A Call to Wonder in an Age of Disruption
Creative ways to override anxiety during radical change
Posted December 31, 2012
We’re in an age of disruption. We’re in a state of wonder.
On Christmas Day, my wife and I had an open house of friends. By evening, eight of us circled around to discuss these remarkable times of radical change. Politics. Climate. Economies. I didn’t hear in my friends’ voices despair - although I did hear rage, frustration, confusion, hope. And wonder.
We’re in an age of disruption. We’re in a state of wonder. No surprise.
Ages of disruption in Western civilization bring with them, unlike any other emotional experience, a state of wonder. Quick history note: During the highly disruptive centuries of the 1200s-1700s, no other emotional experience was debated upon, described, and cataloged as much as wonder was. (1)
And I would argue that no other human emotion is being as pervasively experienced right now as wonder and its related faces of astonishment, surprise, and sublime terror.
- Global economics is disrupted. Corporate work no longer relies upon your loyalty in exchange for lifelong benefits and a retirement plan. Consequently, more wonder trackers are calling upon their wits, communities, peers, and self-learning to re-create their roles in the world. Micro-businesses and creative enterprises continue as an increasing market segment.
- Politics is disrupted. While certain federal governments across the globe seem embroiled in extremist ideologies that stalemate authentic action, more and more wonder trackers have turned to local political action, grassroots action, and meet-up action to make things happen. Creative action and community are happy alternatives to cynicism.
- Higher education is disrupted - and so is deep thinking. My work with several professors and with and for several colleges points to this fact: The above factors plus the digital revolution seriously call into question what it means to be educated and how we should be educated. We can access information and new knowledge at astounding rates.
On one hand, the pied pipers of the digital revolution call for the demise of universities. On the other hand, evidence is shoring up what should be obvious: the multi-fingered, multi-minded frenetic activity that the digital world exacerbates disrupts the prolonged focus and thoughtfulness often needed for future planning and problem-solving. Wonder trackers are seeking intelligent ways to transform education without succumbing to mindlessly embracing gadgetry for gadgetry’s sake.
- The publishing, music, & art worlds are disrupted. The Napster crippled music labels the way Jeff Zebos and his digital troupers have crippled Random House and friends. Yet wonder trackers are seizing the moment to find new means of engaging traditional, digital, and self-publishers.
- The analog world of flesh and objects is disrupted. iThings, Clouds, and augmented reality apps call into question what is real and what is virtual, what is physical and what is digital. Wonder trackers find ways not to react like Luddites but to create objects and experiences that bring the analog and digital worlds together.
In December, I instigated the first HV:CREATE - an informal meet-up for creative minds in New York’s Hudson Valley to meet, connect, and inspire each other. At 8:30 am one Friday morning in a small cafe, over 25 committed creatives showed up from both sides of the Hudson.
Face-to-face beats Facebook. But both are good.
These are the best of times. These are the worst of times. But one thing is certain: This is not the time of certainty.
When what we think is up is actually down, when what we thought was true is false, we feel as if we fall down a matrix-like rabbit hole.
It’s dizzingly new.
It is wondrous.
This age is an age of wonder.
And no matter how old you are, now is your age of wonder. For wonder is not kid’s stuff.
A Call to Wonder
As creatives, we’re called to rise to the times, not falter from them. Sure, we’ll take our retreats and intentionally crawl into our shells for deep thinking and creating.
But ultimately we can track wonder to shift some of the changes for the better - for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our patch of the planet that benefits from our creative work. A call to wonder is about being more creative than reactive in this time of collective fertile confusion.
Place these four tools in your Tracking Wonder Tool Belt. Test them out. Let me know how and whether they work.
1 Take terror to its extreme and imagine your Third Act. When you feel that the plank of Reason falls from beneath you, entertain worst possible outcomes. It sounds counter-intuitive to think of the worst when you’re afraid, but it’s a helpful exercise I taught myself 12 years ago and have since corroborated with research.
Imagine your Third Act - that turning point in your movie when you climb out of the pit and become something, someone new. You glimpse what could be possible “on the other side.”
Wonder charged by active imagination offers a far healthier approach to this age than letting anxiety paralyze us or make us cynical.
2 Make your own curiosity cabinet. You have a project or idea that matters. It matters to you and it could matter to others.
Give that project a space on a table or shelf. Put a box top there, and inside that box drop any books, resources, magazine pages, napkin drawings that relate to that project and help you track your ideas. Create Evernote folders devoted to your project.
Make it happen this year. Momentum on your own impassioned project - no matter how seemingly absurd - serves as a healthy antidote to anxiety and voluntary helplessness.
3 Share the state of wonder. Help other people - loved ones, friends, your fan packs - navigate this disruptive time with more emotional intelligence, creative action, and community engagement. Give them resources and tips, empathy and encouragement.
4 Become a creative disruptor for the good. Don't settle for the status quo - whether in your family, your work, your neighborhood, your industry or field or genre, your child's school, your town, your country - in short, your patch of the planet. If we live in an age of disruption, that means someone is disrupting.
Why not be a creative disruptor for the good?
This year, let’s commit not only to living in a state of wonder. Let’s create this state of wonder together.
What is your take on this age of disruption? How are you and people you know of being more creative than reactive? Would love to know your stories, examples, and disputes.
See you in the woods,
(1) You can read Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park’s remarkable history Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750. Thanks to Daston and Park for their research, and thanks to poet Will Nixon for sending me his copy as he cleared his book shelves.