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Book Review: Abundance—A Must Read for Any Futurist

Authors Peter H. Diamandis and Steve Kotler have created just about the perfect handbook when it comes to envisioning a technically advanced, democratic and thriving society. Written in 2012, this book is still an important read for anyone who’s interested in a technical future where humanity finally rises above the mire it has been tethered to for millennia.

Much can be said about the book, but there are two aspects that put Abundance at the top of my recommended reading list. First, Diamandis starts out by addressing the most obvious elephant in the room when it comes to hindering progress: our Cognitive Biases. We tend to be negative creatures, programmed from birth to fear our world and each other. Scarcity is driven into our minds, from supply-side economics to original sin. The media focuses on bad news because that’s what the human mind responds to. While we claim to desire happiness and peace, most people simply don’t believe that they, or anyone else, deserve it.

Diamandis goes straight to the heart of the matter by addressing this flaw, and why it holds us back. The reason technology hasn’t lived up to its promise is because we’ve been thwarting progress with our negativity. In order to free technology and allow it to evolve, we too must free our own minds and evolve from our reptilian, amygdala driven patterns, to higher order thinking and use of the frontal lobes of our brains. This is not a simple task, but in the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing more important than for us to realize that life is actually much better than it’s ever been and that the future will serve us even more when we trust in the abundance of both the Earth and our capabilities.

Basically we need to rewire our brains. We’re still heavily relying on a hardware platform designed to keep us safe from wild animals, weather and other threats our ancient ancestors had to deal with. As Diamandis writes,

“…our early warning system evolved in an era of immediacy, when threats were of the tiger-in-the-bush variety. Things have changed. Many of today’s dangers are probabilistic—the economy might nose-dive, there could be a terrorist attack—and the amygdala can’t tell the difference. Worse, the system is also designed not to shut off until the potential danger has vanished completely, but probabilistic dangers never vanish completely.”

Physically our brains have grown in size, particularly in the frontal lobe, since the days of the caveman. We have an entire neurology we can embrace, and with it, a totally different perspective of life. Essentially we’ve evolved the hardware to be capable of seeing the systems before us and know that scarcity is something we can overcome, if we chose to believe in it. There’s really no other way.

As long as we remain stuck in the endless negative threat loop, our technology will be held hostage by fearful minds.

Diamandis goes on to point out,

“For abundance, all this carries a triple penalty. First, it’s hard to be optimistic, because the brain’s filtering architecture is pessimistic by design. Second, good news is drowned out, because it’s in the media’s best interest to overemphasize the bad. Third, scientists have discovered an even bigger cost: it’s not just that these survival instincts make us believe that the hold we’re in is too big to climb out of, but they also limit our desire to climb out of that hole.”

What follows after this realization is an attempt by the authors to show your logical brain, that part of you that thinks beyond threat, why you can believe in a better future, using both science and personal stories to prove their point. It’s a brilliant exercise in cheerleading for their cause: an abundant future for all Earth’s citizens.

The second reason I recommend this book is because of its treatment of the BOP, or the over four billion people on our planet who live at the Bottom of The Pyramid, on less than $2 a day. Imagine it, four billion of us live in extreme poverty. Many of us spin our wheels trying to figure out how to get our resources to this group. This book actually gives us a blueprint that doesn’t merely suggest we share our resources with these folks, rather that we make the resources of the Earth and technology available to them in a variety of ways. From Technophilanthropists to the effects of putting cheap Smartphones in the pockets of villagers in West Africa, the possibilities to liberate half the world from poverty are literally in the palm of our hands.

For example, we in the west often look at our Smartphones as luxuries, but to someone in the BOP, it’s a way to share goods with others, discover information about clean water sources, and inform the world when violence erupts in the middle of the night. As they come online, they become a part of the global economy, which changes everything.

Not enough is written about the BOP as a group of consumers. Recipients of charity, yes. But as the old saying goes, “You can give a man a fish, but better to teach him how to fish,” the same holds true for the BOP and technology. This is the market place where solar paneled eco-friendly housing and inexpensive water filtration systems will come to be. Food distribution and agriculture as we know it will dramatically change when we invest in the BOP, which in turn will teach us how to manage the world when 9 billion of us roam the streets.

Abundance—The Future is Better Than You Think was a great read, and belongs on home bookshelves everywhere. Next on my reading list, BOLD, the authors how-to-guide follow up. If anyone can inspire us to make a difference, it’s Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. 

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