In keeping physically, mentally and spiritually fit it is important to have backups. This is true in many respects. It helps to have a network of family and friends who support you as you move toward your goals, affirm your progress and lift you up when you fall down, as we all sometimes do. Other backups are social in nature. ‘No man is an island’. People need people and it is important that society promote neighborhoods, strengthen communities and put into place support structures which build bridges between people and provide support for people in need. As society ages, as inequality increases, these types of social supports and more important than ever.
Keeping a journal is also an important way to stay focused and mindful in relation to your goals. In this ‘Information World’ we now live in we are increasingly reliant on our files that cover everything from our contact lists, personal and business lives. Several times I have lost a few pages of material and I remember vividly how devastated I felt and how painful it was to have to rewrite. I recall a case at a university where a student had several years of data on his laptop that was stolen. He had no backup and made an impassioned plea in the newspaper, telling the thief: ‘Just keep my computer, but please return my data and give me my life back.’ For almost 20 years I kept a detailed diary of the daily activities, thoughts and expressions related to our two daughters—their life story and our family’s life story. I kept multiple backups because to lose it would be to lose a major part of myself and our ‘family’ memories. In estate planning today, the best lawyers advise clients about protecting and preserving their ‘digital’ assets as well as physical ones. People today are increasingly keeping track of their personal journeys through various digital devices that track biometrics, diet and other aspects of our wellbeing. So, please use this reminder to make sure you backup your data regularly.
At a society level, we are now producing more knowledge than ever before. New technologies are being developed, for example the use of laser, to back up our data. Soon, it will be possible to backup one’s entire consciousness. Not only will this enable us to have perpetuated our existence, but big data analytics will enable us to probe psychological and philosophical questions in new ways that have the potential to develop still deeper insights into the nature of what it means to be a human being. This should usher in a whole new era of philosophy and psychology.
The world ‘backup’ of course has different contexts. On a related note, March 30 is ‘Pencil Day’. The day marks 158 years since Hymen Lipman received a patent for a pencil with an attached eraser. If you have not done so read the 1958 essay classic by Leonard E. Read and reprinted in 1996. Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman referred to this essay in his 1980 PBS presentation titled, ‘Free to Choose’ and in his book by the same name. See also the YouTube movie of ‘I,Pencil’. The essay tells the story of the creation of a pencil from the standpoint of the pencil. It illustrates the millions of people around the world who cooperate willingly and intelligently and without a guiding hand to bring about the miracle of a pencil. It is a powerful representation of the power of human creativity and the wisdom and intelligence of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market place. Thus, another type of ‘backup’ is found in the intricate web of economic relationships upon which we all depend and which are so important.
At an operational level backups are important too. We know that systems sometimes fail. It is thus imperative and common sense to design systems at all levels that have redundancy built into them so that when one part fails, the system can still function. In other words, we need a plan B and even a C and D.
Career wise, too, we need a backup for the reality is that young people today will not likely be in one career or job the rest of their lives. Change is a constant in today’s society. As mentioned in an earlier opinion, studies predict robots will replace up to a third of all jobs. Accordingly, it is important to keep learning and develop the flexibility to re-train and at the same time work to develop ‘generic’ skills that will provide us with the resilience and a skillset easily convertible to new contexts. In my own case this is what I like most about a law degree. While it is true that traditional legal roles are more limited, a law degree has a great deal of ‘horizontal’ mobility. In other words, the skill set that one develops from the study of law—research, writing, analysis, interpretation, communication, persuasion, factual investigation, interviewing, negotiation, problem solving—are valuable skills useful in thousands of contexts. This is increasingly so in a world that is smaller, more interdependent and more conflict ridden and regulated.
Finally, there are good backups and dysfunctional ones. We are prone to become locked into our positions too soon and rigidly and thus end up on a fight over A or B alternatives. Yet, the greatest innovations are more likely to come when we use that tension to find a new pathway (a ‘c’, ‘d’ and more) that creates a new way. Emotionally, too, there is a sense in which humans under pressure sometimes too easily and quickly revert to stereotypes and prejudices of our ‘tribe’. And yet, the foundation of empathy and the pivot point of change involve seeing the world through the eyes of another. This wonderful and unusual quality, possessed by people like Nelson Mandela, enable longstanding conflicts to be resolved and eventually healed. In these contexts it is important not to ‘backup’ but to go forward to embrace a new perspective, a new reality that enables humanity to go forward.