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Happy New Year of the Tiger and Other Thoughts About Cars (II)

This morning, I was taking a walk and looked at the street that was unfolding in front of me. And I tried to imagine what that street looked like 200 or 300 years ago. Suddenly I realized that all these houses and concrete were sitting in a landscape that was probably made of trees, little hills on the horizon. So I stopped a minute and I pulled my Instagram account to look at some of the pictures I took few years ago. You can listen to the podcast here.

One of the pictures caught my eyes. It was the picture of a tree in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. That tree was near a monument overlooking the Manhattan landscape, with a quite open urban landscape. You could see that these houses were built over the last 100 and 200 years as well. And suddenly, I realized that the same had happened over the last 200 or 300 years in that landscape in Brooklyn. Under this layer of concrete and houses, a landscape was probably there with forests, trees, rivers and streams.

And all of a sudden, my mind went forward to the future to imagine what might happen in the same street, within the next few years, or even the next few 100 years. My mind tried to imagine these next steps. The last few hundred years has witnessed that layers upon layers of urban infrastructure had been overlaid over our world, over the natural landscape that was made of rivers, hills, valleys. But during the last two decades, it’s another kind of layers that are starting to build themselves upon each others. These are of another kind. Silicon Valley calls it “digital transformation.” The very street where you live, the very neighborhood where you reside, your city, is giving birth to digital layers. Digital layers that live in the cloud.

Several years ago, I went to Istanbul in Turkiye (the city that we used to call Turkey). There are parts of the city where you can see the different layers of history, with ancient ruins all the way at the bottom, then later constructions and so on, all the way to now. That’s what the last 300 years look like. And 500 years from now in the future, what will it look like?

Happy New Year of the Tiger and Other Thoughts about Cars (I)

“Put a Tiger in your tank” said that advertising for a famous chain of gas stations, and Muddy Waters even wrote a song with the same title. It defined a whole era, a whole global culture of mobility for billions of people. So when I watched the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, it felt like we are about to embark into a whole new transformation that we may not even be aware of. (LIsten to the Podcast Here).

Indeed, the city of Le Mans in the western part of France, holds the oldest car racing event in the world, the 24 hours of Le Mans, founded in 1923, almost 100 years ago. I thought I should talk to you about it because it is part of the cultural heritage of the city and the region itself. It is a testament of a legacy brought to us from the 20th century and passed down to us at the beginning of the 21st century.

Few weeks ago, I had brought to you some comments made by the CEO of a leading car manufacturer called Stellantis, a group made up of a merger between Peugeot and Fiat/Chrysler. There was a fascinating vision in that interview that Carlos Tavares gave.

So I thought I should talk to you about cars from the perspective of culture. Indeed, one of the statements made by Tavares in that Le Monde interview was the fact that he views his group as a technology leader and not just a car manufacturer. In fact, this is pretty much what other car makers are saying too. There is a sense that a lot is about to shift radically in ways that we cannot even start to fathom. Tavares added that he sees his group Stellantis, as a major player in education. That statement is huge.

There are indeed some powerful transformations likely to happen in cars just in the years to come. If you think about it, cars have been around us for more than 100 years. They have affected our lives and shaped our worldviews. Roads and all of our infrastructures have been framed around cars. Our cities and habitat were defined around them. And now, right when we are about to accelerate in our energy transition and under the heavy burden of climate change, comes this shift in the internet itself. These are all confluences that deserve more attention.

This is all happening at the same time and it is urgent for us to start to understand  what is going on at a meta level. That’s what I am attempting to do here, for you and for me at the same time. Because these shifts and transformations are so momentous that it’s essential to stop and look around in order to understand.

For me, there was a kind of Aha moment when I watched the virtual version of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The COVID has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and in just 2 years, it feels like some digital transformations that were expected to happen in the next 5 or 10 years actually happened much faster. As I just said, Cars are the symbol of our civilization. The car is an icon, a powerful driver of our dreams. Look at small children looking at a car toy, look at the fascination in their eyes. These wheels are mesmerizing.

So when I saw the 24 hours of Le Mans virtual, 2 weeks ago take place in the virtual world, I was mesmerized like a little boy and then some major realizations clicked in my mind. There was a huge storm of understanding that shook me right from the inside, and that’s what I wanted to share with you right now and in the coming episodes that I will devote just on that topic. There was fascination but also consternation.

In fact, I am inviting you to watch a replay on youtube of the 24 hours of Le Mans virtual. The link is in the description of this episode. You don’t need to watch the whole race of course, few minutes or even few seconds will be enough if car racing is not your favorite topic. We are just using that as gateway to start the conversation. However, bear with me, because I will keep making reference to that video over and over again as a point of reference. It will be a guiding rail to dive into what the internet will feel and look like in the very future, and in fact what our life will look like. So we’d better pay attention and understand what is about to happen.

The point here is not to make the apology of the metaverse or web 3.0 here. There are plenty of evangelists bragging about the merits of the new forms of the metaverse. The point here is to understand these trends well enough so that we can be empowered by it while avoiding to be pulled in all directions by it.

It’s like riding a tiger. You know that if you harness the strength and agility of the Tiger, then you’ll gain focus and insights. Study the Tiger’s agility, serenity, calm and determination. And you’ll be able to ride that tiger. It’s a metaphor of course. By riding that Tiger, you’ll be able to see through what is about to take place with the coming technological changes. Indeed, this new Chinese year is called the year of the tiger and that’s not a coincidence.

So that’s the journey I am inviting you to take for the next few weeks, during that time of transition that is called Spring Festival in Chinese culture. It’s really interesting to know why its already referred to as Spring, right at the end of January, literally close to 60 days prior to what the rest of the world uses as a reference for Spring. We’ll talk about it next time because it’s extraordinary to understand that single point.

The Tiger that we are about to put in that car of the future is what is going to guide our thinking here. Because, we have to start looking at how this will all influence global culture. So what do you think this Tiger is made of?  That’s exactly what I am inviting you to explore.

Your homework until my next episode on the topic will be to watch few minutes of that video and ask yourself questions about what you actually saw.