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April 14th, 2022
It’s not a coincidence that cities pop up near the water, either on the coast or on rivers. Water provided humanity its first truly asymmetric leverage in terms of raw power. We need only consider the task of moving a 1 ton block of stone. Moving it over land is no easy feat, but get it on a boat and suddenly it’s thousands of times easier to move around.
This leverage of movement extends to our own selves. Before the invention of flying, it was often far faster to sail to the other side of a continent than to make the trek on land. And then beyond this leverage of water a la moving things, the movement of water itself can be used to generate enormous power, be it with hydroelectricity or even with a simple water wheel hooked up to a mill or a factory.
Recently, a new type of water has entered the arena of human leverage: it’s the digital realm. And the best way to see the similarity is to think about the visibility of a message. Before we harnessed electricity, messages had to physically move across land by the means of some kind of messenger. Then the telegraph was invented and the age of digital water began to drip into human society. And today we are awash in a flood of this asymmetric realm. Now a single person - with the right knowledge and know how - can build something from scratch this digital ocean, with very few resources, and if conditions are right, the creation can be leveraged to enormous benefit to the creator, and to others.
The modern tech companies are akin to the Dutch East India trading company of several centuries ago. But whereas enormous investment was required to create state-of-the-art sailing ships, that cost of leverage is comparatively minimal.
Framing the comparison yields a particularly delicious metaphor: How do you interact with this new type of water? In the digital age, do you sink? Or can you swim? Or better yet, have you begun building your own ship? Because unlike the watery realm of earth, the new digital water is infinite, and there’s no telling where one might be able to go.