Leave nothing but footprints
Monday, January 4, 2016 by Dave Winer

The idea of denting the universe bothers me, as does the idea of a person setting out to change the world. 

What if two people are trying to change the world in opposite ways. So they battle it out and maybe one of them wins and the world changes the way this person wanted it to. Then a few years later the person is forgotten and a few years after that, dead. 

What exactly did changing the world get you? Did it make your name ring down through the ages? If so, why would you care. It's the dream of adolescents to make a name for themselves. As you grow older it's not as important, you'll find, as it used to be. 

I often wonder why a man as old as Sheldon Adelson, for example, wants to do anything to the world? He won't have to live with the changes he brings about. With the kind of money he has he actually can make changes to the world. I think there should be a law against people doing that. I'm not kidding. Adelson might be old, but in the grand scheme of things, you and I are pretty old too. Think about it when you're thinking about how great it would be to change the world. If you really do manage to change it, will you even live long enough to see what happens? My guess is probably not. 

Denting the universe is even worse than changing the world. 

Denting is something a car does when it hits something. Denting is damage. People get hurt when things are dented. And please, you're not going to even get remotely close to doing anything to the universe. The universe exists on a scale that you can't even begin to comprehend if you're dreaming of doing something to it. The universe just laughs at your ambition. Hah! You're a mere speck of dust, says the universe, a speck that exists for an infinitesimally short period of time.

I didn't want to write anything about this until I had a better idea, and now I do. Don't try to change the world. Instead, try to work with other people. Do something nice that won't change anything in any lasting way. Like the rule of hikers: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. I think that should apply as much as possible to life. Observe. Think. Share your experience, but strive to not change a thing. 

We humans are too good at denting our own home, and because of that it's now become barely liveable. So less is more in the denting the universe department. It's better to just be kind to each other. Your name may not ring down through the ages, but at least you will have lived a good life that you can be proud of. 

  • I like the hiking comparison. Out in the national forest in Missouri or Colorado, say, it is honorable to set a small stone onto a cairn, one of those informal stacks of stones that has been built and maintained by others, so that the next walker can clearly see the trail. It’s another metaphor for what people do for each other, completely divorced from economics, and vital for the journey of our lives, for our humanity.

  • It's a good thing TBL didn't take that advice.

  • It's what we're wired for. We're wired to want to improve our lot in life, that of ourselves, that of our children, and to some degree for the entire human race. I really disagree with this idea that all change is damage. Should we demonize the beavers because they're cutting down trees and building dams? Animals change the world all the time.
    What's wrong with changing the universe? Almost all of it is dead and doesn't care one way or another if it's changed. But what we can do as humans is spread life through the galaxy so that species that evolved on Earth, the vast majority of which will not survive the destruction of the Earth naturally, will survive it.
    I have to disagree with the characterization that "we're too good at denting" and Earth is now "barely livable." On what do you base that?