Lessons Learned in New Orleans

Much of the information written about the 4th Industrial Revolution falls into two distinct camps — techno-optimism and techno-pessimism. Generally speaking, the optimists believe that despite automation and AI, we will be able to keep people employed with meaningful work. The work may be different, but there will be sufficient work. The pessimists, however, generally paint a picture of a dystopian future — robots will take the jobs, creating great inequality and global insecurity.

At this point in time, both sides are operating on mere predictions. While everyone can agree on the existence of a 4th Industrial Revolution, there is very little agreement about how the world will respond.

I’m decidedly an optimist on this issue. I firmly believe that we, as a human race, can overcome whatever the future holds. We have the ability to adapt, and we have the ability to survive.

There are days, however, when it is hard being an optimist. When I stumble across an article, or read a book, written by someone belonging to the pessimist camp, it is hard to not be persuaded. The arguments can be compelling.

But, with a little thought, I’m right back to being firmly convinced that we will be okay. Why am I so convinced? Because I believe in humanity. I know, that sounds simplistic. And, it’s not always easy — drive a bit in rush hour and you’ll find yourself quickly losing faith. But, seriously, when you truly think about all that we humans continue to overcome, you too might be convinced that we can survive this Industrial Revolution as well.

I have several mental “tricks” to get me back behind the human spirit. One that works particularly well is thinking about New Orleans. Yep, that’s right, think about NOLA, and all that it has overcome throughout its 300 year history, and it is simply hard to doubt in humanity.

I’ve only been to NOLA twice — once in 2002 and again in 2017. Both times it was in December — once to elope, the other to show our kids the city. We did all the touristy things both times we were there — walked around the French Quarter, ate beignets, rode a streetcar, and strolled through public parks.

And, in doing those touristy things, you cannot help but notice that New Orleans is just downright gritty.

What separates New Orleans from other cities I’ve visited is the thorough melding of the cultures that gave birth to the city. You can see it in the architecture of the French Quarter. You can hear it in the music. And, you can taste it in the food.

You don’t go to one section of town to taste Creole, nor do you go to just one club to hear jazz. It doesn’t matter where you are in the city, you’re surrounded by New Orleans — a perfect innovative blend of many different cultures.

New Orleans surely had periods of discord, as the boundaries of one culture were pushed or pulled onto another. But, the end result, the New Orleans that is celebrating 300 years as a city, has an infectious indelible spirit.

And, what’s most encouraging about New Orleans’ story is the fact that it is a story of humans working together. New Orleans wasn’t built, nor rebuilt, by any one industry, or by any one person. Its history includes tales of pirates as well as plantation owners. Immigrants as well as slaves. And, they all contributed to the creation of the undeniably unique culture that is New Orleans.

People in New Orleans were collaborating well before it became the trendy way to solve problems. They celebrated their diversity centuries before corporations and governments hired “Directors of Diversity.” And, they found their passion for living a good life generations before we could tweet #goodlife.

These traits were not imprinted on the city by a bureaucracy or through corporate giving. These traits were brought to bear by the people — the cooks, musicians, builders, and artisans. The gritty culture of New Orleans was created by its people just being human — making food and music, building (and rebuilding) a city, and overcoming tremendous obstacles along the way.

New Orleans is a living example of what we humans are capable of accomplishing by simply being human — by creating, and collaborating, and innovating. By celebrating artistry in our day to day lives — the food we eat, the noises we make, and the buildings we build — we can survive.

Look back at pictures of the devastation wrought by Katrina — that is just the type of future the techno-pessimists are capable of conjuring up in your mind. When you have those images in your head, and the fear that comes along with them, try this — Google “New Birth Brass Band,” play a clip, and listen to the sounds of New Orleans. I’m telling you, NOLA spirit is infectious.

Let those sounds remind you of all that is possible when we work together, when we respect each other, and when we simply live life — celebrating all the ways we’re different, all the ways we’re human.

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