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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


The Black Swan

My men’s non-fiction reading group is currently reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan — a book I find fascinating and deeply annoying. This blog is not about the book itself, though, but rather one line in it. Taleb says in passing, "the world has changed too fast for our genetic makeup." That struck a chord, and made me think about my own experience of change. If you picture the 50s as a moment where many Americans wanted stability — absence of change — still there was some motion — in science, the start of the space race, and, especially, in the Civil Rights movement. It is as if a frozen river was just starting to flow — there were cracks in the ice, but grinding as the chunks resisted moving, letting go, giving way. Then in the 60s, from JFK’s election on, change became the keynote. But many viewed this as one Big Change — from older to younger, from one America to another — as if the Now Generation would sweep away the past and make everything right. To go back to the frozen river image, as if, once all the ice was gone, the river would peacefully flow forever.
       But smack in the middle of the 60s, 1965 in fact, Charles Moore proposed Moore’s Law — the idea that computing power would double every two years or so — as it has. So since then, the whole meaning of change has, well, changed. We don’t expect one change, we know that every year will bring new products, new technology, new forms of connection and transmission, which in turn will put pressure on formats such as newspapers, magazines, perhaps books, TV — on the classroom, on business, on how we wage war. We no longer have a river flowing in a safe channel, the whole landscape ripples, moves, and we have come to realize that this state of change is more permanent than temporary. Things never settle down, they just keep changing ever more rapidly.
      I do sometimes feel what Taleb says — that my almost physical need to slow the pace of change is out of step with the reality of the world we live in. I want to catch up, to make use of the new opportunities, to ride the new tide. And yet I wish there were a global "pause" button so we could rest a moment, consider, and then figure out how to plunge on. And that is not merely me getting old — I sometimes think we all need that — a pause to weigh change, not simply paddle to keep up with it.


  1. Gretchen Woelfle says:

    The 60s also brought in the flood tide of meditation and yoga which has since grown right along with computing power. And, of course, the Buddhists remind us that life is always and ever impermanent…. I’ve found meditation + new technology make for a nice balance in one’s life.