Twenty Eighteen Preparation: Becoming an Endless Newbie

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Endless Newbie, 2018, Greg Storey

I’m late to reading The Inevitable — it was published almost three years ago — but, since the book is about innovation and disruption in the next thirty years I figure I’m alright missing the first few. You may know the author from his other projects like founding executive editor of Wired magazine and former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review. This is all to say, Kevin’s done a lot to give him a distinct point of view.

While the theme of the book is about the future it begins with a thought about the past and present that immediately resonated with me:

It’s taken me 60 years, but I had an epiphany recently: Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance.

Well, damn. I didn’t expect those words of wisdom, especially in the first paragraph. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I read those lines, my brain went immediately into cataloging all of the things I’ve started, but not properly maintained. Everything from worthwhile entrepreneurial pursuits stuck in the backlog of ideas to this very website. And then — how convenient — the book says the thing I was thinking.

Keeping a website or a software program afloat is like keeping a yacht afloat. It is a black hole for attention. I can understand why a mechanical device like a pump would break down after a while — moisture rusts metal, or the air oxidizes membranes, or lubricants evaporate, all of which require repair. But I wasn’t thinking that the nonmaterial world of bits would also degrade. What’s to break? Apparently everything.

Airbag is still churning along on a twelve-year-old Mac mini running on one of the last versions of MovableType that Ben and Mena Trott worked on personally, strung on top of a MAMP stack as old as the grail protector in Indiana Jones. I’m sure this setup could go another 12 years (assuming the web exists as we know it by then, seriously, when is the last time any of us browsed a gopher “site” or loaded Usenet to read through a newsgroup), but that lack of maintenance, the need to constantly upgrade, means to some extent starting from scratch. Kelly calls this becoming “endless newbies.”

All of us — every one of us — will be endless newbies in the future simply trying to keep up. Here’s why: First, most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented, so naturally you’ll be a newbie to them. Second, because the new technology requires endless upgrades, you will remain in the newbie state. Third, because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating (the average lifespan of a phone app is a mere 30 days!), you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced, so you will remain in the newbie mode forever. Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.

I wasn’t expecting this type of message in Kevin’s book, but I’m sure glad to have had it. In the past, when I brushed off new advances or updates to technology and processes I preferred to stick with a simple path of “it still works fine,” but in doing so I realize now that I have l lost a lot beginning with the ability to function with current best practices in certain areas of my skill sets and the degradation a few projects, especially Airbag.

So welcome to the new real life, where more and more of our time must be spent maintaining our awareness, education, skills, and technology are required just to keep up with the next day. The first chapter of The Inevitable was a good, unintended wake-up call (the rest of the book is great too, by the way).

Now, onto the future through the lens of the endless newbie.

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