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The bullshit filter of history

Posted on Jul 06 2015 in Snippets

When contemplating the future, we place far too much emphasis on flavour-of-the-month inventions and the latest killer apps, while underestimating the role of traditional technology. In the 1960s, space travel was all the rage, so we imagine ourselves on school trips to Mars. In the 1970s, plastic was in, so we mulled over how we would furnish our see-through houses. [The author] Nassim Taleb (…) coined a word for this: neomania, the mania for all things shiny and new.

In the past, I sympathised with a so-called ‘early adopters’, the breed of people who cannot survive without the latest iPhone. I thought they were ahead of their time. Now I regard them as irrational and suffering from a kind of sickness: neomania. To them, it is of minor importance if an invention provides tangible benefits; novelty matters more.

So, don’t go out on a limb when forecasting the future. Stanley Kubrick’s cult movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, illustrates why you shouldn’t. Made in 1968, the movie predicted that, at the turn of the millennium, the US would have 1000 strong colony on the moon and that PanAm would operate the commuter flights there and back. With this fanciful forecast in mind, I suggest this rule of thumb: whatever has survived for X years will last another X years. Taleb wagers that the 'bullshit filter of history’ will sort the gimmicks from the game changers. And that’s one bet I’m willing to back.

Lots to think about in this short excerpt from The Art of Thinking Clearly.