Colonize the Rising Tide

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I just returned from a visit to the Yucatan peninsula. Most of the time, I was under the spell of a colorless, all-inclusive hotel in Cancun (Cancun is Mayan for Snake’s Nest). However, yesterday I took a tour bus to Chichen Itza.


Yucatan, amusingly, is Mayan for ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ When the Spanish conquistadors asked the locals what they called this land, the locals didn’t speak Spanish. They responded, ‘Yucatan.’ It stuck.

Our guide, Walter, explained that the Maya had been among the most advanced preindustrial civilizations in the world (colloquially, The Greeks of the New World) 1,000 years before Team Cortés came looking for gold in the 16th century.

The Maya grasp of science and mathematics—they may have been the first to articulate the concept of zero—had led to the development of an astonishingly accurate calendar, a keen understanding of astronomy, and the engineering miracle of conduit drainage systems. And there’s evidence showing that the Maya were putting rubber to good use 3,000 years before Charles Goodyear filed for his patent.

Yet, that mastery of science and civic planning did not leave them—nor did it ever leave any civilization—impervious to collapse. A century of drought. Disease. 200 years of Spanish broadswords. The people remain, Walter among them, as do some of their traditions, but the civilization is kaput.


Indulge this fanciful and idealistic question: where might Spain be today had they focused more on learning than conquest? If they’d been progressive enough to swap innovations with the (sic) savages?

What could the Spanish have done with rubber? They were exposed to it 200 years before it was brought to the attention of the French science community in 1736. What could Maya have done with metallurgy? Or the wheel for that matter?

Perhaps, nothing.

Spain’s brief reign as a world power might not have extended a minute longer. The Maya civilization in the northern Yucatan might have demised just as quickly. The idea that the trajectory of a civilization can be changed through the introduction of exotic tech is reductive. Nevertheless, it’s an idea worth pondering and learning from.

We are a myopic species, after all, easily swept up in the quest for power and market share (fixating on quarterlies? Pshaw. It’s old as time). All the more reason I say for giving into the better angels of our nature, and (at least!) considering the merits of a more collectivist ethos. That last sentence may bring to mind blindingly tie-dyed hippie constructs, but it’s really no more idealistic than a notion we all embrace: today’s souped-up ski goggles are forebears to a revolution in entertainment.

There is much competition in the VR space. The race is on. Who will win? Oculus, the hands-on favorite, backed by early entry, Facebook, and hype. Then again, HTC Vive, by all accounts, offers the superior experience. But what about StarVR or PlayStationVR? And does it even matter…what with AMD’s quest, in parallel, to agnosticize a landscape inevitably riddled with dueling SDKs?

colonize the rising tide_cover

Evangelists and odds-makers need not surreptitiously nod at collapsed civilizations in order to articulate a nuanced point spread, nor reasons for hedging, for that matter. Superior design? So what. Show me higher quality, I’ll raise you a Betamax. Project a magnificent deck, I’ll find you one about Early Adopter Syndrome. Cardboard is doing the space a disservice? I’ll tell you you’re already too jaded (and you are).

We focus on competition and brinksmanship at our own peril. And, happily, ignoring the omnipresence of patent squatters and frivolous lawsuits, magnanimity is in no short supply. There aren’t a lot of pissing matches between Oculus and HTC. Journalists tend to acknowledge the differences between systems, and not rally around pejoratives. Passion is overshadowing punditry. This must continue.

I encourage all to continue embracing that aphorism first popularized by John F Kennedy (though unfortunately now associated with a very different brand of politics): A rising tide lifts all boats. So pour it on. Colonize the tide with innovation, enthusiasm, incubation, crowdsourcing, daring and collaboration. Worry about dividing and conquering later…much later. At this point, at this nascent stage, imagining that we are not all working for the same common goal runs the risk of sinking us all.


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