I’m writing this on the plane back from Johannesburg to Nairobi.
My two week trip to South Africa felt like 95% work, and so was predominantly spent getting a hustle on with various companies I met/ was trying to meet, and giving Uber some good custom.
The weekend was probably a more interesting thing to write about.
I was very fortunate to have a guide for the two days – Abey, the friend of a new friend in Nairobi.
He grew up in Johannesburg and on Saturday took me to a trendy downtown market (cocktails-served-in-mason-jars kind of place) and then the Apartheid Museum.
Afterwards, we met one of his friends for a walk around the park and another who is helping him plan his upcoming birthday party.
The latter lives in a nice part of town and asked her 6 y/o daughter to turn off the cartoons and go to bed when we came.
She offered food and was a bit stuck when Abey said I was vegetarian (I’m trying more and more to eat less meat). A salad was nevertheless presented, and gratefully received, whilst Abey had chicken and rice.
On Sunday we went to Soweto.
I wasn’t really aware of it, and for those also unsure, it’s the heartland of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
The SOuth WEstern TOwnship was kept strictly for black people during apartheid and was where Nelson Mandela based himself from. Coincidentally, he was neighbours with Desmond Tutu: two Nobel Peace Prize winners on the same street.
Anyway, Abey took me to the birthday party of another of his friends, who lived there.
It was a “barbeque and slow jams” kind of afternoon, and I got chatting with the friends and neighbours who came around.
They were interested to hear whether I knew Adele, and what it was like living in Kenya (“you can see zebra by the roadside: that’s hectic”)
The two main guys I spoke to were Mosa and Victor.
Victor is a personal trainer, often giving classes at the local community centre. He says the physical exercise and group dynamic does wonder for the, often elderly, women who attend.
Mosa is a barber and said I should move to Soweto.
- “There’s no racism here”: people just see you for who you are
- “There’s no crime here”: the crime happens in the city where there are undocumented people. They can’t be traced and so cause havoc.
- “Soweto has everything you need”: there were shops, bars and nice people.
My other main conversation (of sorts) was also a 2-year-old who came and sat on me. He was fascinated by the soft hair on my head – stroking it, and then comparing with that of a boisterous 5 y/o who was being perplexingly entertained by a simple game of “Give Me Five…”.
Before Abey and I left there was about of photo-taking (and subsequent Facebook/Instagram uploading) by the front gate, and then a dance-off by the kids.
We said our byes and left the party to their gin mixers, thumping beats, and late-night laughter.
In other news…
It’s discussing his new book (21 Lessons for the 21st Century) which takes his typical zoomed out view of what humans are doing.
Sapiens was backward-looking (“the story of humankind”) and afforded some grounded analysis on how modern humans came to be.
Short version: the ability to fabricate stories is what allowed homo sapiens to coordinate with strangers and do things beyond our immediate tribe: this piece paper has value to someone I’ve never met (“money”), I’ll put my life at risk for people I’ve never met who are geographically from a similar region (“nations”).
When it comes to his new book, things are forward-looking, and therefore a bit more speculative, but nevertheless contain value.
For me, the salient point was that we’re entering an era where computers/ AI will plausibly “know” you better than you do.
If there are systems getting data on you (v1: smartphone tracking your clicks, v2: smartwatch monitoring your heart rate, v3: […] capturing all sorts) then those who hold it, and can analyse it, will be able to know what gets you aggravated/ excited/ upset to an extremely accurate degree.
As he says, “it’ll know how to push your buttons better than your mother”
The more that entities other than you (governments, corporates, etc) have both the ability to give you stimuli (v1: a new cat video, v2: reminder to exercise, v3: […]) and then also the knowledge of how it affects you then they have the ability to manipulate how you behave.
The remedy: really get to know yourself.
Regularly reflect on what presses your buttons and this will give you a better understanding of when your behaviour might be a result of something amiss.
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