Listening to the interview of a DJ that creates new pieces in a music genre known as Meaningwave, which I had never come across, he talks about his purpose. He is trying to become the best version of himself that he can. He takes samples of the spoken word from various sources – podcasts, audiobooks, lectures – and puts them to music, which is also sampled from songs and beats you may already know. He is actually very artful at creating pieces that complement and enhance the rhythm and cadence of both streams, let’s call them, and what comes out is really masterful. I had never heard of this before. It makes me think of the times when rap or break dancing started, decades ago. Young artists with talent and a boom box, and a few tapes, would improvise lyrics or dance moves to a pre-recorded tune out in public. They would gather in groups in which everyone was trying to outdo each other. This challenge allowed them as innovators to leverage each other’s ideas and become better than one another, as evaluated by the interested audience assembled to encourage them.

This Meaningwave, it looks to me, is a throwback to these genres I bet most countries have (at least the one’s I’ve looked into, or I have lived in or visited), in which two competing singers are trying to come up with the most eloquent rhyme, in a conversational give-and-take, in which they take turns singing and arguing their way through the resolution of a conflict. I’m willing to bet that regardless of where you are from, you can name a type of music that is modeled in this framework.

In some ways, it also looks to me like this Meaningwave is an evolved form of the most ancient oral traditions, which most civilizations used to pass on to new generations their accumulated knowledge and history, in hope of ensuring the betterment or the survival of their offspring through the communication of their core societal values. It was through this oral tradition, and through the physical demonstration of the technological advantages they had achieved, that societies were able to progress and improve their living standards. With different societies evolving separately, breakthroughs in each one were driven by the most inquisitive and curious members, which could have been in the minority. It is evident to me that as travel and exchange became more common, faster breakthrough and technological development ensued, as we all looked at, and became familiar with, what others had come up with separately, in an isolated town or region.

Now think about how the internet has made us less isolated than ever before, and continues to do so. My youngest daughter became recently fascinated with videos where Pacific island natives, not much older than her, would spend long days building impressive shelters – homes essentially – and underground baths, using only their hands, and materials they collected from their natural environment. I am always fascinated by the wealth of information available online that will help you tackle any challenge you may come across – from deciphering the temperature rating of car tires, to identifying electronic resistor color codes, to learning about orchid species and ways to propagate them, to figuring out the date your fridge got off the assembly line by looking at its model number, and ordering the correct part number online for it – and perhaps installing it yourself and saving $150.

Oral traditions made us smarter – at a time when most could not read, and when the written word was the purview of the leaders or most powerful. The printed word enabled us access to knowledge, and enabled us to assemble libraries to accumulate this knowledge and pass it on. It was then just a matter of making sure everyone learned how to read, to realize the value of these knowledge repositories. The internet now allows this on demand, and essentially for free. Meaningwave, like videos and podcasts, require very easy, passive skills – watching and listening. Most people are up for that faster than for doing extensive reading.

We are essentially back to how we started, millennia ago, sharing knowledge through oral tradition and demonstration, but now there are no geographical barriers to where the sharing happens, and most of humanity as a whole can participate. To top that, it’s available on demand. It has never been easier to pursue becoming the best version of ourselves that we can.

Our View from the Top – June 18, 2019