Ben’s 2017

Twenty seventeen: Donald’s first year. A year of exhaustion and planetary confusion and excess. Bitcoin briefly topped $20,000. Geopolitics is a reality show and no one knows what’s real anymore.

This year we arrived at, and moved well beyond, some of the foreseen conditions of technological and political dystopia. Civilization-warping crises of public trust.

I began the year in a cold haze. Dopamine and push notifications. Watched incredulously for months and gradually lost the capacity for shock.

I wasted a lot of time this year, but also spent it productively. I tried to defend the window; indulged in some therapeutic 90’s nostalgia; rediscovered some family history; and reflected on my relationship with the internet and its self-fashioned guardians.

I wrote some words about misinformation and civics, the idea of digital sovereignty, and an out-of-the-box solution for our decaying political culture.

I secured a $2m grant to establish a bottom-up innovation project to benefit Syrian refugees in Jordan, and visited Amman to help get the “Mahali Lab” off the ground.

I helped colleagues organize events on next-generation video transcription and strengthened bridges between my organization and the tech world. I took a Westworld-style road trip to the American southwest.

I joined the crypto bull run in a small but astonished way and caught a glimpse of the future economy (or lack thereof).

I did some more teaching at NYU ITP—in its last year in the legendary space on 721 Broadway. I returned to NYU Shanghai for a few weeks and bummed around China, an accidental witness to a strange re-balancing moment for the planet.

Finally (and probably most notably) I played a part in securing the biggest prize in philanthropy: the inaugural $100m grant from MacArthur’s 100&Change competition. Eighteen months in the making. Hundreds of hours of synthesis, writing, and storytelling paid off. Thanks to MacArthur, the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop will deploy the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response. Surreal to behold our proposal come through a field of 2000 others. And also to reflect on my own relationship with those muppets, and this moment in time, and the idea of acting globally.

A year that by most measures was kind to me, but subtly shaded by Jack Ma’s warning that the world will see “more pain than happiness” in the years to come.

Also: UFOs are apparently real, but apparently not front page news :)


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