Letter From Future Swells No. 60

Only Empty Spaces Can Be Filled

How to live our lives is the monumental question we all face as we enter adulthood. Historically, few have had a choice in the matter, the majority being limited by family, nation-state, and cultural legacy. But since the 60s we have entered a new world where that matters less and who we are and want to become matters more thanks to a digital network initially called Arpanet that was created in 1969.

“Computing is not about computers anymore. It’s about living.” – Nicholas Negroponte

Today the majority of the world’s population are using the Internet to design their lives. Historically we used to have to rely on the church for that, then universities followed by corporations. But today, 59% of all people make their life choices every month using the Internet. And we have just begun to scratch the surface of all the amazing possibilities that lie ahead.

I was first exposed to personal computing at the end of the 70s, the Internet in the mid-80s, and the web at the beginning of the 90s. In college, my career choice was to become a diplomat, academic professor, or an international executive. But I fell in love with writing and the potential of digital technologies and began a journey that was going to take me through the first 25 years of the world wide web and physically across the whole wide world.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” – Abraham Maslow

Today I live in a small legendary surf town in Southern California reflecting on the choices I made for the first half of my life and choosing how I’d like to live the second and last part of my life. I’ve climbed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and find myself for a decade and a half at the question of self-actualization. 

I’m extremely wealthy in life experiences, ideas, and spirit but am by no means financially rich. I was on a clear path towards financial riches but decided that the price – my life – was just too high to pay. The more I accumulated and hoarded the unhappier I became. I had a family, a high-paying job, and a bright future but I couldn’t breathe. 

So I quit and gave it all away to live an extraordinary life on my own terms. I decided to explore the enormous potential of the emerging digital world through personal trials and errors. I took advice from the brightest minds on the matter – Kevin Kelly, Nicholas Negroponte, Doc Searls, Esther Dyson, et cetera – and designed a nomadic life that had the cloud as the organizing principle. 

“If people are living the same as always, with their bellies full of food, they'll just go on the same way. If they get hungry and unhappy enough, something happens.” – Paul Bowles

And it worked. For ten years I traveled the world, the last five years full-time, with just a carry-on bag, a few devices, and payment cards. Every two weeks I came back to San Francisco, from wherever I was, to spend time with my sons. And when they had breaks from school, I took them traveling to show them that there is a world outside of our limited consciousness to explore and enjoy. A world that belongs to all of us despite religious, political, and financial claims to the contrary.

I developed an ingenious business model where I gave talks to executives about this new digital world in exchange for room and board, travel expenses, and a fee. I accumulated an enormous amount of frequent flier miles that I used for personal travels when I had vacation and visited amazing places like José Ignacio (Uruguay), Bali (Indonesia), and Pichilemu (Chile).

And then one day I fell in love and moved to a small seaside city in Los Angeles. But I had forgotten how to live in one place in a house with things. My work, life, and friends were out in the world. My network was big and vast but I had barely anyone I knew in LA. I knew how to survive and thrive in the world but not how to be local. So the relationship crashed and burned as I never managed to really land in that reality.

“To make an end is to make a beginning.” – T.S. Eliot

And that’s when I arrived here earlier this year, in this little magic surf town filled with Mom-and-pop stores, old shacks, and ocean dreams. I fell in love with the idea of living in a small and slow-moving town from where I could continue my experiments in digital but now also local living. And one day, after having been living in Airbnb’s and motels for seven months I found the shack via a new local friend.

When I visited the shack the first time it was just an old garage in the midst of being converted to my new humble abode. But I thought it was poetic and rather serendipitous that it was a garage, the metaphor for the beginning of something new in the tech startup world. And I realized when I stepped into the space that I was reconnecting with a long lost dream, that of returning to Southern California to live by the beach, work on my own projects, and spend time outdoors every day.

“I am rooted, but I flow.” – Virginia Woolf

I moved in the last day of October with my nomadic gear, a surfboard, a mountain bike, and fourteen small cardboard boxes filled with books, photographs, winter clothing, and memorabilia that had been stored with the service I used for my things when traveling the world. The move and unpacking took about two hours and was done the subsequent morning before my new neighbors had even woken up.

The first night I slept on the floor and the following day I searched for a mattress and bed linen online and found IKEA to offer the best value. It felt like being twenty years old again, moving out from my childhood home to get my own place for the first time, but of course, with the experience of having lived across the world most of my adult life. 

“Minimalism is beyond time. It’s the stillness of perfection.” – Massimo Vignelli

I felt immediately at home, having honed that skill after having lived in hundreds of Airbnb’s across the world over the past decade. I’ve learned it has very little to do with things and more with a state of mind and how to bring myself to a place of mental presence. But I’ve also learned that things do matter, not just for their utility but also that they connect me with the past and tells a story about who I am. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that I can acquire anything I need as the Internet gives access to everything ever made, even the things I regret I let go of when I began traveling the world. I found a Balinese bed frame for $115 on Craigslist that reminds me of three very transformative visits to the island a few years ago. I bought the Joseph Joseph Nest 9 Plus for $30 that I always wanted when I had my own kitchen again. And I’m looking to reacquire some of the physical books I’ve given away over the years.

“Now and then, someone is able to look at an empty space, conclude it would be a great place to start a revolution, and bravely go forward.” – Henry Rollins

Only empty spaces can be filled and I’m being mindful of what I’m bringing into the shack. It’s the fewer better things, the essentials, vintage and used, lost and found. It’s such a gift to break up from the past and start over again to get closer to where I need to be – here and now. As a nomad, I had access to everything in the world in bits, and today I’m physically “downloading” my favorite few things to the shack to create a new living experience. Not just for me but also for others, as I’ve learned that it’s important to tell my story in things for people to understand who I really am.

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” – Sun Tzu 

I’m slowly and softly filling the empty space with the physical things that matter to me and once done, as every experience and relationship is, in the end, temporary, I’ll move on to new opportunities. But thanks to the Internet, I’ll always be connected to everyone I’ve ever met, everything I’ve ever owned, and every place I’ve ever visited. And that’s what makes the Internet and this journey so rich and magic and I wouldn’t want it any other way.


Join Future Swells to get access to more hands-on insights into the future of work and life from the surf shack. Members get access to exclusive content, discounts on future projects, monthly Q&A sessions, and, of course, the pleasure of supporting my work.


FEWER BETTER THINGS:

Nested Bowls: Joseph Joseph’s compact food preparation set Nest 9 Plus with two mixing bowls, a colander, a sieve, and five measuring cups is ingenious and since yesterday part of my essential everyday kitchen.

Unión Mezcal: Back drinking alcoholic beverages after an amazing seven-month transformative detox my first choice is the fair trade Mezcal Viejo from Unión Mezcal in Oaxaca. Their mission is mindful, the bottle beautiful, and the liquid superb.

Buy Less, Demand More: Patagonia’s new Black Friday advertising wants us to buy used before new for a better planet.

Surf Tee: Indoek, the Venice Beach company behind the inspirational Surf Shack-series, is now also selling hemp tees.

Moonstruck: Since moving to Encinitas I’ve been learning about the moon and how it impacts our lives. Today we have both a lunar eclipse and the Beaver Moon so watch out. Here is a guide to the eight faces of the moon as taught to me by a local.


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Much love,

Per Håkansson

Encinitas, California