Changing the focal length of my mind’s eye…

Yesterday, I had a long lovely chat with a friend in Berlin, who shall remain nameless for the nonce since I do not know whether he would like being called out online like this. The days of the blogosphere being an intimate space for conversations are long past and we must now be far more cautious about whose names we take and what information we share, blithely. He mentioned having read my last post, the one on the magic of words inspired by Finland’s Kalevala. It was similar, he said, to his experience of making electronic music – there’d be times when the tunes would simply flow, and, then, there were periods when it felt like a painful struggle to simply hammer out the sounds. I wanted to find my voice again, I said, even though I knew I could not go back to the voice of my 40s. So many years later, all I could do was attempt to find the voice of who I was now, and even that felt liminal at this point in time.

What made me sit down to write today was our conversation about the near future and its uncertainties and challenges. A transitional time, he said, as our global society undergoes transformation on a massive scale – the trajectories of which were already perceived previously but their confluence of impacts and influences triggered into a tipping point by the systemic shock of the pandemic. Coming out of the past year, the spring of 2021 feels bleaker than years previous, and I am not sure I feel optimistic about a whole new year and the emerging future.

This aspect, in fact, feels strange to me, as I have always tended towards envisioning optimistic futures, enabled by digital tools – in particular, the mobile phone  and its impact among the lower income demographics of the world’s still developing countries. One could say my mind’s eye has always been focused distantly on the far horizon, looking ahead at what could be with the way things were in the current moment. From the beginning of this blog back in March of 2005, I have had no trouble connecting the dots of weak signals gleaned from the present moment and casting ahead to what could be. In fact, prior to going public with my first blog named Perspective, I experimented with a private version called Prescience.

Over the past years, I found that I was able to relatively accurately project societal and technological trajectories into near future predictions, particularly in the space of mobile telephony in rural and informal sectors of the global South. And, these narratives of the emerging future were hopeful and articulated the most beneficial aspects of rapid adoption of mobile technology among the world’s lower income demographics – the impact and power of wealth flow that the mobile phone, enabled by the prepaid airtime business model, was effecting amongst those who are often referred to as the ‘base or bottom of the pyramid’ (BoP).

I have built a lifetime’s work on this theme. And, extended the lessons from understanding why the prepaid model worked so well for those on irregular and unpredictable income streams to understanding the commercial practices and business development strategies of the informal trade ecosystem, and now, the resilience strategies of the micro-entrepreneurs in navigating the increased volatility of their operating environment. I do not want to walk away from this, there are numerous aspects of Time and Money as two variables that offer immense flexibility in the informal economic ecosystem still to be articulated and the research space far too intellectually magnetic for me to let go.

On the other hand, the far distant horizon and its optimistic visions of an emerging future that benefits our common humanity, as the underlying thema of my decades of dot connecting and blogging on Perspective, is something that feels like it has come to the end of the road. Whether this is age related or a natural end to an extended episode of thinking and writing I’d consciously begun investing my time and efforts into back in 2005, I do not yet know. But what emerged during my conversation yesterday was a concept that I must digest and chew over a little more.

It seemed to me, I told him, that the time had come for me to change the focal length of my mind’s eye … from the far ahead and into the future to the domestic and in the present moment, the now and the immediate, the local and the life’s daily contents. To pull back in my senses – what I’ve often called my spidey sense in various posts – and to increase the tightness of their focus. That is, speaking from the perspective of the rectilinear propagation of light, I need to make significant changes to the shape of the lens – from convex and wide open to all sensory inputs, I must work to change their shape to concave and narrowly focused, bringing the focal point where convergence occurs much closer ahead.

Whether this will change the eventual direction of my work, I cannot say at this point. However, what I can say is that for the immediate near future – the next 3 or 4 years, maybe even 5 (Age 60 is a good year to reconsider, no?) this task is very much needed. A conversation with my bookseller later in the afternoon yesterday only added to my conviction that this shift in perspective was something I must now begin to do. He said some things to me about the transformation of our world – ongoing right now – that only served to show me the value of looking back, in addition to our unquestioned perspective of only looking ahead. It is here that I interpret the concept of ‘looking back’ to not mean turning around and looking at the past, but more in terms of shortening the horizon of my inner eye and bringing the distance of my viewpoint much closer to me, myself, and my daily life.

I sense I have arrived at the endpoint of a journey founded on the basis of continuously looking ahead, in order to discern the weak signals or connect randomly found dots that might serve as waymarkers for the emerging future. That this orientation on far horizons of time, rather than space, has come to serve its purpose, and that a new orientation was now required for this later stage of my life.

As in the long gone past, today I feel there might be another post or two yet to be written in a flow, after this one.

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