Delayed Gratification in an On Demand World – Lunch w/ TED

Says Joachim de Posada to little Johnny, “Johnny, I am going to leave you here with a marshmallow, for 15 minutes. If after I come back this marshmallow is here, you will get another one. So you will have two.”

As it turns out, those 15 minutes would help researchers accurately forecast the rest of Johnny’s career.

This study demonstrates one’s capacity to delay gratification at an early age and is well known in America.  However, Joachim de Posada wondered if the results were uniquely American.  America is a nation of always-on workaholics, perhaps the results (and the results of the results) were tainted by American culture and expectations.  He replicated the study across other cultures and traditions and discovered that not only were the results the same, but also the implications of the results.  It seems universally true that roughly 1/3 of the population is capable of delaying gratification at an early age and that those who demonstrate this capacity are almost always successful.  So the take-away seems clear: if we value success, then we should value delayed gratification.

Yet, our cultural geniuses are focused on building the technology to make ours an “On-Demand” world.  Do we have a problem here?

The value in delayed gratification isn’t what it sounds like – it’s not simply in eating a marshmallow 15 minutes later.  The value comes from the good work one does while delaying gratification – from what one earns while delaying gratification.   In other words, if Johnny had waited 15 minutes but had not been told to do so and was not given an additional marshmallow then Johnny was probably just wasting his time waiting to eat the marshmallow.  In this hypothetical, delayed gratification is useless.

I propose that the value of delayed gratification is in our use of the time where we delay gratification to better ourselves or grow our investment.  I further propose that the value of On Demand is that it can help us reduce or eliminate time where “delayed gratification” is simply a waste (such as in the hypothetical above).  Therefore, where On Demand technology helps us eliminate wasted time, it does not conflict with the value derived from delayed gratification.

Consider video On Demand.  The 30 minutes it takes one to drive to the video store, find, rent, and bring a movie home is probably not profitable for anything – it’s simply 30 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.  Video on demand helps one cut out the wasted trip to the movie store and gives one opportunity to immediately enjoy time that is valuable: watching a movie with friends or family.

On Demand technology that is dangerous is that technology that would take from us time or opportunity valuable for cultivating habits of self-responsibility, hard work, or the cultivation of some virtue.  Imagine a program that solved tough moral questions On Demand; one would plug a moral dilemma into the program and out would pop an answer.  “Should I steal from the rich to give to the poor?”  (computing… computing) “No.”  If one were to simply let this technology answer one’s toughest moral dilemmas without ever having thought through the dilemmas for oneself, it would have a devastating impact on one’s own moral life.  One would be morally immature and unequipped to operate well with others in community independent of one’s technological moral compass.

The place where On Demand technology crosses the line is pretty clear when one considers my hypothetical technological moral compass, but it’s less clear when it comes to technology like television On Demand in a hand-held device.  For example, this past weekend my little cousin watched television on his mom’s cell phone while the family was gathered for dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Would he have been better served if he had delayed the gratification he felt from watching television and, instead, taken dinner time to spend with mom, grandma, and great-grandma?  Perhaps.  He’s only 3 years old so perhaps distracting him with television was valuable for other reasons!

What do you think?  Do you think that delayed gratification and On Demand are incompatible?  Do you think my proposed metric for measuring the value of On Demand is fair and valid?  Do you have a metric of your own?  I’d love to hear your ideas! ‘

How to Start A Movement – Lunch w/ TED

In the cannon of great Western literature, extended, profound treatises have been written on the topic of leadership; Cicero’s On the Good Life or Machiavelli’s Prince come to mind.  This talk by Derek Sivers is not one of them.  Yet in 3 short minutes Sivers is able to lay some important groundwork for understanding leadership and give insights valuable to understanding the earliest steps of beginning a movement.

Initially, Sivers’ remarks seem obvious: 1) Leadership begins with a brave soul unafraid to take action, 2) followers join and give credibility to the leader, 3) eventually the movement will hit a tipping point and grow until reaching critical mass.  However, if we are honest with ourselves, I think we’ll admit that our human nature clouds our view when we are in positions of leadership.

Consider a time when you were the leader of something.  Now think about the first time that a new, energized, passionate person with a vision joined your movement.  Didn’t this person seem like a threat?  If you’re the shirtless guy dancing, getting comfortable with the attention and beginning to reap the rewards of being a unique visionary then another who didn’t do the hard and shameless work of attracting the crowd stands beside you to catch your wave, don’t you want that person to go away?

Our competitive human nature makes it difficult for us to open up our ideas and movements to others, we protect them as children, constantly wary of outside threats.  At the very least, we are tempted to make the new member know his or her place as a subservient to you or I – the leaders.  However, learn from this video and you’ll learn the secret to step 2 of beginning a movement: embrace new persons as equals and understand their role as the individual to show everyone else how to “follow.”

Sounds easier said than done, right? Perhaps, but it’s not hard to embrace your first followers and make them equals when you remember Sivers’ most important point: “leadership is over-glorified.”  The first follower plays a crucial role and you, as the leader, need to help that first follower fulfill his or her role.  If you’ve got an idea burning in your belly or you’re in the early stages of beginning a movement, keep that idea or movement at the fore of your mind – it’s all about your idea or movement.  It’s not about you, not about you “being a leader,” not about your success, it’s about your idea, your movement.  Said more precisely, a good leader is a servant to his followers, servant leadership being modeled by the greatest leader of all time Jesus Christ.

(HT: Dave Martina – thanks for sending this video my way!   If you’ve got a favorite TED talk, contact me using the “Contact Us” link above, select my name Dustin Steeve, and let me know about it.)

A Primer on Modern Slavery – Lunch w/TED

They are swayed by the promise of jobs in another city or even another country. Perhaps they are promised work in hotels, constructions jobs, or as nannies who “love to travel.”  They go off with the person who recruits them. When they try to leave, they are told they can’t go; they have a travel debt they must pay. They are warned that if they try to leave, their families back home will be harmed. They are forced against their will to work as prostitutes or perform backbreaking acts of physical labor. They are modern slaves. Continue reading A Primer on Modern Slavery – Lunch w/TED

We Should Go To Mars, Again – Lunch w/ TED

Planetary scientist Joel Levine believes that we should go to Mars and you should pay for it.

About 3/4ths of the way through his talk, Mr. Levine informs his audience that all he and his team need to launch this project is a check from NASA – from the American taxpayers.  I’m doing Mr. Levine the favor of bringing his “pitch” to you, the American taxpayer.  What do you think, should we fund his project?

It’s not an easy question to answer.  If one were to make a snap decision, it is likely the project would not get funded.  We’re in a down economy, millions of people are without jobs or healthcare, and the money could be used to fund all manner of projects, such as research into “green” technology, that would have immediate benefit to people in the United States.

However, America has always been different than the rest of the world in a significant way that ought to impact one’s decision concerning the Mars project.  We’re explorers.  From “manifest destiny” to the moon, we’re a nation of bright and ambitious people who scale the tallest mountains and dive to the deepest depths.  We fly kites in lightning storms, planes around the world, and shuttles into space.  All the while we make discoveries that expand everything from our technological capabilities to our ideas about human community.  If Mr. Levine is to be believed, discoveries on Mars could lead to greater understanding about the earliest days of life on Earth.

As a Christian, I believe that God has revealed himself, in part, through creation; Mars being no less a part of creation than earth.  While I don’t believe that we have a moral obligation to explore Mars, shouldn’t we at least give strong consideration to the opportunity to know God more by exploring this mostly unknown work of His hands?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – is Mr. Levine’s a project of discovery worth embarking on?  Is adventure still out there? ‘

The Placebo Effect and The Imagination- Lunch w/ TED

Apropos for April Fool’s Day, today’s Lunch with TED clip from a 2009 TEDMED features magician Eric Mead marveling at the effectiveness of placebos in medicine and demonstrating the power of imagination over reason. Be forewarned: this clip is not for the faint of heart. Continue reading The Placebo Effect and The Imagination- Lunch w/ TED

Bill Gates on Terrapower – Lunch w/ TED

Microsoft founder Bill Gates thinks we need to drive energy down to zero carbon emissions. Personally, I’m suspicious about the motivations and claims made by proponents of human-caused climate change theories. However, as a Christian I believe that we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation and, therefore, we should use wisely the resources that God has given us. In this talk, Mr. Gates introduces the idea of “terrapower” which would use nuclear “waste” to provide power for whole nations.

Mr. Gates’ challenge is inspiring. First of all, with Terrapower he is proposing a free market solution meaning that it empowers people to flourish in freedom to create and solve problems which will help their neighbors. Second, it speaks to the visionary, forward looking part of the enterprising spirit which enables us to simultaneously wonder at creation and dream about how we could better put it to use in a way that is both valuable to humanity and in greater harmony with God’s elaborately designed cosmos.

That being said, I have two criticisms of the talk.

My first criticism is that Mr. Gates seems to be operating under the assumption that energy should primarily come from a centralized source. Why not de-centralize energy production and use technology to allocate unused energy to sources where it is needed? What if 75% of homes and businesses provided 90% of their own energy?

For example, in California, every home owner should seriously consider adding solar panels to their homes. We have sun almost year round and the technology today allows panels to power homes while making it affordable enough for homeowners to install. One individual in the comments section of the video (at TED.com) suggested geothermal energy – another method of decentralizing energy production. The idea of decentralizing energy has the added benefit of naturally appealing to a demographic not often persuaded by “lefty” environmentalism: conservatives. After all, what good conservative isn’t interested in decentralizing power! Mr. Gates and his fellow innovators are missing opportunity for grassroots involvement and reform when they only consider highly centralized solutions.

My second criticism of the talk is pertaining to the remarks made against the climate skeptics. In no way is innovation such as Terrapower necessarily connected to belief in climate change theory. For his part, I thought Mr. Gates gave a reasonable response to a rather annoying question and he is to be commended. If Mr. Gates, and his allies of a more eccentric variety like Al Gore, wish to bring on board “climate skeptics” of an evangelical persuasion, such as myself, all they need to do is cease the demagoguery and point us in a direction of technologies that will help us reduce our carbon footprint without destroying our economy or relinquishing individual liberty to state control. Mr. Gates claimed that they needed hundreds of people/groups working on solutions to the energy problem – they are missing real opportunity for collaboration when they exclude climate skeptics.

Decentralizing Healthcare – Lunch w/ TED

Eric Dishman, healthcare researcher for Intel, wants us to take medicine back to the future.  Dishman wants us to envision medicine as it was practiced before 1787, before it was centralized in hospitals that departmentalized the body and its problems, but he wants us to do so while employing cutting edge technologies enabling us to capture real-time data leading to diagnoses of everything from dimension to the onset of more serious diseases.

Dishman’s talk is remarkable because it exemplifies the kind of innovative thinking that people and companies in free markets are capable of; I’ll be you didn’t even know Intel, a computer chip company, had a full time paid position for someone like Dishman.

It is remarkable because Dishman, using the technology available to us, is opening up doors and challenging long held assumptions about medical care.  In the United Staes, we’ve been immersed in “healthcare” talk for over a year yet who has ever suggested that centralized medicine vis-a-vis hospitals might be responsible for some of our present difficulties?

Finally, it is remarkable because it might be the last of its kind.  TED talks do not move politicians to innovation;   government bureaucracy is a slow moving animal which does not adapt to change.  Ideas like these are tested, proved, and implemented by entrepreneurs in the free market.  Many ideas and entrepreneurial endeavors will fail, but some will succeed and their success will help millions.  If the President and Congress have their way, the free market will no longer have means and opportunity to affect change in healthcare; that power will belong to the government.  Imagine Dishman making his case before a government committee filled with politicians in kahootz with “Big Hospital” lobbyists.  Presently, bad medicine can fail.  Soon, it will receive permanent life support via American tax dollars.

Today I’m giving Evangelical Outpost readers a double-whammy on healthcare.  In my other essay, I argue how the current healthcare debate defies common sense.  Now, I want to present a positive vision for reform.  Imagine a world where ideas like Mr. Dishman’s were implemented; where doctors received all their patients medical data straight to their iPad before arriving at the patient’s home for a check-up; where patients paid only for what they needed, and preventative medicine meant scheduling a monthly appointment in ones own home.  Technology has forever altered the cost/profit structure of the music industry – millions of people download billions of songs and they pay much less than ever before.  Who’s to say that the same couldn’t happen with healthcare?

Reform is needed certainly!  But before we pull the lever to do the same as old Europe has done, let’s first see if we can’t imagine and implement a new world of medicine.  America is different, she is exceptional, full of enterprising people and big ideas that continue to inspire the world.  On this issue of great importance, let us not conform so quickly when the Dishman’s of the world have ideas that merit our attention and action; let us lead and be remarkable for our faith in ourselves and the values that have made us a nation charitable, strong, free, and prosperous. ‘

The Suprising Spread of “Idol” TV in the Middle East- Lunch w/TED

Reality TV in the United States has a poor reputation. And frankly, it often deserves it. After all, some of this year’s biggest reality hits include raunchy, mindless fare like “Jersey Shore,” “The Real Housewives” franchise, and “The Hills.” As for less smutty, more family-friendly shows like “The Biggest Loser” or “American Idol,” well, they’re not exactly high art. Continue reading The Suprising Spread of “Idol” TV in the Middle East- Lunch w/TED

David Cameron on The Next Age of Government – Lunch w/ TED

If there’s one thing that liberals and conservatives can agree on it is this: that an informed citizenry is both necessary and beneficial to the growth and flourishing of a democratic nation.

This week’s Lunch with TED features David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party in the United Kingdom and also likely the next Prime Minister.  Cameron believes, I think rightly, that the modern world is entering into a new age – the “Information Age.”  As with onset of the Industrial Age from whence we are coming, this new Information Age will bring about radical changes in the way we live our lives and self-govern as individuals and as societies.

As a conservative, Cameron believes at least two things to be true: First, that people, when given choice and power, will create for themselves the strongest and best societies.  Second, that governments should operate “with the grain of human nature,” that is to say that they should treat people as they are versus using government power to make them as you think they should be.  The Information Age, with its ability to quickly and easily connect people to one another and the information necessary to make informed decisions, is bringing about a renaissance in government where those who adhere to the aforementioned truths will be empowered to do the most good.

We are moving from a age of centralized bureaucracy to one where “genuine people power is possible,” Cameron contends.  Here in the United States, Cameron’s theory finds substantial support in President Obama’s use of the internet to raise money and disseminate information during his campaign.  Then candidate Obama was able to mobilize thousands of supporters and raise hundreds of millions of dollars in no small part due to his use of web technology to connect people to important information about him, his policy stances, and means by which people could quickly and easily contribute to his campaign.  Where pre-internet campaigns were fueled by centralized special interest groups donating big money and big manpower, campaigns in the Information Age will be fueled by millions of small time contributions of manpower and money coordinated by an information infrastructure more powerful than any in human history.

With the opportunities born of the internet and the rise of the Information Age, Cameron hopes to direct our attention to the question of how we can make the world a better place without spending more money.  This is an admirable and worthy problem to solve and you should watch Cameron’s talk to hear some of his great ideas about strategies for solving that problem.  However, I fear that Cameron might have missed an even bigger problem because he’s made a big assumption.

Cameron’s big assumption, and the assumption of many in the new media, is that information, or data, equals knowledge.  To memorize facts is to be educated and to be able to recall facts from across educational disciplines, from science to literature, is to be “well-rounded.”  If that is true, then “organizing the world’s data” and making it readily accessible and transparent to all will make widespread education on any topic possible; all people need to do is access the data and they will be educated to make informed decisions.  However, having the facts and knowing what to do with them are entirely different things.

If “people power” is to truly be the source and means of self-government for societies of tomorrow, then the people need more than just the facts, they need the capacity of discernment so that they might see the facts and know what is good, noble, and just.  Education, then, in this Information Age, must be about more than just “the facts;” teachers must do more than teach “strategies” for memorizing, or worse, searching for data.  If we are to educate people for self-government, then in addition to making information readily available, we must also emphasize the acquisition of those things that cannot be measured in data points such as wisdom, charity, grace, truth, and goodness.

I recommend starting with the Republic and the book of Proverbs. ‘

J.J. Abrams on Story, Technology, and “Mystery Boxes” – Lunch w/ TED

Our “Lunch with TED” feature is back—and here to stay. (For the uninitiated, see Dustin’s original TED post here.) To commemorate this momentous occasion (and, frankly, the return of Lost, now in its sixth season) I chose to highlight a TED Talk by one of my favorite filmmakers—J.J. Abrams, a producer of hit films and TV shows including Lost, Alias, Fringe, Cloverfield, Mission Impossible III, and Star Trek.

In this TED Talk filmed in 2007, Abrams explores the relationships between mystery, story, creativity, and technology. In stories, he explains, the withholding of information is often more interesting than the revealing of it. Mystery and possibility tantalize us and keeps us coming back for more.

This, in part, explains my household’s addiction to his television shows. After all, half the fun for fans of shows like Lost or Fringe is spending spare moments between episodes puzzling over what happened in the previous show and speculating about what’s coming next. Shows like these have the singular ability to not only provide entertainment, but wonder—a rare thing in a rapidly disenchanting cultural landscape.

Our ever-evolving technology is a great boon in as much is it helps to tell stories that create wonder. Though we often over-consume and abuse the gifts of technology (Is there ever a moment when our devices cease their whirring?), its rapid evolution is a gift for storytellers in a variety of mediums. It has leveled the playing field so that essentially anyone with creativity and gumption can easily produce quality work.

There is no excuse for you, then, young artist. In the words of J.J. Abrams, “Go make your movie!” ‘