World War II and Imagination
[Editor’s note: After writing my post about imagining the future the other day my friend Martin emailed me the following response. I thought it was super interested and asked if he minded me posting it here. He agreed and here it is.]
Per your “floating future” post – been thinking a lot about this idea lately, where has all the big thinking gone. Been thinking about it for a couple of reasons. One has to do with World War II.
On the one hand, I’ve been helping my son study post World War II America in his sophomore social studies class. And on the other, I’ve been reading a fair amount of late-40s-through-50s fiction (Cheever, Roth, Salinger, Updike, etc.). And I’ve been amazed (probably due to my ignorance) how long a shadow that war cast over the subsequent decade, on a very personal level.
I’ve been wondering if exposure to such massive, global thinking during the war made “big” thinking possible in the 1950s in a way it hadn’t been before. Think about it; guys from little towns across America – guys who had probably never been out of their state, let alone out of the country – were suddenly involved in supply chains that literally ran around the world. Guys who had never seen more than a hundred or two hundred people together at a time, suddenly involved in battles involving thousands and thousands of people, from dozens of countries, with machines that had been invented expressly for these purposes.
I have to believe that got them thinking that anything – or a whole lot more – was possible. And I don’t think the mass of folks today are exposed to that.
The other thing that this makes me think about is the negative effects of the rush to monetization. If you have to make something pay right now (or in the next 3, 4, 5 years, etc.), you have to think differently about it than if you just open your head and think “what if?”. For all the complaints about companies like facebook and twitter and groupon that didn’t turn a profit, you have to admit that they are bigger ideas than ones that could cash in (that is, generate revenue) quicker. I wonder if that’s because monetization, to be believable, has to be based on the here and now – economic realities that exist currently – and that really big thinking, real game-changing stuff, relies on economics and realities that haven’t happened yet.
Or, to use a sports metaphor, in soccer, the great goals are often scored when someone passes to the space that someone is running to, not to where he is.