Kevin Kelly What I've Learned

Kevin Kelly, 70, is an American writer, editor, technological trailblazer and the co-founder of ‘Wired’ Magazine. His latest book, ‘Excellent Advice For Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier’, is out now. 

I GREW UP IN WESTFIELD, New Jersey. It was a very parochial, small-town upbringing. I was the eldest of five boys. My mother had five in five years. All of us were caesarean, too.

My first job was working as a page at the public library. I really should have been fired because they would send me downstairs where the old magazines were to retrieve old issues and I wouldn’t come back because I got stuck down there reading. I found it intoxicating.

A great leader should be able to paint a picture of the reputation that you are capable of stepping into. It might be much beyond what you imagine or believe you can do. My high school track coach did that for me. He believed I could run much faster and his belief enabled me to move up into that.

I had a religious conversion I was not expecting. In 1979 I was in Jerusalem and rather than encountering a euphoria, it was a very mechanical voice saying, ‘you should live like you’re prepared to die in six months’. That was the assignment. I decided to follow through and I did all the things you would do if you were expecting to die in six months; I was wholly prepared to die. But after six months, I woke up and had an actual, genuine, fabulous rebirth experience, as if I was coming out of the womb and seeing the world before me for the first time, but as an adult.

My ADVICE is that when you’re YOUNG, you should really TAKE some TIME OFF … to SWING IT, do SOMETHING that looks NOTHING like SUCCESS

I don’t welcome death, but I feel like I’ve rehearsed it. It’s helped me as I’ve gotten older to know that I’ve rehearsed that, in terms of living in a way that means I will have very few regrets.

I have been living online since 1981. I discovered there was this thing called ‘bulletin boards’. One person at a time would come in, post a message and then leave. That was the internet – bulletin boards.

We used to be called hackers. Now it’s ‘alpha geeks’. I was involved in the first Hackers Conference in 1984. One of the things that came out of the first conference was this notion of open-source software the value of it and what that free software would be about.

When we launched Wired in 1993, we were trying to sell the internet. We were trying to say, ‘there’s something important coming and we can reach the people who are making this happen’.

The thing we got most wrong was that the internet was going to be completely peer-to-peer and that the audience would be making most of the content, rather than a media company like Wired. Users would have their own channels, where they would do their own thing and have their own followers. We didn’t see that coming.

Kids today are very career oriented. My advice is that when you’re young, you should really take some time off if you can possibly swing it, to do something that looks nothing like success; that looks crazy, weird, bizarre, dangerous, unprofitable – anything except success.

I have a DEATH countdown CLOCK on my COMPUTER that ESTIMATES the number of DAYS … I FIND it very FOCUSING.

I’m an optimist not because I think our problems are smaller than we think, but because our capacity to solve problems is greater than we think. It’s the most optimistic people in every generation that create the next future. Smart phones, electric cars – all this stuff is made by optimists who believed something impossible could happen.

AI is under-hyped. But it’s also over-hyped. It’s over-hyped for the short term – I don’t even think we have AI now. In 30 years, we’ll look back and say, ‘that wasn’t AI, it was just machine learning’. It’s under- hyped because in 50 to 100 years, it will touch basically everything in the same way that our artificial power – electricity, gasoline engines – affects everything we do today.

I urge young people to work on inventing a new way to be successful. You want to do something that doesn’t look like success, because that’s really the old definition of success – you’re trying to imitate someone else’s path.

I have 5824 days left to do everything I need to do. I have a death countdown clock on my computer that estimates the number of days, based on my actuarial insurance table and I find it very focusing.

We’re not made atoms, we’re made of stories. And I think that if you can tell a story about something, you’ll really go far.

Excellent Advice For Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier by Kevin Kelly is avaliable now.

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