Thinking Out Loud No. 16
Luxury carbon negative goods, shared attention spaces and Professor Kliq
Every time I sit down to write another newsletter I feel grateful that there are people out there who have given me permission to send my thoughts to their inboxes. Your inboxes. I expected to be yelling into the void for a long time, but it's nice not to have to. So thank you.
A little housekeeping first. This may seem a little off-brand, but I need to study for a qualification in corporate finance. This will necessarily take up a lot of my time, which means I'll be shifting my newsletter publication schedule to bi-weekly. Once the exams are done in mid-March I'll ramp up again.
I'm making this choice as a message to myself. I have a habit of taking on too much and then struggle to give all my commitments the attention they deserve. Reducing the frequency of the newsletter, while keeping it going, will teach me moderation and to let go a little.
In this newsletter I talk about:
Future markets for luxury products made from atmospheric carbon
'Shared attention spaces' and what they tell us about human experience
The felt sense of music
Carbon-negative luxury goods
I'm making a prediction: growing ambition to reverse climate change will create a market for luxury consumer goods made of carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere.
This last year has seen a major shift in public consciousness around climate change: Greta; Extinction Rebellion; bush fires in Australia. Sentiment is shifting towards anger, fear and, importantly, demand for action. It feels like a kind of collective awakening.
I believe this represents the beginning of a deeper shift in culture, one where participating in activities that exacerbate climate change will have stigmas attached to them. Like drinking and driving (at least in the UK), carbon intensive choices like flying and eating meat will become increasingly socially unacceptable.
On the flip side, this new culture will support the emergence of a new class of status symbol: being seen to help reverse climate change. This is where luxury goods come in.
Luxury goods are special because their price significantly exceeds their standard equivalents: a Prada bag is much more expensive than an unbranded bag even though they’re both bags. The additional price reflects the fact that the utility of the Prada bag for the buyer is about more than merely carrying things.
The price of a luxury good reflects other values: perhaps quality, design, a particular ethical stance, exclusivity or status. This feature could be of tremendous value for carbon removal given three factors:
Carbon removal techniques are currently very expensive
There is low demand for the carbon once it has been removed from the atmosphere, so it has little value
No one really knows about the concept of carbon removal outside of niche circles
Creating a new product category of luxury goods – let's say jewellery – made from atmospheric carbon could address all three of these:
The elevated price of luxury carbon-negative jewellery could go towards funding technologies that would otherwise be uneconomical, at least early in their development.
Effective marketing could create significant artificial demand for products made from atmospheric carbon. Consider that De Beers essentially created a market for diamond rings that did not previously exist. Imagine if your necklace were both beautiful and also removed 500g of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Of course you would mention it.
Such products would greatly accelerate the diffusion of familiarity with carbon removal among the public. This would start via wealthy, high-status individuals with an interest in signalling their green credentials, before becoming ever more accessible to consumers. Normalising carbon removal in this way could make the public more supportive of large-scale carbon removal initiatives.
In fact, forward-thinking innovators are already working on carbon-negative jewellery, giving us a weak signal from the future. For example, NEGATIVE is a bracelet made from carbon removed from the atmosphere via direct air capture. I'm looking forward to receiving mine in the post. Hey, I’m not immune to signalling.
What do you think? Does this sound plausible or am I way off the mark?
The experience of 'shared attention spaces'
One of my favourite things is to come across seemingly mundane, day-to-day experiences and realise they say something fundamental about being human.
Take the following scenario. You're watching a film with your partner and you're both engrossed. It feels like you're having a shared experience – you're both somehow in the same film-watching space.
Then the next moment you notice that he's started scrolling through his phone, his attention gone from the film.
Pay close attention to what this feels like. Before any concept of irritation, frustration or even acceptance, there is a subjective, felt experience of some kind of shift. The nature of your subjective experience of the world changes before your thinking mind has a chance to kick in.
Another example can be noticed when you’re standing in conversation with a small, core group of people and another person arrives on the fringes, observing, but not yet 'in'. You’re all likely aware of this new person, but perhaps you don't want to include them just yet. You’re all deep in conversation and don't want to ruin the moment.
What does this 'active non-inclusion' feel like, as you continue your conversation with the core group while omitting the newcomer?
Again, you’re in a shared attention space, but this time it's shaped. I mean that literally. There is a volume of awareness around you that includes the core group, but you consciously or unconsciously shape its boundaries so this new person is not within them.
Consider the experience of the newcomer. They will have some kind of felt sense that there is a shared attention space and that they're not in it. They will feel excluded, not just think it.
What's going on here?
For me, the fact that there is 'something that it’s like' to be in a shared attention space suggests there's something important about it. I believe that it shows us another, deeper layer of human connection, one that occurs somehow beneath or before thinking.
We can connect with other people at the level of thoughts, sure, but we all know that it's possible to connect much more meaningfully without needing to say a single word.
I invite you to play with this concept in your day to day life and I’d love to hear your experience if you notice it.
Media of the week
This week I want to share one of my favourite songs. It's called Overhead by an artist called Professor Kliq.
I love it. For some reason Overhead has become associated with a deep sense of 'optimistic letting go' in me. As soon as I hear it I experience a deep bodily relaxation, then as the song gets jazzier I can't help but feel positive, hopeful even. If I close my eyes I can almost see a bright and exciting future unfolding.
I'm confident that you won't have the same experience. Whatever combination of factors that mapped those associations onto this song are mine and mine alone.
But, as with the shared attention spaces, the fact that this is something that humans can experience speaks volumes. For me, it's this extra layering on of meaning that seems to make life that much more vibrant.
What about you? What songs evoke a strong felt sense in you? What do you experience if you listen to Overhead?
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