your spouse is so amazing at baking. She could easily make a living selling her cupcakes — she has so much talent as a cook and you could afford culinary school. Worst case, she also has an amazing knack for craft jewelry. The three pieces she sold on Etsy last month are evidence of that. How talented both of you are.

And hey — if you move to Austin, you can finally build that home with a “Zen minimalist” theme you’ve been dreaming of. You go to Bluhome’s website — their design aesthetic perfectly matches yours. You just need to save the money to make it happen. You browse Pinterest and Houzz for ideas on how to decorate the interior. Is Red or Navy Blue TOO bold of a color? You don’t know. Maybe you should use an on-demand service for that.

You forgot to order groceries and the nanny needs milk for your kid ASAP. She texts you frantically in broken English. Thank goodness for Instacart — you spend $10 in delivery costs, but you need to add a bunch of items to your cart to hit the minimum threshold. You add a few squeezies, some bananas and a few artisan cheeses to hit the mark. You realize you haven’t stepped into a grocery store for months — but don’t worry — your opportunity cost of time is way too high at the moment. Especially if you factor in those stock options.

Almost time for dinner. You are having dinner tonight with the “Chief Hacking Officer” at the company and the “VP of Awesomeness”. You arrive at the restaurant, and they marvel at your taste — nice job surfing Yelp.

Your dinner conversation centers around how autonomous vehicles are going to be better in the long run than ordinary cars for a variety of reasons. And something about how Elon Musk handles meetings. You are all too busy making your own points and citing articles to really listen to each other. You order the $17 dollar Risotto and the $9 glass of Pleasanton-brewed IPA.

On your ride home you find the time to catch up on the Malcolm Gladwell podcast. What an interesting guy he is — he’s so smart and he makes you think about things.

After coming home you briefly use that “7 minute workout” app, which scientists have proven is way more effective than a one-hour cardio workout. You got your exercise in for the day — nice work.

You and your spouse get ready for bed. What’s in your Netflix queue? Well, you have to catch up on “Making a Murderer” since it’s been all over the news lately. And let’s not get too far behind on “Mr. Robot” since it’s so critically acclaimed. For lighter fare, and if you have time, you can always try “Last Week Tonight” — John Oliver always says exactly what you’re thinking in your head — just funnier than you would have said it.

You quietly shuffle to bed, tired from the long, hard day. You check your email, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat one last time before bedtime. You don’t think you’ll have enough energy to check LinkedIn today — and besides — their mobile UI is not very good. Maybe you can start a company that will disrupt LinkedIn? They did just sell for a bunch of money after all.

Your last thought before bed — should you switch to the Android ecosystem? You are on the “S” iPhone replacement cycle and you are getting impatient. But then you realize you are so heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem that it may not make sense.

Vipassana Retreat — photo credit kinnla.

You briefly use mobile Safari to browse for Vipassana retreats — you hear a 10 day retreat in Soquel may be the ticket to shake things up. You realize it’s not going to be possible. You download a meditation app. You turn it off. You don’t have time.

You briefly recall your ride home on the 280 tonight. The sun was setting. It was beautiful. You realize you live in paradise.

Next Story — In Romantic Relationships, You’re Either a Spark-Chaser or a Long Burner.
Currently Reading - In Romantic Relationships, You’re Either a Spark-Chaser or a Long Burner.

“Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that.” — Robin Williams as Cozy Carlisle, Dead Again

In Romantic Relationships, You’re Either a Spark-Chaser or a Long Burner.

Find Out Which One You Are, and Be That.

The following advice is aimed at adults who have been dating for a good decade already. In my opinion, you should do whatever you want with dating in your twenties, within the bounds of treating people with feelings like you would want yourself to be treated, of course. The proverb all’s fair in love and war is never literally true, but is whimsically true when you’re dating in high school and becomes less true the older you get and the more you should expect of yourself and others. When you are young, too much about your core self is malleable, and that’s how it should be. Other than those occasional high school sweethearts who got lucky and have been together ever since, dating in your 20s should be viewed as an experiment to find out what you want out of a partner, and what you are prepared to offer yourself.

However, at a certain point you need to get your romantic shit together.

In a sense, every romantic relationship you will ever have goes through a “high school” stage in the beginning, during which you’re just getting to know each other and it’s OK to find some unforgivable deal-breaker, and break up with caring, but without much else owed to the other person. This ends after a couple of months. The longer things go on, the more you will “owe” the other person. If you’ve just ghosted someone you’ve been seeing regularly for six months, unless you did it because you fear for your personal safety or something, you’re not a kind person.

I was poly for about four years, and have been in a monogamous relationship for over two years. Being poly was a wonderful thing, and taught me a great deal about what I wanted and what I didn’t. It started after being burned out on a decade of serial monogamy. Being poly taught me that all those years, I was essentially monogamous for the wrong reasons. Because polyamory is less accepted by society, friends, and family, people tend to enter into relationships with whoever they went on a few dates with merely because they’d like to continue seeing them. This is not enough of a reason.

Actively learning what I wanted out of a relationship taught me how to be monogamous for the right reasons. When I was poly, I used to joke that “it takes three or four men to make one good boyfriend these days” and I was right. I knew I was ready to give it up when I found someone who felt like three or four men put together. He was enough, and then some. But I’m not talking about heightened passion or otherworldly attraction. I’m talking about the more rational process of someone possessing 90% of the traits I had always wanted in one person, and didn’t really think I’d ever find.

I’m writing this today because over the past few months several of my friends have gone through painful breakups. They had been together anywhere between six months and five years, yet all of them had lovers who said to them some dreaded version of “I love you, but I am not in love with you anymore”, “there’s no spark anymore”, etc.

Here’s the thing: ADULTS know that the in-love part fades, then ebbs and flows with work, attention, and active caring over the years. It may take months to fade, or it may take years. But it is the obvious eventual side effect of the very familiarity you seek. True monogamists are not afraid of the lack of spark or butterflies; that wonderful but ultimately transient and even shallow feeling of being in a state of love. I say shallow because everyone eventually has had that feeling — and strongly — for a person they know they have no business dating. Chemistry doesn’t give a fuck if you’re deeply attracted to a Republican who would make you incredibly miserable. Once you’ve had an experience like that, you don’t put a lot of stock in what your blood thinks is a good idea.

True monogamists are there for the benefit of adding a partner; a family member to your day to day life that a sister or a mom or a pet can’t possibly provide. That goal is ultimately antithetical to romance by nature; a fact that successful monogamists use as a starting point; they do not hide from it, nor do they leave it alone and hope it will spark itself from time to time without any work.

People who are dumped because the other person “just wasn’t feeling it” after a couple years have a right to be angry, and a right to feel betrayed. If you are that person, who has ended a long-term relationship over not feeling the magic, then you owe it to yourself and others to become a polyamorist. You’re either a spark-chaser, or a long-burner. There is no in-between. If you are trying to be a monogamist yet insist on expressing that desire to “be in love” through serial monogamy, then you are not being honest with yourself or your needs, and are disrespecting the needs of people you care for.

Polyamorists have the EQ to know that being a spark-chaser is nothing to be ashamed of; that it’s natural for human beings to desire others throughout their lifetime. They’re right, and they have the courage to admit they want that. Monogamists understand the same thing, they’ve just made a conscious decision to overpower it for the sake of something they have built with another.

Yet for some crazy reason, it’s still seen as more moral to be a guy who has a new girlfriend every few years, than to be the open, honest, Ethical Slut. American culture is dead wrong about this. If you are thirty or over and always looking for the person who will satisfy every need while making you feel like you are in love, you need to stop being in relationships. Period. Relationships quite simply don’t provide that. There is also no evolutionary purpose to the in love feeling lasting longer than it takes to produce offspring. Sorry, but nature is far from romantic. Nature doesn’t give a fuck about making you feel endless butterflies for the same person over decades.

Monogamists have the EQ to know that the “spark” is replaced by other things that are more valuable to them; a sense of family with the other person, a deep sense of belonging, a partner who is there for you when you get sick. This is why polyamorists often have a dedicated “primary” who serves that role, while their other lovers serve as adventure, romance, and variety. That doesn’t mean that monogamists shouldn’t stay on their toes in a relationship and try, whenever possible, to spark things up. They should, and they do. They are comfortable doing so because they are rooted in where the relationship is and have the emotional depth to roll with the tide, to endure the plateaus, and to always seek the best in the other person.

If your idea of looking for The One is going from relationship to relationship, you are denying who you are, hurting others, and wasting people’s time. Are you interested in always being in and out of love? Admit that poly is best for you. If you want a family, companionship, and history with the other person, and most importantly — accept the effort and antiglamour that comes with it — you should be in a relationship and should not try to make things work with those who don’t see the same way.

Certainly, there are other reasons to end a relationship that are perfectly valid. But if you’re ending it because you’re not feeling it anymore, you never felt the desire for monogamy as it actually exists in the first place. Figure out who you are, what you want, and be that. The only people who can have both are those few who are very, very good at polyamory.

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Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology

“The strongest force propelling human progress has been the swift advance and wide diffusion of technology.” — The Economist

In the year 1820, a person could expect to live less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less that 20% of the population was literate. Today, human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty, and over 80% of people are literate. These improvements are due mainly to advances in technology, beginning in the industrial age and continuing today in the information age.

There are many exciting new technologies that will continue to transform the world and improve human welfare. Here are eleven of them.

1. Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars exist today that are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 3–5 years they‘ll get even safer, and will begin to go mainstream.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.25 million people die from car-related injuries per year. Half of the deaths are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists hit by cars. Cars are the leading cause of death for people ages 15–29 years old.

Just as cars reshaped the world in the 20th century, so will self-driving cars in the 21st century. In most cities, between 20–30% of usable space is taken up by parking spaces, and most cars are parked about 95% of the time. Self-driving cars will be in almost continuous use (most likely hailed from a smartphone app), thereby dramatically reducing the need for parking. Cars will communicate with one another to avoid accidents and traffic jams, and riders will be able to spend commuting time on other activities like work, education, and socializing.

Source: Tech Insider

2. Clean Energy

Attempts to fight climate change by reducing the demand for energy haven’t worked. Fortunately, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have been working hard on the supply side to make clean energy convenient and cost-effective.

Due to steady technological and manufacturing advances, the price of solar cells has dropped 99.5% since 1977. Solar will soon be more cost efficient than fossil fuels. The cost of wind energy has also dropped to an all-time low, and in the last decade represented about a third of newly installed US energy capacity.

Forward thinking organizations are taking advantage of this. For example, in India there is an initiative to convert airports to self-sustaining clean energy.

Airport in Kochi, India (source: Clean Technica)

Tesla is making high-performance, affordable electric cars, and installing electric charging stations worldwide.

Tesla Model 3 and US supercharger locations

There are hopeful signs that clean energy could soon be reaching a tipping point. For example, in Japan, there are now more electric charging stations than gas stations.

Source: The Guardian

And Germany produces so much renewable energy, it sometimes produces even more than it can use.

Source: Time Magazine

3. Virtual and Augmented Reality

Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.

Toybox demo from Oculus

People sometimes think VR and AR will be used only for gaming, but over time they will be used for all sorts of activities. For example, we’ll use them to manipulate 3-D objects:

Augmented reality computer interface (from Iron Man)

To meet with friends and colleagues from around the world:

Augmented reality teleconference (from The Kingsman)

And even for medical applications, like treating phobias or helping rehabilitate paralysis victims:

Source: New Scientist

VR and AR have been dreamed about by science fiction fans for decades. In the next few years, they’ll finally become a mainstream reality.

4. Drones and Flying Cars

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need… roads.” — Dr. Emmet Brown

GPS started out as a military technology but is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokémon. Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.

For example, drones are being used to inspect critical infrastructure like bridges and power lines, to survey areas struck by natural disasters, and many other creative uses like fighting animal poaching.

Source: NBC News

Amazon and Google are building drones to deliver household items.

Amazon delivery drone

The startup Zipline uses drones to deliver medical supplies to remote villages that can’t be accessed by roads.

Source: The Verge

There is also a new wave of startups working on flying cars (including two funded by the cofounder of Google, Larry Page).

The Terrafugia TF-X flying car (source)

Flying cars use the same advanced technology used in drones but are large enough to carry people. Due to advances in materials, batteries, and software, flying cars will be significantly more affordable and convenient than today’s planes and helicopters.

5. Artificial Intelligence

‘’It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go — maybe even longer.” — New York Times, 1997
“Master of Go Board Game Is Walloped by Google Computer Program” — New York Times, 2016

Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power.

AI can be applied to almost any field. For example, in photography an AI technique called artistic style transfer transforms photographs into the style of a given painter:

Source

Google built an AI system that controls its datacenter power systems, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.

Source: Bloomberg

The broad promise of AI is to liberate people from repetitive mental tasks the same way the industrial revolution liberated people from repetitive physical tasks.

“If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.” — Kevin Kelly

Some people worry that AI will destroy jobs. History has shown that while new technology does indeed eliminate jobs, it also creates new and better jobs to replace them. For example, with advent of the personal computer, the number of typographer jobs dropped, but the increase in graphic designer jobs more than made up for it.

Source: Harvard Business Review

It is much easier to imagine jobs that will go away than new jobs that will be created. Today millions of people work as app developers, ride-sharing drivers, drone operators, and social media marketers— jobs that didn’t exist and would have been difficult to even imagine ten years ago.

6. Pocket Supercomputers for Everyone

By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today’s smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.

Visitors to the pope (source: Business Insider)

Internet-connected smartphones give ordinary people abilities that, just a short time ago, were only available to an elite few:

“Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smart phone using Google, he has access to more information than the U.S. president did just 15 years ago.” — Peter Diamandis

7. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

“If you asked people in 1989 what they needed to make their life better, it was unlikely that they would have said a decentralized network of information nodes that are linked using hypertext.” — Farmer & Farmer

Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.

Protocols based on blockchains also have capabilities that previous protocols didn’t. For example, Ethereum is a new blockchain-based protocol that can be used to create smart contracts and trusted databases that are immune to corruption and censorship.

8. High-Quality Online Education

While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.

Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost $1,400. Now anyone with a smartphone can instantly access Wikipedia. You used to have to go to school or buy programming books to learn computer programming. Now you can learn from a community of over 40 million programmers at Stack Overflow. YouTube has millions of hours of free tutorials and lectures, many of which are produced by top professors and universities.

UC Berkeley Physics on Youtube

The quality of online education is getting better all the time. For the last 15 years, MIT has been recording lectures and compiling materials that cover over 2000 courses.

“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” — Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering

As perhaps the greatest research university in the world, MIT has always been ahead of the trends. Over the next decade, expect many other schools to follow MIT’s lead.

Source: Futurism

9. Better Food through Science

Source: National Geographic

Earth is running out of farmable land and fresh water. This is partly because our food production systems are incredibly inefficient. It takes an astounding 1799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.

Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are being developed to improve our food system.

For example, entrepreneurs are developing new food products that are tasty and nutritious substitutes for traditional foods but far more environmentally friendly. The startup Impossible Foods invented meat products that look and taste like the real thing but are actually made of plants.

Impossible Food’s plant-based burger (source: Tech Insider)

Their burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and produces 87% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional burgers. Other startups are creating plant-based replacements for milk, eggs, and other common foods. Soylent is a healthy, inexpensive meal replacement that uses advanced engineered ingredients that are much friendlier to the environment than traditional ingredients.

Some of these products are developed using genetic modification, a powerful scientific technique that has been widely mischaracterized as dangerous. According to a study by the Pew Organization, 88% of scientists think genetically modified foods are safe.

Another exciting development in food production is automated indoor farming. Due to advances in solar energy, sensors, lighting, robotics, and artificial intelligence, indoor farms have become viable alternatives to traditional outdoor farms.

Aerofarms indoor farm (Source: New York Times)

Compared to traditional farms, automated indoor farms use roughly 10 times less water and land. Crops are harvested many more times per year, there is no dependency on weather, and no need to use pesticides.

10. Computerized Medicine

Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs.

For example, just fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine.

Genetic sequencing generates massive amounts of data that can be analyzed using powerful data analysis software. One application is analyzing blood samples for early detection of cancer. Further genetic analysis can help determine the best course of treatment.

Another application of computers to medicine is in prosthetic limbs. Here a young girl is using prosthetic hands she controls using her upper-arm muscles:

Source: Open Bionics

Soon we’ll have the technology to control prothetic limbs with just our thoughts using brain-to-machine interfaces.

Computers are also becoming increasingly effective at diagnosing diseases. An artificial intelligence system recently diagnosed a rare disease that human doctors failed to diagnose by finding hidden patterns in 20 million cancer records.

Source: International Business Times

11. A New Space Age

Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA’s budget dropped from about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today.

Source: Fortune

The good news is that private space companies have started filling the void. These companies provide a wide range of products and services, including rocket launches, scientific research, communications and imaging satellites, and emerging speculative business models like asteroid mining.

The most famous private space company is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which successfully sent rockets into space that can return home to be reused.

SpaceX Falcon 9 landing

Perhaps the most intriguing private space company is Planetary Resources, which is trying to pioneer a new industry: mining minerals from asteroids.

Asteroid mining

If successful, asteroid mining could lead to a new gold rush in outer space. Like previous gold rushes, this could lead to speculative excess, but also dramatically increased funding for new technologies and infrastructure.


These are just a few of the amazing technologies we’ll see developed in the coming decades. 2016 is just the beginning of a new age of wonders. As futurist Kevin Kelly says:

If we could climb into a time machine, journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016. People in the future will look at their holodecks and wearable virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars and AI interfaces and say, “Oh, you didn’t really have the internet” — or whatever they’ll call it — “back then.”
So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/ risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”

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