Ernie Baron was a curious sort, and proved it by inventing the Baron Super Antenna and the tetrahedron, both of dubious efficacy, at best. The latter was supposed to have the same supernatural power of the Egyptian pyramids, but now to make cheese, eggs salted, sharpen the brain and your kitchen knife, and charge batteries (for the non-believer’s electric knife sharpener).
The tetrahedron became a minor fad. Students supposedly walked to and from their classes wearing this “invention” on their heads for better grades. Even my neighbors—completely rational, mountaineers/boy scouts and tech school grads—believed in it and made their own, swearing by its efficacy.
Mr Baron surely had his 15 minutes and used it to peddle some useless products, but he was able to capitalize on a populace that was experiencing the highs of a new Philippines. Newfound empowerment, self-determination, and a media environment that was free from suppression of liberal thought and intellectualism.
Today, the world’s psyche is balancing on the tip of a sharpened edge. Climate change, capitalism, and the correlated collapse of the American empire all give us the right to be anxious and uncertain, to the point of pouring money into the next new technologies that may save us all. Companies that are developing SPF 5000, terrorist repellant, and gill transplant technology come to mind. Make no mistake, doomsday predictions and all, this is the most challenging and thus exciting time for humanity. With so much tumult, so many rules being upended, there is so much possibility—literally in our hands—that the barriers between thought and action, product, or service have all but disappeared.
A year ago, I was in San Francisco, working for a startup in a down market. A market whose only hope was to make products that could avert global disasters, a.k.a. God Save Us From Ourselves. Corporate greed, disregard for the balance of nature and for fellow man was threatening absolute chaos. It was a bummer of a place and time to start a story, not to mention a career in advertising.
However, it was also the age of the hyperlink, Obamania, and the Large Hadron Collider. If you aren’t hearing the universe sending signals that imagination rules, you should maybe stick to your 9-5 but chain your kids to a computer. Nowadays, we can create anything out of thin air. And that was why I was happy to be back in Manila. At least that was what I told myself.
Dickens famously said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The Philippines is the land of paradoxes and love amidst difficulties. You have tight social cliques, but also 7,107 islands to leave them all behind. We have only one beer, but the best mangoes on the planet. You get three receipts when you buy a pack of gum, but, in traffic, anything goes with hardly the threat of punishment.
I knew it all too well. I also knew that I would need to leave all my California righteousness and the 15% tip rule on the plane if I wanted to seamlessly reintegrate.
But was seamless reintegration really the answer? Warren Buffet says, in a selling market, buy. And vice-versa. Always buck the crowd. Zig when everybody zags. For at night, the candle’s brighter than the sun.
This is the moment we have all been waiting for. Art, technology, games, politics, food, microbrews, weatherproofing, environment, peace and order, driver education, community organizing; there is virtually unlimited possibilities that can effect change—positive change in people’s behavior. And why now more than ever?
But every thorn has its rose; every essay has a silver outline; every economic downturn lays down prime fodder for fomenting change; every unmitigated natural or manmade disaster makes us ask why we need government and capitalists to take our money.
In times like these, we invite family and friends to dinner at our houses more. We feel better about going to the weekend markets than a faceless grocery. We cherish hand-me-down baby strollers to a pimped-out pram.
We value substance over form, especially at a discount. We go for the different against the status quo. We sift through the promises and look for promise. And sometimes, we get deluded into buying the ‘new’ for the lack of the ‘improved.’
In cycles, the universe is kind to the Ernie Barons, the Obamas, the mavericks of public opinion who do the opposite of what is said to be possible. After all, man does well enough alone to monopolize and overwhelm his environment with his vision of dominance. Natural law clears the path for the upstarts, with often brutal ways to cull the laggards, victims, and the dinosaurs. And if you find yourself in one piece when the slaughter ends, sharpen that knife, and get to work on the next big thing.
You have 15 minutes.