Hello, Unrecognizable World
The Launch Post
|Cody Karutz||Oct 25, 2019|
There’s nothing I love more than suspending my disbelief when it comes to narrative. This likely comes from being a voracious young reader, when I couldn’t wait to rip open a new Michael Crichton or Dean Koontz book from my mom’s shelf. The pacing of a thriller let myself be swept in the story. Video games and film felt similar, I didn’t mind submitting to the illusion to feel like I could go anywhere. Especially since our family didn’t have the means to travel much. Illusion was how I could see the world.
After spending last month in the High Sierras, I was surprised by how flimsy the illusion of wilderness felt. I’ve spent a lot of time outside, both recreationally and professionally. As a rookie backcountry hunter, I spend a lot of time off-trail getting lost and following game tracks. Or as a previous guide for Big City Mountaineers, I would take inner city teens out backpacking for the first time. But I have to always shift what being “wild” means on the John Muir Trail or the Sierras at large, which can feel more like a highway than a series of remote trails.
Sure, I’m in the middle of nowhere but I just dug up someone else’s human feces. Backcountry illusion SHATTERED.
I didn’t go to the Sierras to feel wild. I went there to support my partner, who struggles with a neurological disorder that makes walking hard. We didn’t go out there to “thru hike” it like others or assimilate into the culture of huge mileage days. Our speed was just our speed: an overall average of one mile an hour. We were out there to be with each other, and to face what her disability means for both of our lives together.
Finishing the trail and emerging into Yosemite among the swarms of visitors brought overwhelming shock. Our one mile an hour pace quickly eroded from the chaos of park gift shops and parking spot battles. Ongoing California wildfires also brought power outages, and the lengthy gas lines in rural towns outside the park brought an apocalyptic reorientation to the frontcountry. We felt like tourists in an unfamiliar country.
With deep sadness and frustration, my mother once said to me, “I don’t recognize this world anymore.” Every generation likely feels similarly eventually. An inflection point is crossed in technology, politics, or globalization that creates this sort of dissociation from the world. It could happen in an instant, where you look at this pizza delivery robot in the e-face and panic with unfamiliarity.
Millenials are now handing over the cool keys to Gen Z, where LIT is cringey and Tik Tok has surpassed Snapchat in clout at high schools. VSCO girls rock Hydroflasks and eSports Arenas are the new LAN centers, but with Fortnite instead of Starcraft. This transition, which seemingly happened last month while I was pooping in the woods, reminds me that everything comes from something else.
There’s a post-it center stage on my desk that says:
Everything is Connected
I don’t know where I stole the words from, but they help me be okay with feeling left behind. I think back to my mother, and to older generations that did not grow up with the internet, only to remember how much harder this world must be for them. Teenagers that win millions of dollars competing in Fortnite whilst the American middle class largely erodes doesn’t make much sense to me, either.
It’s my job to understand how consumers change over time, and even I fail at managing it. The first time I used an Amazon Locker, I stood paralyzed at the kiosk trying to figure out how to unlock my package. After a few failed attempts at using the kiosk screen, I found a real human. When I approached the staff member for help, she scoffed at me and said, “Do you even own a smartphone?” Despite being a millenial, I couldn’t have felt older.
New stuff doesn’t come easy, but it’s easier if you remember it comes from old stuff. My research firm, Blue Trot Group, was founded on the idea that there needs to be a bridge. Consumers and users need bridges from what they used to know, to what they need to know with something new. Virtual reality is a great example. Devices like the Oculus Rift assault users with too much new stuff. New inputs, new viewing mechanics, new expectations for media content. I don’t have time for all that (even though it’s my job), and you certainly don’t either.
I do have hope. Like James Baldwin once said, I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. So I’m forced to be an optimist. It’s my hope that all this new stuff doesn’t just get built for the people that initially use (or fund or supply) it the most.
This essay series highlights my work and life in helping people understand the future. We’ll pick apart gadgets, objects and trends, look back to where they came from, and try to make some sense of a bigger societal picture.
It’ll probably be biased, flawed and messy. I’ll quote too much Michael Crichton and Aldo Leopold. I’ll critique Mark Zuckerberg and his dry toast. I’ll praise The Pokémon Company and The Hallmark Channel in how they have mastered the feels of change. But mostly, I’ll just try to make the world more recognizable by pointing to the past.
Like Leopold once wrote (I warned you!):
“How like fish we are: ready, nay, eager, to seize upon whatever new thing some wind of circumstance shakes down upon the river of time! ...Even so, I think there is some virtue in eagerness, whether its object prove true or false. How utterly dull would be a wholly prudent man, or trout, or world!”
If any of this sounds even remotely fun, let’s make like trout and shake down upon the river of time together. Also, please share with other fish that would like to join the swim:
WeWork and the Great Unicorn Delusion (The Atlantic)
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
James Baldwin on being black in America (YouTube)
Michael Crichton on the future (YouTube)
The Vietnam War (Netflix)
The Leftovers (HBO)
Missing Link (Hulu)
Fortnite (PC, Switch)
Untitled Goose Game (Switch)
Stardew Valley (Switch)