Per My Last E-mail #15
Imagination, Animation, World-Eating, and Dignity
Hi Friends 👋,
Happy Monday! After a weekend celebrating birthdays, engagements, and getting to hang out with Puja’s family, we’re spending today and tomorrow relaxing in Avalon with my family.
Next weekend I will be in Denver, and then I head to Japan for 8 days, so the Per My Last E-mail schedule may be a little light or shifted over the next couple of weeks. Please send any and all Japan recs - I will be in Tokyo for 4 nights, and have 3 nights in the middle earmarked for Kyoto and Hakone, but I haven’t booked hotels in those cities yet, so I’m willing to be swayed!
My top pick this week is David Perell’s insight-rich, creative, and thought-provoking, Peter Thiel’s Religion. I had the chance to have lunch with David last week, and aside from being a lot of fun and a really interesting conversation, one of the things that fascinated me the most was getting to hear how much thought and research David put into this piece. It shows.
David draws from religious history, Thiel’s ideas, Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, economics and strategy, historical views of time, and more to weave together a vision of the world based around three statements that “lead us to the ultimate answer about the importance of religion”:
Don’t copy your neighbors
Time moves forward
The future will be different from the present
In the piece, David makes a statement that I haven’t stopped thinking about since we spoke: “America’s imagination peaked in 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.”
That’s a depressing statement if we let it lie, but I don’t believe that it has to be true of our future. Digging into it a little bit, many of the economic, social, and geopolitical conditions present in the 1960’s are present again today.
In response, I am writing an essay that I’d love your help with. If you have any thoughts on either of these two questions, let me know:
Do you think that the government has lost the ability to tackle large, breakthrough projects since the moon landing in 1969? If so, why do you think that’s happened?
If the government had the ability to pull it off, what do you think would be the modern equivalent of the moon landing? Fix healthcare, AI, energy independence, colonize Mars, etc… crazy ideas welcome.
Links & Listens
🖍 Animation is Eating the World by Michael Dempsey
I’ve had this one bookmarked for a while - it’s long (about 30 minutes), but well worth the time. You’ll come away from this with a better understanding of the history and future of animation than if you read five books on the topic.
Dempsey covers the history and future of animation, starting with the Thamutrope and Zoetrope in the 1860s. He gives us the stories behind the creation of Mickey Mouse, Avatar, and the spite that fueled Jeffrey Katzenberg to launch Dreamworks (including going head-to-head with Disney / Pixar on his first animated film at Dreamworks and roasting his old boss, Michael Eisner, with one of the characters in Shrek).
Then he tells us where we're heading, with James Cameron's 4 Avatar sequels coming out in the first half of the 2020s, why Netflix is increasing the % of its growing budget it spends on animation from 11% in 2018 to 15% in 2022, and how Machine Learning is helping to push animation forward at speeds unimaginable to illustrators from even a decade ago.
Why is animation important? This quote captured it best for me: "Animated characters have the ability to tell relevant versions of the same story over multiple generations, like say that of a young boy in America in the case of Bart, or a group of toys trying to stay relevant in a changing world in the case of Woody and friends in Toy Story."
🍽 Software was eating the world — now landlords are eating everything by Steven Buss
Between animation, software, and landlords, the world seems to be in real danger of being eaten by everyone and everything. The phenomenon that Buss describes - landlords receive $1 out of every $8 in venture capital investments - is one that I’m very familiar with and one of the reasons that startups are turning to companies like Breather and WeWork for more flexible solutions.
🏀🎧 The Sterling Affairs from 30 for 30 Podcasts
ESPN's Ramona Shelbourn hosts a 5-part series on Donald Sterling, the Clippers owner who was the worst owner in sports until he was banned from the NBA for life. The podcasts focus on what got him banned - the 2014 recordings of his racist comments that he made, and the fallout from them. We're 2 episodes in, but I have my highlight already no matter what else happens.
When Shelbourn talked about Sterling's intentional tanking in order to get better draft picks, Puja woke up from a nap in the passenger seat of the car and said, "The Process."
What We’re Reading
The Slack Book Club is alive! For our first book, we will be reading Mike Madonna’s recommendation, Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade, “a careful, quiet, admirable effort to understand and chronicle the lives of people living in de-industrialized and impoverished communities across the country.”
We voted among 10 books (appropriately, like America, voter turnout was light but impactful), and I am really happy we chose Dignity. It feels like the kind of book you should read and discuss.
In the Slack group, I hope we’ll ask each other questions, share thoughts, post relevant links for further exploration, and when we’ve all finished, I’ll compile all of it into a resource guide based on our conversation. We’re starting to read today, and will go through September 26th. If you want to be a part of the discussion or just want to observe, you can join the Slack group here.
Helpful tool for readers: Readwise
I read a lot and retain very little. It’s been one of my biggest frustrations and one of the reasons that I’ve been so obsessed with writing, and with learning more about the tools available to help me absorb and use more of what I read. This week, I started using Readwise, which sends me daily e-mails with highlights from books I’ve read, taking advantage of spaced repetition to help grow my knowledge over time. Check it out at the link, the first month is free and I’ve found it helpful and easy so far.
We have our debaters, we have our topics, we have our date (September 25th) and we’re finalizing a venue for our first NYC Debate Club. I’ll be sending out an e-mail to those who have signed up with more information this week. I can’t wait for this. Sign up here if you want to get involved - September 11th, the day we send out the topics and assign teams, will be the cutoff.
I will also be working on the essay about re-igniting America’s imagination, which I’m hoping to write in the next couple of weeks.
As always, if you’re enjoying Per My Last E-mail, please share it with your friends and co-workers :)
Thanks for reading,