Sync’ up! … without getting drained

apr 5

The coping business

‘The USA is ninety per cent in the coping business.’

―Alan Kay

Before Robert Brown and Alan Kay were pushing the ‘human wants’ versus ‘human needs’ take, a bridge in Maryland opened for business that would later collapse after a collision with a container ship.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, MD, functioned as intended for some fourty-six years. And only in hindsight can engineers comment on what should have been.

Micro copes

I was discussing this bridge with my wife. And we both got caught up in a ‘would-a, should-a, could-a’ barrage of talking points, an almost given consider we are both engineers. I was careful not to get too ahead of myself, as I know nothing about bridges, nor anything that isn’t software (actually).

But by the end of our chat, I didn’t see a solution. I was reminded that even in our little lives, we are a coping people: why would anyone else fare better.

You see, we have a beloved vehicle that is perfect for us: it’s a Honda Element. We have been playing whack-a-more with repairs as they happen, not unlike many people who put off a new car. I was reminded that even when it comes to a car, we are not proactive in repairs, upkeep, maintenance, etc. We just ride the heck out of it, and put out fires when they happen.

Why? Because we are human. And to be human is to cope.

Wants vs. needs

When I bumped into Alan Kay’s list of human universals, and their counter non-universals, it hit home hard. Of course, I always strived to hold fast the later column, but there was no way around it, I was firmly grounded in the first column. Here is a sampling of Humanity’s immutable genetic imprintments:

Human wants

  • hunting/gathering
  • coping
  • social
  • oral language
  • culture
  • ‘smarts’
  • fantasies
  • stories
  • news
  • theatre
  • superstition
  • religion/magic
  • tools, art, technology
  • salt, sugar, fat, …
  • goals, plans, …
  • play & games
  • fixed rules, flexible strategies
  • case based learning
  • case based reasoning
  • quick reactions to patterns
  • differences over similarities
  • ‘the other’
  • supernormal responses
  • vendetta, revenge
  • value shortages
  • loud noises & snakes

And now for the second list…

Human needs

  • agriculture
  • writing & reading
  • deductive abstract math
  • model based science
  • new
  • progress
  • knowledge
  • context (point-of-view)
  • self-consciousness
  • thought, thought, thought
  • equal rights
  • democracy
  • similarities over differences
  • slow deep thinking
  • legal system vs vendetta
  • perspective drawing
  • theory of harmony

There’s no question that one list is universal and one list is non-universal. Can you guess which list most of us operate on? Yikes.

(These lists are derived from anthropological studies that analyzed some three-thousand cultures. These ‘traits’ were present in every group. The studies discarded traits that weren’t prevalent to all groups.)

The coping business

I’d be a fool to suggest that any upstart should try to tackle the second list. Heck, most of the ‘strongest’ American companies are firmly stationed in the first list. Just think about Facebook, for example. Could a company cover more items in the ‘universal’ list, than Meta?

However, progress is truly about living in the future and creating a path from now to then that encompasses ground-breaking ideas. It’s not enough for all upstarts to appeal to a ‘coping’ culture. There always needs to be a handful that will carry us into the future using a new point-of-view that raises all boats.