We Bought A Zoo (that makes everyone cry)

So I’m on a plane to Seattle. Middle seat, between a business guy (you can always tell who has a corporate card, they’re the only ones who buy food) and a woman in her mid-40’s with incongrously sparkly green nails.

And we’re all crying. Repeatedly. To “We Bought A Zoo”. And of course we’re quiet and polite and we all have our headphones on and we don’t talk to each other about it. But we’re still all crying here together.

I have an interview with some folks tomorrow and I’m nervous. Which isn’t unusual, though I generally wouldn’t talk about it publicly. And it is somehow tied up in this movie and the adventures that people take and the fear that all the apps and electronic companies in the world won’t matter if they don’t inspire real human behavior.

It isn’t worry about getting the job; it is worry about whether it is the right job. What if they don’t share my vision? What if it is just a bunch of people who want to play the game of building companies and investing in things and being technorati?

It is a “nice problem to have”, in that most people my age are just worried about putting food on the table. But I don’t apologize for the fact that it isn’t that problem, and I know that once they solve that problem, they’ll have the same problem, the desire to do something bigger and greater than themselves. The search for meaning (or the search for the meaning of Meaning).

Until it can be hooked directly into my nervous system, no computer can replace the real world. But it can augment it. So how do we use technology to help people put food on the table, so that they can run zoos and take adventures and persue something more than the beginning of things?

I love to reread books, because as you change, what you get from the book changes. And so I was rereading Ender’s Game and I was stuck by something one of the mentors says, about the demand of humanity being only survival. Humanity doesn’t give a shit whether I’m happy or challenged; it cares that I survive and/or help others to survive.

And yet a shocking number of people each year commit suicide. Even if we just count the folks we actually record as suicides and leave aside all “accidents” and other polite ways we have of dealing with that, I cannot help but think that happiness is also about survival. That at least some core level of happiness is required by humanity, because it is only when we believe in happiness that we will ourselves into life. Not at the moments of plenty, but in times of famine, living is about the will to live.

So maybe that’s one aspect of technology. When tech helps people be a little happier or more satisfied, gives them a momentary delight, helps them form a real bond, enables some offline behavior, then what we’re actually doing is affecting a real survival trait. It certainly is worth thinking a bit about, sorting the online behaviors that leave people net happier and more productive from the ones that have the opposite effect.

We Bought A Zoo is a story someone was passionate about. Sure, plenty of people got involved in order to make money, but somewhere, someone really believed in three crying strangers on a plane and the importance of touching us in some emotional way. And of course the zoo itself really exists, and is admired the world over for its practices, and it touched the lady at Home Depot and the people who visit it.

And is any business really that different? I mean, isn’t that the point of Dirty Jobs? Mike Rowe’s whole point is that every job, no matter how “menial”, has a story and grandure. The guy who scrapes gum off the sidewalk can always find a better way to do it. And does. And that’s interesting and honorable.

(All of my blog entries ramble if I don’t edit them carefully. I’m going to try to start being more OK with that.)

Other thoughts: we drank all three variety of Coke (Zero for me, Diet for the green nails lady, Classic for the fat guy). And whatever was playing after the movie was insane: I saw some sort of buffalo-like animals run away from wolves, and one buffalo ran another down as a sort of sacrifice to the wolves, who stopped to eat it as the others ran away. Humanity. Survival as the only demand. Which doesn’t neccessarily mean the survival of any particular individual.