30 December 2017 (Saint-Malo, France) – Every New Year’s morning I am accustomed to sitting down by the sea, scratching notes to myself in the sand (“stuff to do in the coming year”) with an old wooden staff given to me years ago by my paternal grandfather. Usually, I am in Greece but this year my wife and I rented a flat in Saint-Malo for New Year’s weekend and the following week.
We always take off the first week of every New Year to rest, recharge, calibrate, and re-energize ourselves for the months ahead, and whatever they may bring us. It also follows the advice given to me long ago by Dominique Senequier (she now heads Axa Private Equity in France) who told me the trick to happiness and personal success is to be committed to all aspects of your life, and find time to disconnect every once and awhile. Otherwise we are like fish who do not know they swim in water, and are seldom aware of the atmosphere of the times through which we move.
No doubt we’ve all read multiple “year-end-in-review pieces” that proliferate around the internet in late December. We know the year was filled with unprecedented shifts and shocks around the world – from Trump to Macron, from events in Pyongyang to the tragedy of the Rohingya, from the solar eclipse to #MeToo, from NFL protests to the Charlottesville riots, and the Puerto Rico tragedy. Meanwhile, the crises of 2016 – war in Syria, millions of all but forgotten refugees in Yemen and South Sudan, random small-scale terror attacks from ISIL-infected young men – have hardly receded from view.
And it seemed the news accelerated to “Trump Speed”. Trump’s greatest trick seemed to be his tornado of news-making that scrambled Americans’ grasp of time and memory, producing a sensory overload that can make even seismic events – of his creation or otherwise – disappear from the collective consciousness and public view. Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University and the founder of PressThink, the best “deep read/long read” journal out there, said “we seemed to have crammed six years into 12 months”.
That disorientation has had far-reaching effects, to me at least. In the U.S. the Las Vegas, Nevada shooting and the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting – two of the most heinous mass murders in recent American history – simply fell off the map. Two episodes that would have, under previous circumstances, most likely remained seared in the national conversation.
But Trump’s apparent triumph over the space-time continuum has created practical concerns across newsrooms, exacerbated by forces that predate Trump: the rise of Facebook and Twitter, the partisan instincts of cable news and, in the case of mass shootings, what many describe as a growing public imperviousness to horror.
And so you take a deep breath. And let go.
For those of us in the technology world, it was a killing pace. Yes, the breathtaking advance of scientific discovery and technology has the unknown on the run. For us, the tech news/announcement cycle moved so fast that by the time it took to research, write, reflect, edit, and publish, it had already become yesterday’s news. And in 2017, yesterday’s news might as well be last year’s news.
But I had a glorious year. I was able to pursue a very eclectic conference schedule that provided me perspective and a holistic tech education. You can see my annual conference schedule by clicking here.
Next week my first post of 2018: “52 Incredible Things I Learned At Technology Conferences: A Weekly Waltz Through 2017”. But for now my favorite book of 2017:
For thousands of years, tracking animals meant following footprints. Now satellites, drones, camera traps, cellphone networks, and accelerometers reveal the natural world as never before. Where the Animals Go is the first book to offer a comprehensive, data-driven portrait of how creatures like ants, otters, owls, turtles, and sharks navigate the world. Based on pioneering research by scientists at the forefront of the animal-tracking revolution, James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti’s stunning, four-color charts and maps tell fascinating stories of animal behavior.
My favorite bit (because my wife and I work to save turtles in Greece) was the chapter on how scientists tag turtles. Number of tags deployed: 443 and counting. The stories: marvellous.
One story was about a loggerhead turtle named Fisher. In 1995, biologists from the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher found him on a nearby beach. He was weak and underweight, so they brought him to the aquarium’s rehabilitation center. Eight years later, Fisher was 40 kilograms and outgrowing his adoptive home.
His caretakers loaned him to Newport Aquarium in Kentucky for an exhibit presciently titled “Turtles: Journey of Survival”. By his 10th birthday, Fisher tipped the scales at 70 kilograms. He was ready to hunt in the wild. On June 12, 2004, a biologist stuck a tag on Fisher’s shell and released him into the Atlantic. She expected him to ride the Gulf Stream to Spain.
But Fisher had other plans:
He did a straight line to Cape Verde which, bizarrely, is exactly where he should be at 10 years old. It was as if he thought, “I’ve got to catch up with everyone”. Imagine that. After 10 years in captivity, Fisher knew where he needed to be, at what time, and how to get there.