The Genie That Doesn’t Grant Wishes

I was walking on the beach the other day and I tripped over something hard and metallic in the sand. Out popped a genie! The genie said, “Hi there! Before you get too excited, I’ll tell you how this works.”

The genie pulled out a set of cue cards and started reading.

“I am not a normal genie. I don’t grant wishes. What I do is, I put a spell on you that eliminates your ability to fail at one thing of your choosing. There’s no magic other than that. You still have to do all the work to accomplish whatever you set out to do. I just put a spell on you that makes it so you can’t quit.”

He put the cards away, into his pocket or something. I guess he had pants on.

“That doesn’t sound so great,” I said. Then followed with, “Are you sure that’s even magic?”

“That’s why nobody writes stories about me,” said the genie.

“Not true,” I said. “I’m gonna blog about this as soon as I get back to my Airbnb.”

The genie didn’t seem to care that I was going to blog about him. He began talking again.

“The first guy that discovered me asked that I put a spell on him so he would stop smoking. POOF! I put the spell on him. From that day forward, no matter how badly he wanted to smoke, my spell prevented him from being able to. It was very uncomfortable for him, and he was miserable for years. You see, he REALLY wanted to smoke. All day and all night his brain was screaming for him to have a cigarette. But the spell is permanent, he’ll never smoke again.”

“Shit eh.” I said, insightfully.

“Yup,” said the genie, crossing his arms and leaning back against a palm tree, which he drifted through.

I waited for him to drift back to my side of the palm tree. Then I said, “Okay let’s say I want a million dollars, and you put a spell on me. What next?”

“Just a sec while I look into the future,” said the genie. “AHA! I see it now… you would stop travelling and stop spending money on anything beyond the basics. You would live as cheaply as possible and put all of your extra money into low-risk, long-term investments earning 8% annually.”

The genie pulled a calculator out of his pants and mashed some keys. Then he said,”You would work as hard as you could in order to earn an extra $30,000/year to invest. After 17 years of this, you’d be a millionaire.”

“Crazy,” I said, trying to picture it all. “I don’t think I’m down to go through with all that.”

“Then don’t ask me to put the million-dollar spell on you,” replied the genie.

A moment passed, then I asked, “So you’re really not much use then, are you? People could do these things without your spells.”

“For sure,” said the genie. “But they generally don’t.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because many of the important things people want in life are really fucking hard to accomplish,” said the genie. “That’s why the other genies are so much more popular than I am. They let you skip the work!”

“Right.” I said. “Know where any of those guys are?”

“Nope,” said the genie.

“Shit.” I said, kicking at the sand.

More time passed and the genie started looking impatient.

“So what’ll it be?” asked the genie. “I’m gonna give you 10 more seconds then I’m outta here.”

“That seems abrupt!” I protested.

“7 seconds,” replied the genie.

“Um,” I said, scrambling for something good to not quit at, “I’d like to… ahhhhh… maybe I could… actually no, how about…”

“Time’s up!” said the genie. And he vanished.

I stayed behind for a considerable time afterwards, wondering what I should have said. But it’s a tough one.

What would YOU do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

 

It’s Like Magic

I recently discovered all of my old journals and sketchbooks from my late teens and twenties, high school through college and into “real life.”

The spooky parts were the bits where I wrote about what I wanted, or where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do in the future. Most, maybe all, of those things have become reality. This isn’t unique to me. I just listened to Debbie Millman’s podcast with Tim Ferriss and she goes into way more detail about it than I do here, so if you’re curious you should listen to the full episode.

It’s as close to believing in baloney like The Secret as I’m willing to go, and the only reason I do believe that writing about your own future is an effective method in realizing your dreams is because that pattern has been revealing itself in my own life.

The exercise goes like this: write down what a typical day looks like for you 10 years from now. Go into crazy detail. Specify everything from what your spouse smells like to how many kids you have and what their hobbies are. Go from waking up to falling asleep at night, and everything in between. Again, as much detail as possible. I’ll do one now so you can read it and maybe do one of your own. I swear, so far whenever I’ve written these, they’ve done way more good than bad. For example, the first time I wrote about wanting to earn $10,000/month passive income I think I was earning $200-$400 passively. That number is now over $2000. Under $8000 to go!

OK here’s my dream day, January 30th 2027:

I wake up fully rested, early. Like, when the sun is just coming up early. The first birds are doing their thing, but not all of them.

My house is quiet. We have land, by the water. I can hear the waves against the shore. There are old trees on the property too, and I can hear the breeze in the branches just outside my bedroom window, which is on the second floor of the house.

Lia’s in bed with me. Maybe some of our kids come running in and jump on us. Maybe two are old enough to do that, and the other one is too small so they had to carry him/her in. The baby’s shat itself and Isla’s 10 so she can do a pretty good job of changing the diaper, which she does. The kids are happy. Lia and I are happy. We’re somewhere warm, or cold, it doesn’t really matter, but we’re together. Is it our house? I don’t know. Maybe it’s somewhere we’re staying for a while. It feels like home, wherever it is.

Anyway, we get up and shower. The bathroom is connected to the bedroom, I know that’s important to Lia and now that I think of it I like it too. The whole family doesn’t shower. Actually I don’t even think I shower. Nobody showers, we just get up and brush our teeth and do our thing, there’s a breeze coming in so it can’t be winter at this point, wherever we are.

Big breakfast gets made. Isla and her younger bro/sis help but mainly I do the cooking. Lia makes a smoothie or a salad or something. The food I make is fucking terrible for you but delicious. I’ve gotten pretty decent at cooking all kinds of things over the past 10 years. I’ve even figured out how the FUCK to make sourdough god damn bread. Fuck.

Isla says “FUCK” when she burns herself on something hot and nobody cares about the swearing.

Things feel easy, calm, peaceful. Real chilled out. There will be higher-energy stuff because that’s in our blood. But for the morning, things are calm.

Family breakfast, no fucking phones. There’s a mini gong and the baby smashes it with something hard and we all hold hands and feel gratitude for whatever until it finishes ringing. Might take a minute. This isn’t religious, it’s just presence and coming together in a token way as a family.

We eat. Food’s great. Kids pack it in like animals. Lia’s smoothie isn’t just greens and water, it tastes good. Dates or something. But we’ve hit that balance between my version of a smoothie (which would include ice cream) and hers (which often smells like a fresh cut lawn).

Off to activities. Do we exist in some kind of permanent vacation? Not in a conventional way. It’s like a ninja-in-the-mountains kind of training. Like when Bruce Wayne becomes a part of the League of Shadows before becoming Batman. We’re all studying different, or the same, things and that sometimes influences our location for a while. If we all want to learn to surf, as an obvious example, we would need to be in a place like Nosara Costa Rica for several months. Or roadtripping along a coast, preferably with waves that wouldn’t drown my god damn children (or me). Soooooo not Hawaii.

This sounds like we live in a trailer, which we very well may.

Late morning, the kids are studying something or another or we’re surfing or have just finished surfing or hiking or doing something we’ve never done before. Safe to say there’s a good deal of variety in our lives at this point. Lia’s a yoga pro by now, of course. Nobody doubted that for even a second.

I think I’m much better at web design than I currently am – like scary good, and “Full Stack” so capable of building full-on god damn anything I want. With databases and users and automatic two-step verification and payment processing. I know how to do all kinds of shit, and I have clients that love it and pay me to do it from wherever I am.

I am the ninja in the mountain.

What else….

Lunch time – again we maybe get food somewhere or eat something simple. I don’t want my family to get too extravagant. I’d like to be able to feed us but I’m also horny about efficiency. When I cook, there are leftovers (which taste damn good) and nobody complains about eating it for a day or three after the fact. I make good money but I don’t spend it like an asshole. In fact, a decent amount of it gets invested, donated, used for travel in a modest way.

The kids are awesome. I’m reminded of that every so often. Not every time I look at them or my brain would burn out, but a couple times a day let’s say. They piss me off too but I like that about them, they challenge things. They’re not pussies. They speak back and fight me the best they can and I usually win but sometimes they do and that’s the best moment of all, because it means they’re learning and they’re independent. They’re learning how to use their tools, and they’re pumped about it. Lia and I reward their efforts profusely. Our kids are really starting to turn into gritty little bastards, and it’s awesome. Sure, they’re weak sometimes too, and that’s OK – so am I and so is Lia and we show them that it’s OK to be vulnerable. These aren’t machines. They’re kids, but you get where I’m going with this.

Lunch is done and we’re driving, why not? I know I woke up in a house but I think I was confused. I’m probably in a kick ass trailer. We own a property or a couple properties but Lia AirBnBs them when we’re away.

I think we’re driving somewhere none of us have been before. It isn’t sketchy, it’s safe. There’s no real stress about this trip.

I don’t think we own the trailer. I think we’ve rented it, because we’re going to leave it in some town in Sweden and get in a rented sailboat and sail somewhere cool. Lia and I have heard about these islands where people sail and camp throughout them. Maybe we’re there. Maybe we know some Swedish and that’s what the kids were studying before lunch.

I check in with the office and things are normal, I have a bit of work to get through and it takes me an hour or so. Nothing crazy. All of my clients are very cool people, they know who I am and what my life is like. They’re cool with it.

We set sail, maybe we catch a fish or something and maybe by then I know how to clean and cook a fish. That’s dinner.

The kids are documenting these things. They already have developed little followings of their own. They get the value in connecting with their own online audiences and communities and they also earn modest incomes of their own and I probably don’t really understand it fully because I’m 41 and the social side of the internet has long left me behind. I just don’t have time for that shit.

Evening is closing in, the sun is setting. The water is glass. Maybe I do some sketching or watercolour painting or writing. Lia and I have some alone time. The kids have friends I guess, they’re hanging out with them for a bit. Things get steamy on our boat, BOW CHICKA WOW WOW.

Everyone is together before bed. We hang out on the boat and watch the stars. Lia still almost shits herself every time she sees a shooting star. The kids have inherited that from her so actually all of them almost or actually shit themselves as a result of shooting stars. We heat up some hot chocolate, Lia puts cheese in hers. Isla crushes cherry tomatoes into hers. The other kids are normal, they just drink it plain like I do.

We pack into our small sleeping quarters, chat a bit, then one by one we pass out. The kids talk in their sleep but I can’t hear it over Lia’s epic snoring.

How Brain Phones Might End Violence Forever

I think humanity is on course for world peace, either via a biotechnological mass-evolution or by slower means. Here’s how technology could accidentally force an end to violence:

It starts with emoticons ??????. Emoticons enrich our ability to communicate remotely by imbuing text with emotion. These “emoji” already exist and have become indispensable in our text messages, Facebook posts, tweets and emails. Our phones incorporate emoji sets as a part of the keyboard. We even draw them in hand written notes to one another. Humans use emoticons where possible because it’s just better to be able to add some emotion to the message.

As technology changes, it’s reasonable to expect emoji to come along for the ride. I would expect a hands-free version of calling and texting to replace smartphones. Something we maybe wear as an earpiece or get wired directly into our brains: a brain phone. Then we’d just have to say or think messages to each other. I don’t think it would be a huge leap to be able to add emotional context to the messages either.

And here comes the crazy shit:

If these devices are connected to our brains, they could probably manipulate our neurotransmitters in order to trigger whatever emotional response we want to add to our message.

Here’s the new emoticon set for the brain phone (click to enlarge):

neurotransmitters
source: compoundchem.com

Okay, so now we’ve got brain phones allowing us to send and receive emotions. Cool. Bob just messaged us that he’d won his hockey pool! We’d get a little cocktail of adrenaline mixed with dopamine (I’m just guessing at the mix) to simulate Bob’s excitement and make our brains feel it too.

You’re getting the idea by now. Technology might eventually give us the ability to simulate shared emotions.

Syncing up our feelings would be really useful in a variety of situations where the group should be cohesively feeling the same thing. For example, a movie theatre might want everyone in the audience to feel a surge of endorphins during a sex scene and a dose of serotonin for the part where the boy finds his lost dog. Schools and universities might want to lower adrenaline levels in their students during exams (to lower stress), and increase acetylcholine and glutamate (which are involved in thought, learning, memory, and attention).

So the jump would happen, as with any evolutionary step, if there was to be a mutation or accident or problem with our brain phones.

Say we could no longer control the sending or receiving of these emotions, but instead went into some kind of “live mode” where our devices could relay emotion directly without our consent. We’d be in a position where any suffering we caused we’d have to feel, and any pleasure we gave we also received. Kind of a “forced instant karma”, thanks to the brain phone. I would expect violence to stop entirely, to be replaced probably by lots of borderline-inappropriate massage parlours.

This little sci-fi walkabout might be far-fetched in terms of exactly how world peace comes about, but regardless of the means I think humanity is ultimately bound for a peaceful destination. It might just take a little longer than in the brain phone story.

Here’s the slow, realistic look at how world peace is already in progress:

Information is proliferating like a motherfucker. 100 years ago, people were lucky to have read 50 books in a lifetime (source). Now, not only do we easily dominate that number of books in our lives, but we also suck up podcasts, Netflix serieses, movies, blogs, YouTube videos, and a bonanza of social media content.

This is causing us to get way the fuck smarter. According to reason.com, American IQ in year 1900 averaged 67 points. By today’s standards, that’s borderline mentally retarded. We are all geniuses compared to the people who came before us, and our grand-children will look like rocket-geniuses compared to us.

Our ancestors, apart from being retarded, where also extremely violent. Including all deaths due to both world wars and all wars since, we are still much more peaceful overall than our ancestors were. Here’s a smart guy with graphs to prove it:

So we might not need brain phones to trigger absolute peace among humans. We seem to be getting there all on our own, thanks in large part to our growing minds.

Bonus Points if Your Kids Aren’t Torturing Small Animals

I just woke up from a dream where I was photoshopping a car while my grandparents were driving away in it. Both of them are gone now and it leaves an emptiness in me. I find myself forgetting that they’ve died. It will take a few years to adjust to it I think.

It’s easier to see what matters when someone dies. Work doesn’t matter, to me anyway. Maybe yours does. My work could disappear and someone else would fill in the gap.

To say I care about my work isn’t really true. I want it to be good, and I’m compelled to do a very good job – but my reasons for doing a good job aren’t very altruistic if you look closely at them. Business is just better when you do a really good job. More work comes, and there are fewer complications with quality work. I can charge more money because most of the time, I’m the best option on the table. But I’m not doing a good job because I care about it. I used to think I cared about it. I like the work, but that’s different. I like writing code, I care about my cat. You know what – I care about my clients too. But I don’t care about their projects. I don’t invest emotional attachment in the jobs themselves. And the clients I don’t care about, I don’t work for them. I tell them I’m too busy to do their work, and they move on. Things get horrible when I don’t care about the client.

But ya, my grandparents are dead.

Everything they’ve done is over, or at least to them it is. I don’t believe in the afterlife or that Grandpa’s up there looking down on me. And if there was an afterlife, he’d probably watch me once in a while but realize that I’m extremely boring most of the time, or doing things he probably doesn’t want to see haha!

The closest answer I have to thinking about death is that it makes me want to create life. The fact of my death coming makes me want to have more kids. The universe can be seen as battle of life vs cold dark nothingness, and it can be proposed that our job, as living things, is to fight to keep life going. The fun kind of fighting. Where you get to have sex.

Genghis Khan would agree with me here. So would daffodils and rats and even influenza virus. If I had to pick either a virus or nothing, I’d hope the virus lives on. At least it’s alive.

If you zoom out far enough, back away from the details of your reality, you’ll see that success can be measured as basically as you want. I sometimes look at successful parenting as: “Are your kids still alive?”

If you can answer “Yes” then you’re parenting successfully.

Bonus points if your kids aren’t fucked up and sad and torturing small animals. Extra bonus BONUS points if your kids have made their own kids. I think that’s part of why grandparents are so stoked on their grandchildren. The first grandchild means they didn’t fucking fail as parents. They made kids that were at least not too fucked up to attract a mate and have more kids.

I hope old fashioned families come back. It’s shitty that our choice today is “kids or a career” because who wants to be poor with a bunch of kids? Most of the people I know are delaying having kids because it’s the right financial decision. Get established in a career first, then have kids. I’m in that boat too. Lia and I were stable enough financially to have a baby before we decided to go for it. Not rich or anything, but not worrying about bills or food was enough security for us to say fuck it (literally).

You might think a kid would add meaning to your life. I used to think so too, but really what happens (at least for me) is the amount of “meaning” stays roughly the same – it all just transfers to the kid. Everything else loses meaning, and the kid sucks it all up. Even your marriage/partnership is in danger of losing meaning as it all transfers to the new baby. Lia and I are lucky in that we’re game to ride out the changes in our relationship. We’re flexible, and patient. We know we still love each other even when we don’t have time or energy to spend together the way we used to.

If you look at kids from an investing standpoint, the payoff is potentially huge. There’s the obvious emotional reward and fulfillment of watching a miniature version of yourself grow up. This assumes the kid isn’t a complete fuck up, in which case the investment is a horrible one. But in ideal circumstances, there’s also the security of having someone to look after your ass when you’re too fucking old and useless to hack it anymore. Or maybe robots will do it. Or maybe medical breakthroughs will make it so we don’t die.

Here’s a smart guy taking about us not dying:

So here’s the kicker: if medical technology is likely to bring us to a point where we can prevent aging, what does that mean for having children? According to this article at davidsuzuki.org, the earth can only sustain 200 million North Americans indefinitely (because our high-consumption lifestyles and profit-driven corporations suck up so many god damn resources). Last I checked, Canada + USA = about 330 million. This doesn’t include Japan or Australia which suck up resources just as hard as we do.

I interpret this as presenting would-be parents with two choices:

  1. If you want to have a big family: better get started soon. The need to limit global population growth is already here. It’s not unrealistic to expect to see something similar to China’s “One Child Per Family” policy take place within our lives, even as privileged Canadians.
  2. If you want to help the planet, don’t have any kids at all. Stop buying so much shit OR stop driving your car so much OR start sending even a small amount of money to Africa every month. I’m sending 2% of my annual pre-tax income and I haven’t noticed a difference in my quality of life at all. But you can bet those 400 kids that now have mosquito nets and aren’t getting fucking malaria can tell the difference! Go to http://www.charityscience.com/ and start sending money right now. ($6 prevents 2 kids from getting malaria for 1 year. If they don’t have malaria they can go to school. If they go to school their odds of getting out of poverty are exponentially higher. Source: Doing Good Better by William MacAskill.) If you actually sign up to send cash each month, say so in the comments below so we can peer-pressure more people into doing it. Any amount is infinitely better than nothing. We are the richest 1% on the planet. We can afford it.