WTF is Medium Energy?
A mantra for survival in the 'Metaverse' era
WTF is Medium Energy? Glad you asked. Let's start with some framing.
I don't know about you, but lately, the ‘Twilight Zone’ theme song has been dominating my personal movie soundtrack, triggered by events such as these:
A 12 year old makes millions by making cartoonish NFTs (insert kid in bedroom meme)
Facebook becomes a 'metaverse' company and changes name to Meta (the name of my old employer, where we pursued the same vision in 2014)
The great resignation - everyone seeing ‘the light’ and quitting their day jobs.
Safe to say things are starting to feel.... strange. I find myself making this face on a daily basis.
The feeling is palpable. Like a light pressure, similar to your back being pushed against the airplane seat during take off. I’m guessing you feel it too… But what's the source?
You've likely heard the term ‘exponential technology’, usually accompanied by a chart like this, depicting the accelerating rate of technological advancement:
For decades, this term has made for fun academic fodder. A mere hypothesis, chock full of conjecture about when it would come, what the world might look like, and how humanity would fair. Well, I think that pressure feeling is this hypothesis turning into reality. We are indeed approaching the 'knee of the curve' and beginning our ascent.
This feeling is best encapsulated by Edward O. Wilson, who said "The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology. It is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall."
Now crisis is a strong word. I don't think we're at that point, yet. But the early signals of this tension are starting to surface. Romeen Sheth articulated it nicely in this recent tweet. He refers to Shaan Puri’s definition of the 'Metaverse' as not a place, but rather a moment in time (see his viral tweet here). A moment in which our digital life is more important than our physical life. So simple yet so true. A spot on definition amidst a sea of eye roll inducing attempts, free of bias towards immersive worlds, avatars, AR/VR headsets, disconnection from the real world, etc. It’s the definition I subscribe to, and I hope you will as well.
Within that context, Romeen summarizes how during this Metaverse 'era', everything is going to be much more extreme. Economic opportunity will go through the roof, allowing anyone to be a job candidate from anywhere in the world. In turn, competition will become even more fierce and "tasks will get 're-rated' to their global economic value" e.g. easy access for growth associates in the Philippines, best in class developers from Eastern Europe, financiers from India. Outcomes will have limitless upside, with software creating 'infinite leverage', e.g. crypto and smart contracts allowing the formation of massive organizations with fewer people (i.e. DAOs). As for our attention, the surface area for 'engagement' becomes limitless (e.g. AR glasses), putting more stimuli at our fingertips and further stretching our attention spans. I think you get the idea, but if you want more examples, Romeen also touches on empathy, impulse, opinions, agitation, comparison, and polarization. (Highly suggest reading the full thread. Really makes the wheels spin.)
So, with this 'extreme' future as our backdrop, let's get back to the question at hand. WTF is Medium Energy?
In a practical sense, it's a newsletter designed to help you prosper during this exponential lift off. Your compass and oxygen mask during our journey into the stars. It will include ideas, information, and stories about technological progress, the human experience, and the convergence of the two (with a focus on immersive tech and Web 3.0/crypto). It's also a consolidation of content that I wished existed over my last ten years fumbling around with the world.
This intersection will become increasingly important as technology further fuses with our daily existence. Our compilations of hardware + software have evolved far beyond just laptops, phones, or watches. They've become extensions of our consciousness, portals for transcending space and time, self-made mechanisms to accelerate our evolution. Our ability to understand and balance the pros and cons of this power will be key to prosperity, for yourself, for your organization, and for your community. Of particular importance will be a deeper understanding of ourselves (e.g. our minds, our emotions). Many aspects of tech don't sit well with our caveman-like tendencies. Our minds evolved to brave the Saharas and mesh with a local tribe. But technology, and the world it's creating, is evolving faster than our caveman minds and emotions can handle. How to reconcile? I think it is counter balanced (a key theme to come...) with an intimate understanding of the nature of the mind, along with the nature of the world and reality in which it fends. All things we'll be sure to explore.
Okay, Evan, sounds deep, good for you. But I still don't get it. Why 'Medium Energy'?
Well, Medium Energy is also a philosophy/life mantra. One that I believe is particularly suited for reconciling with the consequences of the Metaverse, the good and the bad.
"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."- William Shakespeare
Medium Energy: the nature of all realities
I tend to consider Medium Energy on three dimensions; our internal reality, our external reality, and our unseen reality. Each of these will provide a sense of the ‘human experience’ topics we’ll explore.
By internal reality, I mean our modes of consciousness and subjective existence, including our perspectives, our mental models, and our motivations.
Perhaps the most basic example, while also the most difficult to master, dwells amidst the voices in our head. It’s the necessary tension between self-acceptance and striving for greatness. Imbalance here has created my deepest moments of darkness. Perhaps you can relate. It's a seemingly impossible sweet spot between being able to focus on achievement, while also being easy on yourself. Between whipping yourself to go harder and faster, while also accepting where you are and who you are in the present. It's like this surf lesson scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. 'Okay now, pop up! No no no, you're doing too much. Do less. Don't do anything. Okay... now you're just doing nothing'. Oh the madness that is complacency on one hand (what my college lacrosse coach called 'everything is fine mode'), and self-loathing on the other (I suck, I need to do more, why can't I be better). It's taken a few tail spins on both sides of this equation to recognize a semblance of equilibrium.
What I've learned to date is that true equilibrium is a fantasy. The voices are never fully conquered. Rather, with a little mental Jiu Jitsu, their power can be used to turn the chatter from enemy to ally, all by mastering the ability to just… notice. In doing so, we can relegate them to signals that measure how far we're drifting in one direction or another. Mere nudges, not blaring alarms of panic. Once partially reigned in, we are then ready to move up the stack from our ‘inner reality’ towards forms of Medium Energy that help to produce the ‘agency’ we most desire in our 'external reality'. In other words, the type of willpower and external action found within what Gay Hendricks calls our ‘zone of genius’. A prime example is creativity.
Harnessing creativity is the ultimate case study in Medium Energy. Tapping into our most creative self requires walking a tightrope between control and surrender. Neither is useful on its own. Complete surrender is just chaos; an incoherence that achieves nothing. And complete control is rigid, leading to stale forms of thought. For new and bold ideas to materialize, we need a balanced mileu of the two. One in which we get out of our own way and slightly surrender, but do so with coherence and intention.
As for Medium Energy within our 'external reality', I’m referring to the necessary contradictions and paradoxes that make our physical word tick. Take diet and fitness as a simple example. You can certainly eat what you want, but you better workout to burn those carbs. On the more complex side of the spectrum is Newton's third law of physics; 'for every action in the universe, there will always be an equal and opposite reaction'. Two opposing forces achieving a 'medium' state. There's also complexity theory, in which emergent properties surface amidst just the right amount of organic chaos mixed with well defined rules e.g. human civilization, artificial intelligence, evolution, or my new personal favorite example, blockchain ecosystems (to be explained in a future piece).
Reeling it back to the less esoteric, another ‘external’ example is leadership; one of my personal greatest struggles. Of all human skills and traits, leadership might have the most shades of grey. The optimal approach is rarely ever black or white. I learned this the hard way when I started to coach lacrosse (for a bunch of 13 year olds no less…). I quickly came to understand Machievelli’s quote, “it’s better to be feared than loved.” But you rarely ever see the entire quote, which at the end says, “if one cannot be both.” As a leader, this is our plight; finding that happy medium. When we succeed in doing so, the results are tremendous. My current employer, Amazon, is a prime example. Particularly, its cultural blueprint; ‘The 14 Leadership Principles’. These principles are purposefully filled with necessary contradictions (aka: medium energy), and in embracing them, Amazon became one of the most successful companies of all time. My favorite example is the tension between the principles 'Are Right A Lot' and 'Learn and Be Curious'. Obviously, to deliver results and ‘be right’ ( a lot), you need great judgement and instincts. Conversely, Amazon prides itself in calculated bets and failure. Failure has been a corner stone of the business, pushing its leaders to be 'curious' about new possibilities and 'act to explore them'. Over time, results have come from harnessing the tension and striking just the right balance between these two seemingly opposed principles.
Finally, we look at our 'unseen reality'. I'm largely referring to the realm of quantum mechanics, in which sub-atomic particles are never really here nor there. Until 'measured', they are just a function (or wave) of probability. Something between existing and not existing. Something of a 'medium' state between two potentialities. That is until they are properly 'measured' and taken into account relative to 'the other' (aka: the 'relational' interpretation of quantum mechanics). It is nature's metaphor for how truth is revealed when we properly measure two sides of the same coin. When we do so, reality reveals itself. This is especially true when weighing the pros and cons of the 'Metaverse'. Some people are fascinated and excited by this potential future, eager for its arrival. Others find it terrifying, fearful of how it might ruin our humanity. Before diving into one camp or another, we must first understand its general nature. From there, we can assess it with certain contexts, at which point we can intelligently parse through the good and bad. With this vantage, we can be properly intentional and methodical in how it gets built.
"The nature of the rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers grow in the gardens." - Someone wise
There are endless examples of Medium Energy within our various realities. But to summarize this whole idea, I'll lean on my favorite encapsulation, the Greek's notion of Kairos and Chronos. These are two different ways of interpreting our sense of reality and time. Chronos represents our ‘mechanized’ cognition. This is our objective, quantifiable reality, in which time is measured by the hands of a clock, 'success' by metrics such as income, number of friends, or vacations per year. Kairos is our more subjective and poetic reality. In these states, time isn't measured, but rather eroded by deep breaths, the smell of the roses, the depth of a conversation, the awe of a sunset, or the chemistry of a kiss. Author and poet Ursula Leguin states this wonderfully. She says, "Science describes (reality) accurately from the outside (aka: Chronos), but poetry describes accurately from the inside (Kairos). Science explicates, but poetry implicates." Both of these things fuel our individual and collective progress, and both must be embraced to live a fulfilled life. We must chop wood and fetch water to get by day-to-day, to feed our family, to travel and eat at our favorite restaurants. But what is equally as nourishing is aesthetically oriented nourishment. I personally need experiences of complete immersion and unmixed attention. Moments where I disappear. My own forms of 'prayer', which I often find in writing, reading, playing the piano, or cooking. The key to a well-lived life is developing the intuitive muscles to find a harmony between these different modes. The need to do so will also become more extreme in the 'metaverse' era, in which flourishment may very well depend on how well we balance between our digital and physical life.
I'll end here with an idea from another great author, Mary Oliver. She says "the key to life is to remember ourselves and forget ourselves at the same time, to embrace both our 'creatureliness' and our transcendence as we move through the world". This is how we create what she calls a 'seizure of happiness'.
This quote is prescient in the context of our journey towards the exponential/metaverse age. Sure, today's technology can expose the worst parts of our 'creatureliness', and will continue to do so during this phase of transition and lift off. But once we're off the launch pad, I think this is just the next stage of our evolution, in which the aforementioned caveman tendencies and emotions dissolve, slowly and then suddenly. At this stage of our evolution, technology will allow us to unleash our transcendent nature in ways that are impossible to conceive today.
So here's to our journey towards striking that balance and stabilizing into a state of 'medium energy'. Doing so could dictate whether or not the next 10-20 years leads to a renaissance or a dystopia… Regardless of the outcome, I hope this content leads you to many ‘seizures of happiness’, bliss, and joy, all while learning, staying practical, and remaining grounded along the way.