#19: The Power Of The Unprecedented

What you don't know can still hurt you

Hi everyone,

I hope you and your loved ones are safe, and keeping sane during these unprecedented times.

Today’s piece is all about the unprecedented.

Reading time: 2 minutes

“All the babies in the books fed regularly and slept much longer. Why did I get the duff version?”

Hurrah For Gin by Katie Kirby

Six years ago, I stood in awe at the “business” end of the hospital bed, as my wife gave birth to our son.

Before that seminal moment, I had spent months preparing myself for the joys of fatherhood. I believed knew exactly what to expect.

In between making beautiful memories with my baby boy, along with the prerequisite bit of hardship associated with child rearing, I wholeheartedly believed, life as I knew it, would continue “as you were." Regular nights out with friends, date night and every-other-week-lie-ins, would continue unabated.

On fatherhood, I had it covered.

Or so I thought.

That’s the power of the unprecedented.

Illuminate the unknown with the known

The unprecedented is unrecognisable. So, when people encounter something they’ve never experienced before, they interpret it through a familiar lens.

It’s why, during the coronavirus pandemic, many countries ordered a total lockdown of its population, as too many fail to take the situation seriously enough.

It’s why, when confronted with Ford’s Model-T car for the first time, people called it a "horseless carriage."

It’s why the Mayan’s failed to sense the danger when they welcomed pasty, sweating Spanish conquistadors as Gods.

Upon witnessing the birth of my son, I too, failed to heed the portent of my previous, care-free life's destruction. I treated him as a Godlike figure - a harbinger of pure, unadulterated joy. 

Instead, for the first year, I found myself largely engaging in repetitive daily rituals, adapted from a DIY Baby book. Rituals my deific sprog refused to get on board with - not with the feeding, not with the napping, not even with the pooing schedules.


Nonetheless, I loved him unconditionally and indulged his every whim. We spent inordinate amounts of time together, even when I desperately needed a break.

It’s a bit like how people embrace the Internet these days - well sort of!

(Cue dramatic segue)

The unprecedented nature of the digital experience has rendered us naive to the darkening of the digital dream. 

We behave as if we don’t see it, sticking our heads in the sand, preferring ignorance over helplessness and hassle.

Without an appropriate lens from which to view the digital revolution, we have allowed tech behemoths like Google and Facebook to persuade us to relinquish our privacy in return for the allure of convenience. In turn, they gather our personal information, not just to predict our behaviour, but worse still - influence and change it. This has had disastrous consequences for democracy and individual freedom.

The asymmetric dependency, where companies know more about you than you do about yourself, has produced a "psychic numbing that inures us to the realities of being tracked, parsed, mined and modified…It’s a normalisation that leaves us singing in our chains.”

Long in the tooth

The Internet has become an inseparable part of our lives - even more so today, given the health pandemic the world finds itself in. It’s where we hang out with friends, it’s where shop, seek entertainment and conduct our business.

It’s a lifeline we wouldn’t be without. And it’s wonderful in so many ways - just like my children.

By the time my second son arrived, of course, I could no longer blame the power of the unprecedented for any lingering naivety.

And when it comes to digital tech, this same logic applies to everyone. It's been part of the human experience for long enough.

“We are not simply users. We are much used. We have to awaken to our shared future.”

As an act of digital self-defence, read Shoshana Zuboff’s paradigm-shifting book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by.

Stay safe!