April 06, 2022

Michell Zappa on how technology evolves, scouting what’s emerging, assessing technologies, and designing useful future infographics (Ep16)

“Technology is not just the devices we use, but it’s how we do things. It’s so much more than just what’s being built, put in boxes, and sold to us. It is all of these deeply inherent aspects of how we do things as a species.”

– Michell Zappa

Tim O'Reilly

About Michel Zappa
Michell Zappa is a technology futurist, information designer and founder of Envisioning, a technology foresight institute. His work aims to illustrate the implications of accelerating change and facilitate a higher level of awareness about our relationship to technology. He is a Singularity University expert in Emerging Technology & Human Behavior and is responsible for the technology thinking module at THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam.
Website: envisioning.io

Facebook: Michell Zappa

LinkedIn: Michell Zappa

What you will learn

  • How to keep at the edge of future technology (01:24)
  • Who are some authors to read on human relationships with technology (06:13)
  • Where is technological innovation actually happening (09:17)
  • What is a good knowledge management methodology when working with a team (13:15)
  • Is a new advance going to set the direction of technology? (17:05)
  • Why looking out for bottlenecks is a good filter for information (20:42)
  • How to pull pieces of information to form a big picture (26:01)
  • Why build for your audience (30:20)
  • What is the process to then take all this data, insight, perspective, and lay that out on a page? (35:06)
  • Why be wary of taxonomies (37:17)
  • How to keep across extraordinary technological changes (39:46)

Episode resources

Episode images



Ross Dawson: Michell, wonderful to be talking to you.

Michel Zappa: Well, thanks, Ross for having me.

Ross: As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been looking at the edge of technology, and the edge of the future, and keeping across all sorts of change, how do you do it? What’s the starting point for you?

Michell: Well, I got an early start by being interested in this particular intersection between imagination, the future, and technology by spending a lot of time watching Star Trek The Next Generation as a kid. That coupled with internet forums where they would discuss how the actual engines and everything in the series worked, just tuned my brain and my interest into figuring out that, hey, perhaps new technology is possible, and perhaps those new technologies will shape the future in unexpected ways, and perhaps by writing science fiction, we can anticipate part of how that will unfold.
That was always part of my very personal interest. Professionally, I ended up doing things adjacent to this, but never directly related to it until about a decade ago, I decided to drop everything and focus on technology futures, which is how those first couple of infographics came about, and they were just this attempt at, I guess, distilling what I saw going on both in the short term in terms of which are the fields of technology that are being worked on right now but as well as coupling that with some sort of longer-term thinking. People like Kurt Weill and Kevin Kelly, who have a particular view on how the future might unfold, given these technologies, I tried coupling their long term views, which highly inspired me with a short term view of what’s actually going on now and turning that into these digestible, overviewable infographics with a finger on the pulse of what I saw going on in technology, and how that could unfold in the near future. I hope that answered your question.

Ross: Yes. For those who haven’t seen Michel’s work, there will be links in the show notes to some of his wonderful infographics. Before we dig into the infographics, part of this is just keeping across change, what’s your daily routine? What sources do you go to? What do you look for? How do you assess whether something is interesting or not? What’s that process of being able to just scan for, look for, uncover, or bookmark information?

Michell: That’s a great question. What works for me is a mix between the immediate gadget news and the Twitter view of what’s happening in technology. I feel that’s a valuable way of understanding how the ecosystem is shaping up. In other words, who are being invested in, which gadgets are coming out, which features are being put out there by consumer technology companies, that is a big aspect of what I keep track of. Things like The Verge, IEEE, Spectrum, MIT Tech review, Wired, I guess all of these have a good approximation or sort of an up-to-date view of what’s happening mostly on the consumer side, which gives you a good understanding into what’s happening on the industrial or even public-facing side of technological development. But that needs to be coupled with this sort of higher-level understanding of what technology is.
We don’t have to go all the way back to Heidegger but it helps to have a broader picture. That technology is not just the devices we use, but it’s how we do things. How we interface with nature is technology. It’s so much more than just what’s being built, put in boxes, and sold to us, it is all of these deeply inherent aspects of how we do things as a species. All of these are technological, and having that view… and several authors do a great job explaining that, much better than I ever could write here, but having that sort of big picture view, coupled with a close understanding to what people are actually using, that has always been my mix.
I feel there are many academics who have a much better understanding of the big picture than I ever could, yet, they might not be that close to which companies are being invested in, which markets are shaping up, and I think that interplay is key to our approach, or at least my personal approach.

Ross: You talked about this framing of how we think about technology, or the human’s relationship with technology, who are the authors? Who would you point to? What can we pull out from their framing of that?

Michell: Immediately, what comes to mind is Ursula Franklin and “The Real World of Technology”, and someone like Kevin Kelly, who talks about it in “The Inevitable” and “What Technology Wants”. What I took away from these two books, for example, is this view that technology is almost an autonomous system. It is built by us, it is consumed by us, it is designed by us in every way. But in effect, it has its own direction, it has its own agency, and we cannot attribute decisions to it. But still, it unfolds in a very predictable way. Kevin Kelley sums it up in terms of it becomes more complex, it becomes more affordable, it becomes faster, it has these certainties in the way that it unfolds.
What I think these authors do a good job with is putting the devices and the gadgets into the context of our lived experience. Someone else who says it very well, Langdon Winner talks about technological somnambulism; technological somnambulism is this misconception that we can somehow put the technology down, or rather we can pick a technology up and then we can put it back down again, and we will remain unchanged, that is somnambulism, that is a fallacy, that is not true because the technology in knowing that it exists, let alone having used it has already shaped us, it has already changed us.
We’re often sleepwalking when we use technologies because we don’t truly appreciate how much it is actually affecting us. Amish do a great job to sum this up, the Luddite approach to technology; of course, it meant something else when they came about, but the way we look at it today, which is taking a few steps back with regards to new technology, and what the Amish and a few other very localized cultures have been able to do is collectively before accepting technology into your society, they will extensively evaluate it, they will weigh the pros and cons, and they will consider the implementation that is best for that particular use case. The way they approach having phones, at least when I read about it was having a communal phone in the village as opposed to everyone having a smartphone or even a mobile phone or even a phone phone in their house or pocket. I think that sort of measured approach is something that’s sorely missing.

Ross: For example, When you see news of some technological advance, you’re thinking about it in terms of this life as it were, of the technology, how that might shape us as humans, or how we might respond to it? What are the things which you are thinking about when you identify some interesting or meaningful technological touchpoint?

Michell: There are at least three perspectives through which we can look at any technology, fourth if we include academia; But the three ones that I want to talk about are the public sector, the private sector, and consumers because any technology will affect those four areas. Academia, in terms of technology, is applied science, it happens, largely speaking in universities and R&D Labs. Actual technological innovation arguably doesn’t happen so much in the private sector, although it’s applied to the private sector, which leads to consumer choices.
From that perspective, from what’s being purchased, what’s being used, which SaaS companies are thriving, and which gadget makers are doing well this quarter. From the perspective of the private sector and consumers, it’s important to keep track of, but it’s the least interesting of where actual innovation happens. Actual innovation happens in the public sector, and it’s governments; they have the longitudinal benefit, they stand to win the most from a long-term approach to technology. So often, we just lose track of how technology actually happens.
Mariana Mazzucato in “The Entrepreneurial State” talks about if you break down something like the smartphone into its core components, the GPS, the internet, the touchscreen, etc. eight out of 10 of those were made by the public sector, specifically DARPA, and the US military had a disproportionate role in the features set of smartphones, for example. But the general principle is true everywhere, where the public sector oftentimes carries all the risk of investing in new technologies, whereas the private sector gets all the upside and all the benefits when a technology actually thrives.
Again, numerous examples of this, and this is different on a per-country basis, it’s difficult to generalize around, she talks about it mostly around the US, which is fair, because that’s where most technological development happens, at least from my perspective, or that which I can see and read. Having this three-part or four-part view of okay, so technology affects the consumers very differently than they do companies, than they do to the public sector, I think just having that pronged approach to be able to look at them differently and see how they engage with one another, which is to say, look outside corporate innovation for where the actual invention will happen.

Ross: It sounds like part of this is being able to assess both the genesis of and also the impact of technologies. Let’s come back to day-by-day. You’ve come across, you’ve encountered in your studies or reading something which is interesting, what do you do with that? Do you make a note of that? Do you put it in a database? Do you assess that on any scale? How do you then take this significant news about technology development and incorporate that into your thinking?

Michell: There are a few ways to go about that. On a personal level, I’ve tried every knowledge management tool out there. There are a few that I keep coming back to, which work because they’re ubiquitous and easy to feed things into. I guess that’s part of the scope of the program, so on a personal note, I use Things extensively as what I would call my personal operating system. Things is mostly a Mac and iOS app and it does a wonderful job managing tasks and task-oriented knowledge very easily and in a quick manner. What happens after Things is where Things get more interesting because if there’s something that I’m looking at which I would consider a technology, then that quickly falls into a workstream that we’ve employed at envisioning, an internal way of looking at incoming links and assessing whether there are new technologies that should be tracked and if they should be tracked, then how do we track them?
There’s an intermediary step here, where I share this particular link with the research team. Then we have our methodology or approach to determining whether this is a technology, if it is a technology, then which technologies does it depend on? Is it an application of an underlying technology or is it something more? Or is it an enabling technology that will give rise to other applications? There are a few ways that we break it down into a taxonomy of technologies. Then there’s this concrete component where we track or add this technology to our database. Our database is just comprised of a web interface and the process, the process itself determines what is and what isn’t, what goes in and what doesn’t go in, what type of metadata we should add, etc., that’s the process. Then the actual tool is a web-based database that we built for ourselves, which is used to publish most of our work nowadays.
What we have is an index of about 1500 different technologies. Some of them are enabling technologies, others are applications. What they have in common is they’re all being tracked, measured, and assessed over time. We’ll track things like their technology readiness level, or TRL. It’s a score from one to nine, which will tell you how mature an individual technology is, that’s part of the assessment we do when things go into the database. Another valuable point to bring up is we try assessing these technologies from a few different perspectives as often as possible.
In another research project that we’re working on, we have this ongoing research around technologies for sustainable development, together with the German Corporation for International Collaboration of the government, and what we do with them is we look at the set of technologies around sustainable development, but the emphasis is on measuring them. We both describe them as we do another project, we will also measure that. We talk about to which degree could this technology cause a gender imbalance? In other words, is it hindering? Or is it fostering gender neutrality? We assess that through a series of sub-questions. We do the same thing for other indicators. At the end, what we’re trying to achieve with this is to create a qualitative picture of what’s happening in tech, but also a quantitative measure of it.

Ross: To take an example, I presume you’re tracking the development of augmented reality glasses. Let’s say there’s a technological advance, or a new product, or something which pushes out where we are in the field, or points the directions on who might win in that space, how do you then incorporate that into your thinking about directions?

Michell: One way to look at it is in terms of the inevitabilities. To go back a little bit to Kevin Kelly’s idea of technology is already happening, and we can’t really control it, there’s a degree where AR is an inevitability, it’s been discussed so extensively. It’s part of our sight, gaze to such a degree, that it’s really difficult to imagine it going away. But a way you measure it or the way you keep track of it, one way is to look at the milestones around the technology. Whenever Apple releases their glasses will be a milestone, the same way that when Google Glass came about a decade ago, despite not being AR, that too, was a milestone.
What Facebook released a couple of days ago, arguably is one of those milestones with the robot integration, although that too is far from being AR. That’s just Facebook being creepy. But it’s moving in the general direction of how do you miniaturize batteries, camera, tech, screen display technology, all of that is happening, and all of that is being worked on by numerous startups and big companies alike because they strongly suspect that that will be the next mobile. The same way mobile and then smartphones became the de facto way of interfacing with the web, possibly AR will be the next one. It’s self-fulfilling in some respect and we keep getting these milestones of it.

Ross: You pointed to miniaturization there, does that mean that you specifically look at miniaturization because that might feed into these kinds of consumer applications?

Michell: Yes, absolutely. Technologies are fundamentally digital technology at least, we’re not talking biotech, we’re not talking nanotech. But if we talk sort of digital technologies, and consumer devices, and electronics, if we sort of contain that scope, then what you’ll realize is most technologies are more similar than they are different. Most technologies will have a power system, be it the battery pack or because they’re plugged into a wall, most technologies will have an input and an output display, will have an LCD, computer will have ports, every technology has those basic components.
The point I’m trying to make is on each one of those components front, there are miniaturization efforts happening, and there’s also replacement happening. In other words, the glasses need a power system, whether that power system is wirelessly driven because we have wireless power, which isn’t really here yet, or whether you use a battery. If you use a battery, then which battery technology it uses? Lithium-ion, or is it graphene powered? Those sub choices, it’s where things get really interesting. That’s where we see miniaturization and other longitudinal trends happening. In other words, if you’re designing an AR system, the bottlenecks or the constraints will be known fairly early in the process. It’s going to be latency, it’s going to be wait, it’s going to be durability, etc. These are known upfront. Then what you spend decades and decades doing is optimizing for those constraints.

Ross: You’re then thinking in terms of bottlenecks, you’re identifying what the bottlenecks are, and what are the things that might transcend them, that’s something you’re scanning for, or looking for, is it?

Michell: That’s something we’re increasingly doing, yes. What we’ve done historically, is we’ve been able to identify new technological applications. We will scout these by looking at science fiction, by looking at reports, even trends, we scout this broadly to look at which are the new applications or use cases for the technologies that we see on the horizon. What we’re adding to that mix is this systematic view of these technological applications and especially isolating what’s hindering their development right now so we can call them bottlenecks, or we can call them milestones, depending on your perspective, because before you reach it, it’s a bottleneck but after you’ve passed it, it became a milestone.
We’re looking at these indicators, ideally, over time, as one of the functions of looking at emerging technology as a whole. In other words, anticipating a future scenario, or anticipating a future application is fairly easy. I’m not saying sci-fi authors do a poor job, they do an amazing job and they’re able to do that even without a scientific backing. They’re imaginative and they can figure out or anticipate how we might use technologies in the future. But then it’s the engineer’s job, so to speak, to figure out how to achieve that and how to build it. That’s where the bottlenecks with the milestones come into the picture.
That’s part of what we’re adding to our research approach is very much the ability to, okay, so between where I am now and where I want to end up, what’s hindering me? What’s stopping? You can treat it differently because one thing is how are you hindered by physics, by science, or by the economy at large. Right now, microprocessors are unavailable, because of supply chain shortages, you’re out of control, no card manufacturer controls that part of the supply chain, therefore, they’re out of luck. That’s one perspective on the bottleneck.
Another perspective of the bottleneck is sort of intern. We could purchase this company, or we could purchase this particular technology, or we could license it, etc., that would be a different type of bottleneck. Getting too ahead of myself, I think that’s part of how we’re trying to break down the turning technological futures into reality aspect.

Ross: Does this mean that in a way, rather than passively seeing information come in, you’re proactively looking for things that will fulfill certain criteria as addressing bottlenecks or meeting potential milestones on technology journeys that you’ve mapped out?

Michell: This might bump into foundation territory, where you’re anticipating and predicting. We took a step away from prediction early on in the company’s history, so to speak, and decided to focus on what’s actually there, so how ready is something right now as opposed to when might we see it. In terms of your question, that’s a likely outcome as in once we start looking at the bottlenecks, and once we start having a better grasp of, let’s call it the underlying issues that haven’t been addressed yet, or that haven’t been figured out yet, or the solutions we haven’t found yet, then once that’s part of the methodology and the research approach, then arguably, we’ll start looking for ways to address them because more often than not, large swaths of the industry are facing the same issue.
Again, going back to the microprocessors today, and the supply chain issue, for everything from cars to smart fridges, everyone’s stuck, because they don’t have computers to put into their headrests, literally. They’re having to re-engineer vehicles, and of course, every other IoT device out there to consider having less processors now that they’re not as ubiquitous as we thought. Looking at bottlenecks is a way to better understand the dependencies and the interconnectedness of these different developments.

Ross: Soon we’ll get to hear your process for creating your wonderful infographics, but first of all, just coming back to sense-making. We talked about this a little bit earlier, in terms of seeing that macro picture. We have many signals, whether those just come in, or we’re looking for them, and we’re trying to get some sense of it, how is it that you in your own mind or in terms of laying that out in whatever form, pull together the pieces into something which is this bigger perspective on whatever the domain is that you’re looking at?

Michell: The short answer would be because I keep doing it. There’s no way to do it completely. Every time that we’ve attempted to document what I call technological ecosystem, every attempt to build a database, or to build a technology graph, every step that I’ve taken at this problem over at least the last decade, arguably longer than that, every attempt has been building towards the next attempt. In other words, I’m not trying to replicate Wikipedia; Wikipedia probably has a comprehensive view of “all technologies” and it’s not navigable in terms of you cannot isolate just innovation and invention, within the scope of Wikipedia; you will encounter people, places, fantasy realms, etc. Whereas what we’ve been trying to scope out, has always been tightly defined as technology, and then how you define technology, of course, things get tricky once again.
What has worked so far is that we keep doing it or that I keep doing it. There’s a fine line between me and the company. But the point is, personally, that’s always been a strong driver and a strong interest of making sense of the big picture. I’m heavily biased in terms of I grew up on a certain set of technologies, I grew up with opening and closing and rebuilding my personal computer, replacing the CPU from 386 to 486, replacing the hard disk drive, I grew up with that framework, I grew up programming HTML, that’s how I made my first book, my understanding of technology is directed in terms of certain branches.
I know nothing of biotech, I know nothing of materials, I know nothing of chemistry, whereas you need PhDs to even start scratching the surface of what’s emerging, or what’s new, or what’s cutting edge in those spaces. What I’ve been trying to make, though, despite those biases, that I’ve been trying to achieve is this big picture of how they all interconnect, whether it’s because of their dependencies. If you were to restart again, with a wheel, and fire, would you end up where we are now? To do that sort of thought exercise, or to look at those relationships over time, I’m trying to bring that approach… let’s put it differently, I’m trying to build a map. Right now, parts of the map are known, and usually, you know your bit of the map really well but everything else lies in shadows.
If you are a front-end developer, you will probably know very little about biotechnology. There’s no reason why you should have spent any time in your formative years learning about biotech, or materials, or energy technology for that matter just because you work in tech, so to speak. What we’re trying to do is to build that map, because there is no boundary between HTML, which is hypertext technology, there’s no boundary between that and material sciences, they’re just disconnected by a couple of steps on a graph. Whether you can finalize that or actually define those boundaries remains to be seen, but what’s been working is we just haven’t stopped trying.

Ross: That does take us to the infographics, not the whole map but these elements of it. I hope all my readers will have either already seen or will see some of your infographics but whether we’re going back from the early ones or to what you’re doing now, what is the process? How do you start? What is the way in which you build one of your visualizations of a technology space or a space?

Michell: The leading question is always who is this for? What worked with infographics of 2011-2012, when there was much more optimism and much less development on some of these fronts, what works there is that the big picture was still felt fairly manageable, it felt as if it was bounded. There was not a ton of things happening outside of those technologies, so to speak, that was the impression. Of course, looking back a decade later, I realize how wrong I was and how many things we’re missing on that map. Things like crypto, things like drones, and so many others were simply not part of the scope when I was looking at it during the research in 2010, to the launch in 2011.
That’s where the biggest learnings are, it is to see what was actually missing. Being right isn’t half as interesting as being wrong in a few terms but we can zoom into that as well. But going back to your question, instead of how to go about building a complete overview or big picture perspective, who it’s for matters a lot. Those particular representations or infographics were for a general audience who’s interested in technology at large, enthusiastic about it, but might not know what lies beyond their particular fields. To that effect, they struck a nerve, and they found an audience for that.
Where we’ve, of course, been pivoting towards is to zoom into different fields, industries, sectors, parts of the economy. That is for a very different audience. That’s for someone who needs to pick between two technological solutions or even two pathways of investing on should we do solid-state batteries or should we try figuring out; the specifics of it is where, of course, things get really interesting, but they’re very different audiences. Going back to your question once again, once you know, who your audience is, and once you’ve decided who you’re designing for, the next phase is always then what’s the available data? Are we looking at this from a perspective of giving the audience a better view of what’s going to be likely 10, 20, 30 years from now? That will be one intersection of the technologies where you’re looking at low levels of readiness, and high levels of speculation.
That will, of course, result in a very, very different view than if you’re looking at a case what’s available for my supply chain next month? I don’t think we’d be the right people to ask for that latter question but we’ll often find ourselves halfway between those extremes. There are organizations who are great at identifying what you should do right now; but if you take that horizon one into horizon two, and three, what we’ve been trying to do, and the way we present our infographics is all about showing what’s possible, showing what’s next, showing what’s further down the horizon. Sometimes those decisions will affect people who have already left the organization by the time it happens, which is this perennial challenge of ours. Because the actual effect of the thing we’re doing now happens much further down the road. It’s a challenge to bring that back into the present and justify that participation.

Ross: Is this part of timelines and dependencies?

Michell: Absolutely. We’re figuring out the best way to track that. The dependencies is one way to look at the bottleneck approach or seeing, okay, so if we invest in this particular set of technologies, where are we likely to end up? That dependency approach is part of how clients actually use the research once it’s in. The time timeline approach, I think that’s trickier. We track things like technology readiness level over time. Yet, it’s such a slow-moving target, that it borders on not being that useful. We’re figuring out what the best approach to actually predicting progress is, and tracking readiness over time is one of those indicators.

Ross: There are designs; you are a designer, I suppose, that makes it easier for you, but what is the process to then take all this data, insight, perspective, and lay that out on a page?

Michell: Part of the challenge is always defining the boundaries. Similar to knowing who the audience is, the other side of that challenge is to find the boundaries of what’s useful. That becomes almost an editorial challenge, where determining, say we’re looking at the future of water treatment, so we’re looking at technologies that are likely to have a positive effect on how we filter, distribute, and manage water. Once you start zooming in on that, it becomes very important to understand what the boundaries of the research are. I think therein lies the challenge, because technologies, oftentimes jump from one category to the next, they’ll jump from one industry to another industry, with no respect for which companies are working in that space. That’s not how technology operates.
The point I’m trying to make is going back through the water example, there are probably adjacencies, there are probably technologies that are next to the ones that we’re looking at right now, which might be potential suitors to address that underlying issue of filtering water, distributing water, etc. Knowing where to draw the boundary becomes the key challenge in any one of these exercises, both for how to scope the research as well as how to present it. Because once we’re working with said company who wants to look into water for treatment, making the case for like, Oh, check out this weird new material that’s being used to soak up oils but it might be useful to filtering water, making that connection is an editorial challenge, it’s a research challenge, sometimes it’s a relationship challenge, where you have to convince the stakeholder on the other side to actually have a look at that because it could be useful. Going back to your design question, defining the boundaries of what you’re looking at is key.

Ross: So boundaries and adjacencies; and the boundaries, I suppose, it comes back to this taxonomy, or a structure?

Michell: It does. At the same time, I’m wary of taxonomies. I’m not an ontological expert at all, this will be very superficial, but my understanding of taxonomy is that they’re always going to be applied afterward. As in nature, it doesn’t adhere to any taxonomies. There are no boundaries in nature, there’s no physics, there’s no chemistry, there’s no biology in nature, there’s just nature, and nature natures, that’s how the universe happens. Every time we define a boundary, it’s reductive, but it’s also useful but I’m increasingly wary of boundaries.
In one of these experiments that we’ve been looking at, I think I referred to it earlier, the technology graph is this approach where we’re trying to look at the relationship between “all technologies”. The first thing that we throw out the window was the areas, the domains, or the fields, whatever you want to call it because they are applied afterward. When a technology is being built, it depends on other technologies. To have the carburetor, you first need to invent gasoline, then you need to invent motor, then the carburetor, then the actual automobile, all these dependencies do not respect fields. The carburetor doesn’t care that we would call it mobility 100 years later, and it’s not a mobility technology, per se.
Going back to the taxonomy question, we are very much trying to find definitive definitions, finite definitions to these, whether they’re enabling technologies which means they give rise to several others, or whether they’re applications which is sort of the end of the process. Once you have an application, you don’t really do anything else, technologically with that. We are trying to define that, and at the same time, it might be an effort that is impossible, it remains to be tested.

Ross: Yes, it’s part of that framework. Wrapping up, you’re living in this space and keeping across the edge of technological change, do you have any advice, generalized advice, around how to be able to keep across extraordinary change, and to help make sense of that?

Michell: There are a few ways to answer that question. There are truths that have been here for longer than we have. That’s one way to soothe the anxiety of a future shot. In other words, if we feel that the world is speeding up, and most people I talked to feel that way, I’ve conducted surveys on this and I know that 80% of people I talked to will feel as if the world is speeding up, and those 20% percent are very interesting in their own right. But going back to your question, there are truths, there are facts, there are certainties, there are aspects of reality that have been here longer than we have.
For some people, religion occupies that space. Because some religions do a wonderful job explaining the big picture in a way that puts us into perspective, and in a way that we do not feel as if we are solely responsible for making the whole thing work, which is a little bit of how the postmodern condition… In so many ways, we feel very responsible for the state of affairs, and that’s true, we are responsible for the climate emergency and what have you, and there are sort of longer truths that are also true, that we can fall back too which doesn’t have to be through religion, that’s just one pathway, it’s not my pathway but I think it’s a very, very valid pathway for so many people, and other ways to learn about the longer truths of how and why we’re here, that helps soothe future shock, because the new will keep happening, that’s not going to stop, the exponentials will keep applying the amount of things we can get away with online and things that are happening online, and that’s not going to slow down.
It hasn’t been slowing down, and the only way to slow that down is to step out of it. To simply not be on “TikTok”. I think having that longer perspective really helps. A system that has always worked for me, it’s just making notes for myself. Everyone has their own note-taking method. Some people journal in the morning; some people prefer paper over digital. I have my own preference, and I think just acting in that space, just practicing note-taking, brings coherence to the challenge of our daily life, so I would highly recommend that.

Ross: Fantastic. Thank you so much for your insights and time, Michel, it has been really valuable, really enjoyed it.

Michell: Thank you so much Ross for the invitation, and hope to see more of you soon.

Join community founder Ross Dawson and other pioneers to:

  • Amplify yourself with AI
  • Discover leading-edge techniques
  • Collaborate and learn with your peers

“A how-to for turning a surplus of information into expertise, insight, and better decisions.”

Nir Eyal

Bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable

Thriving on Overload offers the five best ways to manage our information-drenched world. 

Fast Company

11 of the best technology books for summer 2022

“If you read only one business book this year, make it Thriving on Overload.”

Nick Abrahams

Global Co-leader, Digital Transformation Practice, Norton Rose Fulbright

“A must read for leaders of today and tomorrow.”

Mark Bonchek

Founder and Chief Epiphany Officer, Shift Thinking

“If you’ve ever wondered where to start to prioritize your life, you must buy this book!”

Joyce Gioia

CEO, The Herman Group of Companies and Author, Experience Rules

“A timely and important book for managers and executives looking to make sense of the ever-increasing information deluge.”

Sangeet Paul Choudary

Founder, Platformation Labs and Author, Platform Revolution

“This must-read book shares the pragmatic secrets of how to overcome being overwhelmed and how to turn information into an unfair advantage.”

R "Ray" Wang

CEO, Constellation Research and author, Everybody Wants to Rule the World

“An amazing compendium that can help even the most organised and fastidious person to improve their thinking and processes.”

Justin Baird

Chief Technology Office, APAC, Microsoft

Ross Dawson

Futurist, keynote speaker, author and host of Thriving on Overload.

Discover his blog, other books, frameworks, futurist resources and more.