Sergey Brin, was totally spent after a long night of tinkering with the final version of pre-release Google Glasses. “I’m going to change the world,” he was thinking.
Sergey needed a break. He started to do what normal human beings call “wasting time”. He was surfing on his own invention, Google, when he suddenly went into a state of shock.
He saw a picture which quite possibly ruined his life. “Shit,” he said.
“What’s wrong, honey?” said God.
And that requires some explanation.
Not only an explanation, but my reading list for the day as I reach back into my youth, into nostalgia, into sadness and despair.
I was a lonely kid. My best friend died later of AIDS. For some odd reason that can’t be explained by logic, his conditions seems to be hereditary as his father also died of AIDS. No joke.
During the summers I went to math camp and even there I was the only guy who couldn’t get a girlfriend.
During the winters I was a paperboy and asked out every girl who lived on my paper route. Eventually some of the mothers on my paper route met as a group and stopped me on my bicycle, “please don’t talk to our daughters.”
When I got home I would make fun of my little sister for awhile. Then I would watch TV, eat, and read science fiction books at the same time.
Then I would go to sleep.
I’m going to list some books and ask you what they all have in common:
- “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
- “To All Their Scattered Bodies Go” by Philip Jose Farmer
- “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman
- “Ringworld” by Larry Niven
- and I’ll throw in, even though it was when I was much older: “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
What do they all have in common?
They all won the Hugo Award. Which is like the Nobel Prize, only for science fiction.
A couple of points on this:
Can I really be comparing the Nobel Prize, awarded to such distinguished scientists as Marie Curie (who won it twice), Albert Einstein, and Barack Obama to an award that was also given to someone who wrote a book about a boy who becomes a wizard?
And the answer is, of course.
For one thing, much of science fiction has often been a predictor of the future. Or, at least, the spark that lights the fire inside the minds of many future inventors.
How many stories from the past have found their way from the pages of fiction to the front pages of newspapers, complete with photographs of the amazing accomplishments?
How many future achievements in science can trace their routes back to the pages of 25 year old nerdish man or woman pecking out keys on a typewriter of his vision of what is to come?
Another similarity: both awards are named after famous inventors:
Alfred Nobel: who basically invented bombs.
And Hugo Gernsbacher, who invented, well, many things, including “science fiction”, when he started the magazine, “Amazing Stories”, the first magazine focused solely on that genre.
The Hugo awards are named after Gernsbacher.
In that first magazine he published works by HG Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jules Verne. Over the years, he was the first publisher or many of the most well known science fiction authors.
Hugo was a visionary. In 1906 he started the first magazine about radio, called “Modern Electrics” the first magazine about radio. Within just a few years over 400,000 people had amateur radio kits. Just 110 years later, 240 million people will listen to radio today. Compared with 250,000 podcasters.
In the 1920s, he invented Skype. Do you think I’m kidding?
Here’s what he said in 1927, before the invention of television: “It will be possible to talk over the telephone to your friend a thousand miles away and see him at the selfsame time.
As Ray Bradbury once said, and I should add that nobody has said this about Alfred Nobel, “Hugo Gernsbacher made us fall in love with the future.”
Overall, in addition to contributions in radio and TV and basically inventing science fiction, Hugo filed over 80 patents and he started over 50 different niche magazines.
This is “The Hugo Technique”, which I encourage people to follow:
- have a vision
- create a niche magazine (or website) to build community around your ideas (among his 50 or so magazines that he started was the classic, “Sexology”)
- encourage and mentor young people to explore the outer limits of your ideas
- encourage people to make many wonderful inventions, driving society forward.
He imagined the future every day and tried to make it real. The masthead of “Amazing Stories” even said: “Extravagant Fiction Today—Cold Fact Tomorrow.”
Coming up with new and fun ways to give value and encourage others to create the future is the way you live an exciting life now.
And he wasn’t afraid to try, to fail, to be frustrated. Frustration is the sign that there is something in the future that you want but you haven’t gotten it yet. Come up with all the ways you can to make your vision come alive. Do it every day.
Sergey Brin was randomly surfing when he saw the future of Google Glasses buried in a single image of the past.
Hugo Gernsbacher is wearing the Google Glasses in 1963. His glasses were to watch TV, as there were no small computers then.
The problem: they looked like shit. So he forgot about the project. They never would’ve worked. Hugo died four years later.
Back to the drawing board. Perhaps more than anyone, Hugo Gernsbacher’s visions will continue to be made manifest for centuries to come.
Meanwhile, my favorite Hugo-nominated (but didn’t win) novel: the classic by Robert Heinlein, “Time Enough for Love”, about a man who lives forever.