Whenever I get bored with the routines of life, I like to take a long walk.
I set off from a strange part of the city and then follow a random trail for a while until I get lost.
London is good place to do this. The city is a nest of strange streets and people. You can walk into a random bar – one far enough away from the busy streets – and you can usually find someone with a thirst and a bizarre, funny or troubling story they need to tell.
At that time, with a glass in your hand and the sunshine coming through a window, a new face telling a simple story can lift you out of your own head for an hour or two.
And later, when you walk back, you can sometimes feel a small sense of renewal.
I bring this up because I find that I’m easily distracted these days.
I spend so much of my time sitting in front of a screen -– tapping away a keyboard, scrolling through newsfeeds on my phone – that I’m beginning to feel a like a rat in a wheel.
The urge to escape is never far away!
I mean what is all this technology actually doing for us?
It takes up so much of our time and locks us into so many routines that feel pointless.
Yes I make the choice to do this: to spend my days thinking and writing about technology.
And yes, in my ways, technology has shaped my life….
I grew up with the internet. For my generation, the sound of the modem dial up was like a call to prayer. It put us in contact with whole communities of people who shared our interests: in films, in music, in some of the stranger aspects of life that you would never discuss with other people.
When mobiles came along, I resisted the urge to get one: preferring my freedom over the convenience of people being able to contact me at any time.
But they have become a permanent fixture since then: an extension of my hand that I can lift to my face and use to dip into the constant chattering stream of information.
And every day I exchange short messages with my family in Dublin over WhatsApp. It means they never feel far away.
These are great things.
But I also sometimes feel like a hostage to technology.
I look at the “average screen time” on my phone and notice that it is ticking up week by week.
Last week I spent 14 hours on my phone.
Two hours was “reading and reference”.
Two hours on “entertainment”.
I spent three hours and 28 minutes on WhatsApp (although that may have something to do with the fact that my brother and his wife have just had a baby).
On average last week, I looked at my phone 62 times a day.
That sounds like the behaviour of an addict. But the average for someone my age is around 80 times a day.
And what is this doing to the brain?
There is already plenty of evidence that social media and phones are doing tremendous damage: making us stressed, depressed and tremendously isolated.
Study and after study reports that it is toxic for teenagers: sapping their self-esteem, eating away at their enjoyment of life.
The Money is Good
What do I want from technology?
Well money is a good tonic.
The first decent money I made from technology stocks was investing in rare earth metals. At the time, there was an idea that these metals were absolutely essential if we were going to make magnets for wind turbines, batteries for electric vehicles, batteries for laptops and much else besides.
I bought into an Australian miner called Lynas Corp, and when the Chinese – who had managed to seize control of the world’s supply – starting rationing exports, the stock went from around $2 to $24.
That was exciting.
Then there were the slow and steady gains I made over the last decade in Amazon and other tech giants.
And the last few years have been very exciting if you were involved in cryptocurrencies.
I’m confident that I’ll make more on crypto that I will in any other tech investment over the next decade. That’s why I included it in a shortlist of my favourite tech punts recently.
What’s the next thing will it do to actually improve our lives?
Well in the spirit of finding technology that will renew the senses, and bring us genuinely new experiences – the kind of thing that compares with having a pint with a stranger and hearing their story – I thought I’d write a couple of articles over the next few weeks about how technology might improve our enjoyment of life over the next decade.
There are plenty of candidates.
The first that springs to mind is infra-red light.
Just think of what happens when you put a flashlight in your mouth: all of the skin around the mouth lights up. Now think of how you could use infrared light to light up many of the main organs of the body – your lungs, your liver, your heart, your brain.
I think we might soon use infrared lasers to carefully read our biology each morning.
And by focusing infrared light using a handheld device such as Mary Lou Jepsen’s OpenWater project, we might even be able to stimulate the brain, check for cancers and remove plaques that build before degenerative brain diseases.
It’s a lot to ask. And I’m sure the hype around these devices will be disappointed in time.
But there seems to be a lot of compelling evidence that infrared light can improve bloodflow and soothe damaged tissue in aging bodies.
That’s why Mary Lou Jepsen is trying to develop a cheap infrared device.
And it’s probably why aging professional sportsmen use infrared light to heal injuries, and why it’s become an obsession among wealthy people looking to stave off the ravages of aging.
I also think infrared light could renew our experience of life by stimulating damaged tissue in our brains and bodies.
The Return of Psychedelics
Psilocybin and LSD are enjoying a comeback as the scientific community re-examines the use of psychedelics in the treatment of depression and schizophrenia.
It might not be everyone’s idea of a good day: spending six to eights hours hallucinating under medical supervision to the point where you experience a completely new reality.
But it may not be long before we speak about psychedelics in the same breath as cannabis: as drugs that could and should be legalised on medical grounds, especially for those suffering from schizophrenia and manic depression.
There is already serious evidence that medical treatment with LSD and psilocybin can reset the clock for people who have struggled with these mental tortures.
I’ll go into the full story next week in more detail (and I’ll point to the investment angles). But if you have the time, it’s definitely worth listening to Michael Pollan give a talk on his book How to Change Your Mind.
Tuning into a Thousand Brains
Then I want to follow that article up with a really wild area of scientific research: the field of multisensation.
This is about using technology to give us completely new senses.
The idea here is that we will develop brain nets, devices implants that allow us to pick up on completely new activity in your environment.
A sense of the earth’s electrical fields for example: which we can use to stimulate the activity in your nervous system and in our mitochondria.
Or the ability to experience echolocation: like a bat at night. That would be interesting.
Or the sense of a hive consciousness: technologies that tune our brains directly into a hundred or a thousand other brains, giving us an eerie new feeling of collective intelligence.
As you’ll see, these technologies have been in the works for years.
They are the kind of thing that could definitely reset the clock and open up really interesting new conversations.
I’ll explain exactly how they work and how they might enliven our experience next time.
Till then, best wishes,