[Column] Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten: How many steps until the end of the world?
A man is walking on a sidewalk. He’s looking at his phone. He doesn’t notice a woman walking towards him. She doesn’t want to bump into him so she moves out of the way. There’s enough space so she moves to the edge of the sidewalk and passes him without going out of her way too much.
A bicyclist sees the woman moving to the edge of the sidewalk. Unsure of whether she’s going to cross the street, he veers away from the sidewalk just slightly. There’s room to maneuver, and he quickly veers back towards the sidewalk after he’s passed her.
A car comes up from behind and notices a bike courier moving towards the street. It distracts him, and he moves to the middle of the street to have enough space to drive around him.
On the opposite side of the street, a cab driver is slightly blinded by the headlights of a car driving too close to the center of the road. The cabbie is annoyed, honks the horn, and shouts ‘asshole!!’ out the window.
At that moment a man crosses the street from the other side, he’s looking at his phone, distracted, and doesn’t notice a cab speeding towards him. The cab driver turns in his seat and sees the man looking at his phone. He brakes, but it is too late.
The car hits the man. The man rolls over the hood and hits the ground hard. His phone shatters on the pavement.
A seemingly innocuously series of events led to an accident and someone got hurt. Everything you do has consequences. The shortcut you take. The red light you ignore. The kindness you show. The decision you decide to postpone. There’s a buffer between what you do and how the world reacts, but it is a small buffer, and a lot of the consequences don’t ever show themselves to you — or they do a lot later.
The man on the phone, the woman avoiding him, the bike courier, and the man in the car are all disconnected, but they’re also all part of the same accident, they just don’t realize it.
P.S.: As a kid, I used to love this thought experiment and see how far I could take it. In how many steps can you get to the end of the world based on one very small accident? The man that’s struck by a car is an airplane traffic controller, he misses his shift, that leads to an airplane getting delayed, the pilot annoyed, she takes off too soon, the airplane crashes, on the president, who thinks it is an attack, he launches nukes — the end of the world.
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten is een serial internet entrepreneur en is oprichter en eigenaar van The Next Web, een techmediabedrijf dat zich focust op Generation T; de generatie met een groeiende interesse in technologie. Voor The Next Web schrijft Boris wekelijks een blog die tevens wordt gepubliceerd op Marketing Report.