Why it had to be

Bill Gates

to make the easy town story happen

Background

It was a morning in June 2016. I was just about to start with my freelance work when a thought struck me: What if I wrote a letter to the richest man on the planet and asked him whether he would be interested in developing a town experiment with me.

I was so intrigued by the thought that I decided to play through the scenario directly and leave work for later that day. Little did I suspect that this decision would send me into an inspiring, intriguing, adventurous, incredible, visionary story — for weeks. In fact when I resurfaced, I remember thinking: wow, I just lived through seven years in six weeks. That’s pretty cool.

I remember points in the story when I was too excited to sleep because I wanted to know what would happen next. I would drop off and shortly afterwards wake up again and keep going in this strange half-asleep/half-awake state.

Bill Gates

That morning, in 2016, Bill Gates was the richest man on the planet. I didn’t (and don’t) know much about him, but what I did know fitted perfectly:

  • Programmer (Very useful since simulations play an essential role in the story. And this way there would be easy access to excellent programmers.)
  • A mind that is wired to find solutions (Yes, please.)
  • Richest man (Very useful since that means the teams can focus on the actual questions they need to explore and don’t have to worry about the budget.)
  • Access to networks of professionals (Which might make it simple to persuade enough people to give the ideas a try and to dare rethinking– well, everything.)
  • A philanthropic streak (In which case it might be possible to persuade him to do a project that could turn the world upside down (in a helpful way)).
  • Businessman (Very useful. This way it shouldn’t be a problem to set up project businesses from the beginning so that the project can stand on its own feet soon enough.)

Mind you, after I decided to write the story, I put a personal block on Bill Gates. The last thing I wanted was to portrait an actual living person. And I was afraid that if I knew more about him that that would influence the character of Tom Holbon.

Other rich men

It only occurred to me in 2018, when Jeff Bezos claimed the top spot as the richest man of the world, that the easy town story would never have happened if someone other than Bill Gates had been the richest man in 2016.

If it had been Jeff Bezos, I would simply have sneered and started that day’s work. Nothing would have happened. Neither the Hub nor dot. would have been invented, nor would I be sitting here today writing this post.

When Amazon first entered the stage, I fell in love with it. A whole website about books. It was fantastic. The first cracks in that love appeared when Amazon started to sell other products, and funny enough what put me off most was the appearance of washing machines. How can you sell books and washing machines in the same place? For me that bordered on a betrayal of the books world.

To cut a longer story short, today I still have an account with Amazon since they hold my e-books hostage (If I delete the account, my e-books get deleted from my computer. How something like that can be legal, is a mystery to me.), but I don’t use Amazon any more.

So, if Jeff Bezos had been the richest man in 2016, the easy town story would never have seen the day of light, and the same goes for other people on the richest list. Either I don’t know them, or I wouldn’t have considered working with them.

Elon Musk, a possible exception

There is one possible exception: Elon Musk. If I had known anything about him in 2016, and if he had already been the richest man, then there is a chance that a story would have happened that morning in June 2016.

Only, it would have been a completely different story, and I would have been egged on by my recklessness rather than by my curiosity.

Let’s go there for a moment.

imagined scene

‘What if I wrote a letter to the richest man on the planet, and ask him whether he’d be up to building a town experiment to rethink– well, everything? Hm. Write that to Elon Musk? Nah, that won’t do. But … Hm. But I could challenge him. Yes, a challenge could do the trick.’

The challenge would be simple:

Alice Adler and Elon Musk get a billion each (both provided by Elon Musk. But what’s a single billion to him?), and with that budget they each build one or more companies, and compete on the following points:

  • imagination
  • complexity
  • diversity
  • empowerment of creatives
  • empowerment of craftspeople
  • empowerment of suppliers
  • job satisfaction within the team
  • sexual health within the team (mental and physical)
  • beneficial management model
  • natural cycles
  • coexisting with nature
  • (no) use of plastic
  • (no) use of fossil fuels
  • benefits for the community
  • number of companies
  • impact on the consumers (positive short-term effects)
  • impact on the consumers (positive long-erm effects)

Alice Adler goes into this challenge with the convictions that she can beat Elon Musk on every single point. And since Elon Musk likes an unconventional challenge, he agrees (in the story).

Maybe there is a short period where things go kind of smoothly. And maybe the world divides into two camps, each supporting their champion. But at some point chaos and probably madness would enter the story. One week Alice Adler and Elon Musk would fight (not only in the Challenge Garden), a week later they might get drunk together, dissing their fathers, before trying again to crash and crumble the other. And when Elon Musk realises that he can’t win, he and his cronies will step up playing dirty.

Now, such a story would be great fun. But the actual exploring what could be done better in a town, for a community, for people’s lives, and which of humanities narratives, theories and practices could do with a rethink, and asking what are humanities root problems? All these essential questions would get pushed into the background, and the glamour and excitement of a dirty fight would take centre stage.

However exciting the prospect, that’s not exactly beneficial in the middle of climate crises and humanitarian emergencies. First we need to put in some work to undo the destructive stupidities of the past and the present, then we can play again.

Elon Musk and Twitter

18 November 2022, additional note

With Elon Musk’s incredible performance at Twitter, he proves that winning the challenge above is pretty much out of reach for him.

It had to be Bill Gates

So, you see, it had to be Bill Gates, or rather the image I had of Bill Gates.

Mind you, the character he inspired, Tom Holbon, is ambiguous enough, and there are conflicts, but the town ideas have enough room to breathe and to develop.

Would I work with Bill Gates?

I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t know much about him. But I would be prepared to talk with him, and I wouldn’t mind a billion or two to prove that we can do better on a global scale.

Would I accept a challenge?

Definitely. I am pretty sure I can beat anyone on imagination, vision and probably even on complexity. And I am ready to be challenged, provided it is in a field (company, town, garden …) where the results of the challenge contribute to rethinking whatever might need rethinking for the benefit of humanity.

What would I do differently?

In the easy town story, the project team starts with planning the town experiment. Today, I would start with setting up a network of international businesses such as the Hub, dot., breathe and others. Part of the income from these businesses is used for local communities, and part of it could be used to develop town ideas. The town ideas have so much positive potential for all aspects of human life that it would be beneficial to have some town research teams early on, too.

More stories behind the easy town story

What reading

Terry Pratchett

did to me

Sparks,

thanks to Haruki Murakami

Some more people who influenced

the easy town story