Fewer Better Things No. 77

Vive la Résistance!

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Behind Fewer Better Things lies the simple but hard-fought idea that to live a life well we need to be conscious of how we manage our time, money, and attention. What people, things, and thoughts do we let into our lives and what do we want to keep out? Contrary to the common belief, it’s not about minimalism per se but about being aware of how we decide to interact with ourselves and the world around us.

Today we have infinite choices in how to design a lifestyle that meets our needs, dreams and passions. Over the past century the idea of living on our own terms has evolved from being the privilege of a very small global elite – the kings, queens and aristocracy – to becoming available to the vast majority of people in the developed and developing worlds. One of the drivers, of course, is technological innovation.

The automobile, which was invented in the late 1800s but who’s building blocks and science goes all the way back to the 1600s, tripled our geographical reach from the 10-30 miles per day it was possible to travel with horse and carriage to 80-90 miles when the first car was introduced in 1886. Today’s gasoline-fueled cars have a reach of about 500 miles per day while Teslas can travel at least 250 miles on a single charge. That has changed how we live, work, and learn.

The possibilities with technology is endless but not always desirable. Driving for eight hours straight per day is neither healthy for our well-being nor for the environment. The average one-way commute time today in the US is 27.6 minutes. If you add return plus daily errands and pickups we might be looking at two hours per day just being spent moving ourselves around. In cities and dense areas that number is likely higher.

As we adopt new technologies we also need to develop a mindful way of how we use them. The Internet was developed during the 60s thanks to technologies that goes back to the 19th century. The Internet made it possible to expand our reach even further across the world which lead to the emergence of the digital nomad in the middle of the 1990s. But it took another 25 years, triggered by a pandemic, for this lifestyle to go mainstream. Today everyone with a laptop is a remote worker.

The Internet, just like the automobile did, elevates our opportunities to follow our bliss and expands our world but not without pitfalls and consequences. Facebook is experiencing a huge backlash due to recently released and published internal documents identifying the harmful effects of social networks. They, just as the automobile manufacturers, are aware of the negative effects of their technological innovations and will eventually have to create better and less harmful services. The trigger for this will most like be a) declining user growth or b) new competition as public companies prioritizes profit until either users revolt or the competition offers a better experience. (In the emailed newsletter I said that it’s the fiduciary responsibility of a public company to always chose profit first but that’s untrue. My apologies.)

So what would the Fewer Better Things strategy look like in interacting with technologies that offer to expand our reach but also come with certain negative and now well-known side effects? Intentionally and mindfully. After almost five years of social media absence, except for my occasional off and on relationship with Instagram which is another story I might tell some day, I’ve decided to return to Facebook to explore how I can use this social network in an intentional and mindful way.

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I believe that the right combination of networking and professional skillset can lead to a very successful remote lifestyle. I proved that during my nomadic years when I traveled around the world for five years with only a laptop, my passport, and a debit card, lecturing about digital transformation for executives and graduate students. I took it to the extreme to understand both the human and technological limitations.

After a few years of pause and with the pandemic somewhat manageable I’ve decided to continue my journey of studying the future of how we live, work, and learn through new experiential research experiments. Based on my past experiences and learnings I’m now designing a new work-life strategy which allows for both healthy social relationships, a sense of geographical belonging, and interesting travels. And that’s why I have decided, in lieu of a better network, to sign up for Facebook again.

I believe that with clear intentions, a mindful approach, and my decades of lifestyle hacking skills I can use this network to my own advantage to meet my well-defined goals without being the victim of the now very known and well published negative consequences. Like Oprah says: “when we know better we do better”.

I have two goals with being on a social network: to stay in contact with friends – and acquaintances across the world with the potential of becoming friends – and to expand the reach of my work. Over the past decades of intensive traveling I’ve gotten to know amazing people all over the world. Since I haven’t lived in one place for more than a couple of years, with the exception of my time in Silicon Valley, my friends and acquaintances are all spread out over the world with few living in the same place.

This is how Facebook became successful by connecting childhood friends that studied at distant universities and wanted to keep in touch to create an exponential network effect and become the behemoth they are today. My ambition is just to connect with like-minded people to explore how we can improve how we live, work and learn in the present future while being aware of the potential pitfalls and negative side effects.

I believe that we are just in the very early days of the potential of living, working, and learning via the Internet, just like the automobile was just in the early days when it went mainstream in the second half of the 20th century. The pandemic forced everyone to go remote using very blunt first generation tools. But the amount of user data and insights that has been created over the past 18 months of digital living is unprecedented in human history. These insights will lead to new mind-blowing innovations, new human beliefs and behaviors, and, of course, new side-effects.

When I returned from my experiment living as digital nomad I bought a car. I chose a used Mini Cooper Clubman S as it’s fast, efficient and very economical. I can bring bikes, surfboards, and outdoor equipment for two-three people which is just enough and I can travel between distant beaches and mountains without having to refuel. I only use it for long-distance travels or to get weekly groceries. I can safely park it in any neighborhood and it fits into even the tiniest parking spot. It’s simply utility.

I intend to approach social networks and new emerging technologies with the same philosophy. Social networks can be amazing tools if designed and used right. The problem is that the corporations that now have created a monopoly running them are using our basic human needs of belonging and being heard, seen, and loved to their advantage by making their services addictive. There is no reason why we cannot turn the tables and also “move fast and break things” to regain our own independence and mental wellbeing. Eventually a decentralized Blockchain-based social network will emerge that will challenge the current broken model but until then…

Vive la résistance digital!

Per Håkansson

Encinitas, California

Per is a former Silicon Valley techie turned digital lecturer, writer, photographer, and surfer. When not living in his surf shack by the beach he’s traveling the world for work and pleasure. His lifelong passion for experiencing the world first hand includes living in six countries, visiting 72 countries, five years as digital nomad, and fluency in three languages.