You’re reading What They Said, a project by Chris Gallo since 2014.

Kevin Kelly


Here’s a conversation between Tim Ferriss and Kevin Kelly on the Tim Ferriss Show. A college dropout, Kevin shares his story of living overseas, doing LSD at 50 years old, and what he’s learned along the way. Kevin is the Senior Maverick at Wired Magazine and known for other projects like Cool Tools.

Below is an excerpt of a three-part conversation. It just scratches the surface. Make sure you listen to all three parts, as Ferriss says, “Kevin Kelly might be the real-life Most Interesting Man In The World.”

When You’re Young, Get Involved in Slack

I got involved in starting Wired and running Wired for awhile. And hired a lot of people coming right out of college. They were interns and they would do the intern thing.

They were good, and we would hire them. Which basically means after 10 years or whatever, this was their first and only job. I just remember telling them, “Why are you here?”

“What are you doing?” You should be fooling around, wasting time, trying something crazy. “Why are you working a real job?”

I don’t understand.

I really recommend slack. I’m a big believer in this kind of doing something that’s not productive.

Productivity is for the middle ages. When you’re young, you want to be prolific and make and do things. But you don’t want to measure them in terms of productivity.

You want to measure them in terms of extreme performance. You want to measure them in extreme satisfaction.

It’s a time to try stuff. Explore the possibilities. And there are so many possibilities and there is more every day.


You Don’t Need Much to Be Happy

One of the life skills that you want to learn at a young age, is the skill of being ultra thrifty, minimal. In a sense of how little you actually need to live not just in survival mode, but in a contented mode.

I learned that pretty early by backpacking and doing other things, especially through Asia, that I could be very happy with very, very little.

You build your own house, live in a shelter or tiny house. You don’t need very much.

I think trying that out, building your house on the pond like Thoreau, who was a hero of mine in high school, is not just a simple exercise, but a profound exercise.

Because it allows you to get over that anxiety. Even if you aren’t living like that, you know that if the worse came to worse, you could keep going at a very low rate. And be content.

That gives you the confidence to take a risk. Because what’s the worse that could happen?

Doing that once or twice, you don’t necessarily have to live like that, but know you can be content, is tremendously empowering.


Write to Think

Teachers have done a lot of studies where they have kids write an essay on something, an assignment. And then they would also be instructed to write an email to a friend.

Then they would grade both of the compositions. They would find inevitably the email that the kids were writing was much better writing.

Because when you’re trying to write a composition, we have all these attitudes or expectations. There is kind of a writerly sense. There is all this other garbage and luggage. And baggage on top of that.

But when we’re just trying to write an email, we’re directly trying to communicate something. We’re not fooling around or trying to make it literally. It’s just direct stuff.

So the writing there was always much more direct and concrete. That’s the usual thing that happens when you write, is you’re not concrete enough. But when you email, it’s all concrete.

What I discovered, and what a lot of writers discover, is I write to think. It was like I think I have an idea, but when I begin to write it, I realize I have no idea.

And I actually don’t know what I think, until I try to write it. So writing is a way for me to find out what I think.

It’s like I don’t have any ideas. It’s true. But when I write, I get the ideas.

This is an idea generation machine. Writing.


Money is Overrated

Money is so overrated.

There is lot to be said about it. One is obviously if you’re struggling to pay bills, mortgages, or whatever there is a certain amount that is needed.

But here is the thing, accumulating enough money to do things is really a byproduct of doing other things. It’s kind of a lubricant in a certain sense rather than a goal.

And great wealth, extreme wealth, is definitely overrated. I’ve had meals with a dozen billionaires and their lifestyles are no different, you don’t want to have a billion dollars, let me put it that way.

There is nothing that you can really do with it that you can’t with a lot less money.

The things you want to do, the things that will make you content, the things that will satisfy you, the things that will bring you meaning, can usually get better without having money.

If you have a lot of time or a lot of money, it’s always better to have a lot of time to do something. If you had a choice between having a lot of friends and a lot of money, you would definitely want to have a lot of friends.

I think in a way technological progress is diminishing the role of money. I want to be clear that I’m talking about money beyond the amount you need to survive. But even that reflects back to what we were saying either that it’s probably less than you think it is.

Most people see money as this means to get things. But there are these other routes to these other things. That are deeper, and more constant, and more durable, and more powerful.

Money is this very small, one-dimensional thing. That if you focus on that, it kind of comes and goes.

If whatever it is you’re trying to attain, if you go at it more directly, through other means, you’ll probably wind up with a more powerful experience or whatever it is that you’re after.

And it will be deeper, more renewable then coming at it with money.

Travel is one of the great examples. Many people are working very hard, saving their money to retire, to travel.

I decided to flip it around and travel when I was really young. And had zero money. I had experiences that even a billion dollars couldn’t of bought.


The Future

To be fully human, we have to have our future. We have to look forward to the future. That is part of us. It’s looking into the future.

I kind of embrace that. That future forward facing, that’s what I do and what I write about. In thinking about the future, it’s very hard because the paradox of the future is that there are lots of impossible things that happen all the time.

If someone 100 years from now were to come back and tell us things, there is a lot of stuff were just not going to believe. Stuff that’s just crazy.

It’s just like if we went back 100 years, and told them what was going on now, they would say that’s just not going to happen.

We could even go back 20 years, and say we’re going to have Google Street Views of all the cities of the world. And we’re going to have an encyclopedia for free, that’s edited by anybody. They would say there is no way.

And I would tell them most of it is for free. They would say there is no economic model in the world that would allow for that.

And there isn’t. But here it is.

So the dilemma is any true forecast about the future is going to be dismissed. Any future that is believable now is going to be wrong.


Technology Sabbaths

One of the things I learned from them [the Amish], when we had younger kids, is we had technological sabbaticals or sabbaths.

I’ve now seen other families who aren’t even religious adopt that same thing, which is once a week you take a break from however you define it - the screen, keyboard, or connectivity or something. And you step back.

You do that not because it’s terrible or poison, but because it’s so good.

There’s lots of people who say they’re going to drop out from Twitter because this is a toxin and I need to detox or something. I think that is entirely the wrong way to think about it.

You want to take breaks from this, not because they’re toxic, but because they are so good.

You want to step back, so you can re-enter it with a renewed perspective, with a renewed appreciation, and having spent time looking at it in a different way.


What Successful Means

Success is also overrated. Greatness is overrated.

I think we tend to have an image of success that’s somewhat been skewed by our current media. It’s like our sense of beauty, in terms of all possibilities, it’s in a very small, narrow, defined way. It’s almost ritualistic in a sense.

I think our definition of success is today somebody who has a lot of money or somebody who has a lot of fame.

I think really being successful means being true to yourself. And being the most “you” that you could possibly be.

The great temptation that people have is they want to be someone else, which is basically they want to be in someone else’s movie.

They want to be the best rock star. And there are so many of those already. That you can only end up imitating someone in that slot.

To me, success is you make your own slot. You have a new slot that didn’t exist before. That’s really hard to do.

But that’s what I chalk up as success, is you make a new slot.


How to Decide What Books to Read

It’s like what are you going to listen to new in music. I think the music becomes free and everybody has access to all the music in the world. But deciding what you’re going to listen to becomes the thing you pay for.

This has been my prediction about Amazon. That we’re soon going to have any book you want for free. Amazon Prime. Digital version of it, you can have it, whatever you want. But you’ll pay us [Amazon] for the recommendations.

I have a network of friends, I listen to lots of podcasts, so I get it from all over the place.

I long ago decided that, in terms of the greater schemes of things, the cost of books were really cheap. And that if I wanted a book, that I would buy it.

The result is now I’m speaking in a two-story high library of books that I have. I don’t do the same with digital books because I finally figured out that if I purchased a digital book before reading it, it’s not going anywhere.

It’s not going anywhere it’s just sitting there. So I really shouldn’t purchase a digital book until like five seconds before I’m going to read it.


Cultivating a Paper Library

I was near to the point of actually digitizing and getting rid of all my paper books. I was that close about five years ago.

But then I had an epiphany when I went to a private library. And I realized books were never as cheap as they are right today. And they never will be as cheap.

There is some power about having these things in paper, always available, no batteries, never obsolete. And if you made a library now, you’d never be able to make some of these libraries in 50 years.

So I decided to keep and kind of cultivate this paper library as something that was going to be very powerful in the future.


Discovery and Invention

In a very high dimensional space, which means a space of lots of possibilities, the act of finding and the act of creating are identical.

There is no difference between discovery something and inventing something. We could say, that philosophically, that Benjamin Franklin invented electricity. We could say that Christopher Columbus invented America.

We could say that discovery and invention are the same. So that discovering yourself and inventing yourself is really the same thing.

The same things will bring about that process. You have to do both at once.

Yes, he’s the most interesting man in the world.


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