“No matter how I twist and turn it, the math is still depressing.”
Even watching the lectures at double speed, getting through 24 lectures of 90 minutes each takes 18 hours. And that’s just my economics class. No notes taken. I have five more, plus a 10-page scientific paper to write this semester, if I want to turn my master plan into reality.
But that’s not the depressing part.
What I was jokingly saying to my Mastermind group last week was funny, like most good jokes, because it was true. After committing to creating The 4 Minute Folio in late March and powering through 50% of all content, I still face a mountain of 200 audio book summaries to record. At 12 minutes on average, that’s 40 hours. Given I miraculously nail it all in one go.
I wanted to be done by the end of June, but it’s unrealistic for me to find a full extra workweek in my schedule. Needless to say, this, next to my usual stuff, will keep me busy for a while. What matters now is putting in the work. While plowing through a long stretch of repetitive tasks, I like to maintain one thing above all.
Today, I came up with a fun way to do so.
Why You & I Need This Post
I know how this project fuels my long-term goals, it has a a high return on time and I’m 100% sold on the idea. But recording still isn’t my favorite activity in the world. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ However, I am extremely lucky I get to sit in front of a snowball-shaped microphone and talk. Chances are, so are you, whatever your boring, non-favorite task you have to slog through might be.
Last Friday, I visited my grandparents for lunch. Like always, grandma Lore couldn’t resist and made her infamous and delicious bee sting cake (“Bienenstich”).
“It just doesn’t taste as good as this anywhere, grandma! No matter where I buy it.”
“That’s because everyone puts whipped cream in it. Nonsense. The cream gets much denser without it.”
As we talked more about the state of cooking and why no one bakes like this or roasts like that anymore, she pulled out her cookbook. It was all old and tattered and wrinkly and on one of the first pages, an almost emblem-like symbol reminded us of the original owner. AS, the letters read. Alma Schmidt – my grandmother’s mom.
We checked the year of publication. 1929. “I might not live as long as this book has,” I think.
It comes not only with cooking wisdom well beyond what recipes for the modern housewife in this week’s InStyle could ever hope to achieve, but a grave legacy: like the book, my great-grandma and grandma lived through a world war and the post-annihilation wasteland it left behind.
Here I was, holding something that had survived hell itself, my biggest worry being how fast I could finish the easiest job in the world: talking to an audience that doesn’t move.
The Wonders We Carry, But Don’t Care About
As I was driving home, I felt really grateful. I wondered how I could maintain this perspective of gratitude long-term, but especially the next few weeks. When I arrived, I emptied my pockets as usual. And then I had an idea.
Men aren’t exactly known for being on the carry-on-heavy side of life, but you’d be surprised how many items you’d find on even a minimalist guy like me. We don’t think of these day-to-day objects much, but on second thought, the stuff in our pockets we take for granted is actually pretty amazing. The same goes for handbags, of course.
Here are the 12 pocket miracles I carry around today and what makes them worth appreciating.
Pocket Miracle #1: House Key
What if tonight, all keys and locks in the world magically evaporated? Gone. Can you imagine the mayhem? Without even beginning to think about banks, weapon factories and high-security prisons, how would you make sure nobody takes your stuff while you’re at work?
Before 4000 B.C., when the first wooden locks were invented in Mesopotamia, the only way to protect your home was to hire a guard. Those still aren’t cheap today. After being improved and popularized in ancient Egypt, they were eventually replaced by warded locks and later the pin tumbler (or Yale) locks we use today. Look how those work:
The fact that we can have a home, a place we can always return to, a place that’s safe, no matter where we go, thanks to a little piece of metal, is nothing short of amazing.
Pocket Miracle #2: Basement Key
The middle key you see on my keychain is the one for our basement storage unit. Room, which is solely dedicated to the storage of stuff means we are also afforded with enough freedom to own said stuff. In the course of going overboard and creating a $20+ billion storage industry even the humblest of us seem to have forgotten that owning things is a luxury.
Gathering must’ve been a frustrating activity for hunter-gatherer tribes, because you could never keep what you gathered. What’s the point of carrying fancy furs for miles, when there’s new ones to be found along the way?
Now, you can indulge in whatever weird collection hobby you please. Bring on the smurf figurines, Hot Wheels tracks and stamps. Hang your deer heads on the wall and smile at them with a sense of accomplishment whenever you please.
We got 99 problems but a space ain’t one.
Pocket Miracle #3: Mailbox Key
The rightmost key on my chain is for my mailbox. Whatever I order from Amazon, I can find in there in less than 24 hours. Heck, if a friend from Japan sends me the latest Pokémon game, I can expect it to make the 10,000 km journey in three days!
From 1860-61, for 19 months, the famous Pony Express reduced mail delivery times on the 3,100 km stretch between Missouri and San Francisco to about ten days. It took a system of 6,000 men, 75,000 oxen, 400 horses, 184 stations and thousands of wagons to cover 300 km/day – at a time when the mail system itself was 4,000 years old. More so, the riders faced many perils along the way, with about 20 employees killed and almost 40% of the horses kidnapped.
One year for each stolen stallion later we can get anything from anywhere in no time.
Pocket Miracle #4: Cash
Above you see a 2-euro coin. Every morning, this buys me both a buttered pretzel and a coffee. Breakfast, check. Besides the fact that this is incredibly cheap, especially in a city like Munich, it’s a trade I’m lucky I’m able to make. The first properly authorized coins were minted around 700 BC in three independent places: India, China and Greece.
(the first, Greek, official coin – with a turtle)
One of my favorite Aegean philosophers, Aristotle, contemplates the matter of money as follows in 350 BC:
Of everything which we possess there are two uses: both belong to the thing as such, but not in the same manner, for one is the proper, and the other the improper or secondary use of it. For example, a shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange; both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but this is not its proper or primary purpose, for a shoe is not made to be an object of barter. ~Aristotle, Politics, Book 1:9
Without cash, you and I would often not have much to negotiate with. Unless the guy you needed apples from wanted your leftover bag of grain, you were shit out of luck back in bartering times. Inventing an item with a fixed value for the sole purpose of eliminating this need for coinciding wants was a genius idea.
I know money causes most of us a lot of headaches, but it’s pretty amazing to be able to deal, negotiate and do business with anyone you meet.
Pocket Miracle #5: Debit Card
Queue the flat pieces of plastic, ’cause I’ve got a whole bunch of ’em. This blue card is my debit card, which takes money out of my checking account every time I make a purchase. When they were introduced in the 70s, these cards increased people’s safety and made shopping convenient.
Did you read that attentively? Debit cards are less than 50 years old. Fifty! My parents lived a life without debit cards. What’s especially beautiful about them is every time you swipe them, you know you’ve completed your contractual obligation to pay whoever created the service or product you’ve purchased.
You can relieve a whole lot of those headaches about money, if you only use this card, instead of the next one. It’s a miracle that lets you build a financially well-grounded life.
Pocket Miracle #6: Credit Card
Credit cards are actually way older than debit cards. So human, to learn to use debt before money. They’ve been around since the 1930s, but the first widely usable one was first introduced in 1958, which still beats debit cards by about 15 years.
The reason I prefer to use the other one over this is simple: With a credit card purchase, you’re spending money you haven’t earned, which you now owe the bank and have to worry about all month until it’s paid back.
Nonetheless, it’s a miracle. Used the right way, you can save money with it and bridge gaps in time between payments and purchases.
Pocket Miracle #7: Passport
Believe it or not, there was a time when travel was uncommon – and so was having to document your identity. Behind the walls of the castle, everyone knew who you were, so why make you carry around a piece of paper? One of the first documents resembling a passport was the bara’a in the medieval Islamic Caliphate, a receipt for having paid your taxes. Only with this were you allowed in certain regions of the country.
(the Japanese were early in the modern passport game – this first Japanese one is from 1866)
My German passport allows me to travel anywhere in Europe, no questions asked, no visas necessary. Talk about a golden ticket. We may be able to conveniently get from A to B physically, but it’s only thanks to the passport that this possibility becomes meaningful.
Pocket Miracle #8: License
Even in 1800, travel was still very much reserved for the rich. A today common 10,000 miles a year at 2-3 pence per mile via stage coach in England would cost you a whopping £23,600 in today’s value – or $30,000. Granted, a carriage may only have cost the equivalent of a Smart car, but even that, few could muster.
(a Phaeton in 1800 and today)
I may look like a prisoner in the picture, but this card, your license, actually gets you into the global, infinite freedom club of drivers. Then, investing even 2% of the median US income a year ($99/month), will put a movable piece of metal in front of your house that stands for liberty like few other possessions.
Get in, go anywhere, never look back. How miraculous is that?
Pocket Miracle #9: Health Insurance Card
With great power comes great responsibility. And great power cars sure do have. If you hit someone even at 30 km/h, they might not live to see the next day. Especially without treatment. You might just as well end up on the other side of the hood too, so health insurance is a good thing.
We all know the situation in US is complicated and I think this is one of a few things Germany got right. With the ‘Imperial Bill of 15 June 1883’ all workers were forced to get health insurance. As of 2009, everyone must have it, worker or not.
As I learned in this semester’s economics class, mandatory health insurance with optional extra coverage on top is not only a socially just model, but even economically efficient. Any other solution would leave both high and low health risk candidates with less coverage at a potentially higher price.
This is one of those cards I hope I never have to play, but to be able to walk into any hospital and get treated for whatever disease or health issue I struggle with is nothing short of a miracle.
Pocket Miracle #10: Swimming Card
I remember giving a mini presentation in high school with a friend about ancient, Roman bathing culture. I still have the slides:
Their system was insanely elaborate, complete with various rooms to adjust your body temperature and a floor heating system. For centuries after the Roman empire collapsed, bathing went back to being a necessity, water a scarce resource.
Today, for less than the price of a Starbucks latte, I can go to the pool, exercise, relax, socialize and return home healthier and happier. And not just any pool. The Müller’sche Volksbad in Munich was the biggest and most expensive pool when it opened in 1901.
Pocket Miracle #11: Organ Donor Card
This might be the most important thing I carry in my wallet. It puts me into the very sad number of only 12% of people in Germany, who agree to donate their organs in case of their medically confirmed death. Our Austrian neighbors are much smarter, making good use of the human bias to stick with the default: you’re automatically an organ donor and have to opt out instead. The result? 99.9% of Austrians are organ donors.
The first successful organ transplant happened in 1954, when Ronald Herrick donated a kidney to his twin brother. Throughout the 60s, the first lung, pancreas, heart and liver transplant followed suit.
Since 1968, the organ donor card makes it possible for a single donor to save up to 8 lives. Still, 22 people die each day, waiting, hoping for a miracle to save them. With an organ donor card, this miracle could be you.
Pocket Miracle #12: Vitamin C
In the 1700s, sailors would sometimes start to develop fevers, bleed from their skin and lose their teeth. What most initially thought to be some form of black magic or a curse we now know is a disease called scurvy. In 1753, Scottish surgeon James Lind first proved it could be treated with citrus fruit and thus, stems from a lack of vitamin C.
(get this man an orange!)
Of all the vitamin deficiencies we suffer, vitamin D and C are among the most common, yet also the least obvious. I always take some vitamin D throughout the sun-devoid German winter and I’ve recently begun taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C each day. Whoever may get my organs will hopefully receive something that’s in good shape.
About $15 gets you a year worth’s supply and I found it to not only make my immune system more robust, but also boost my mood. It’s one example of how we can now prevent diseases that eliminated entire ship crews at next to no cost – and that’s just another pocket miracle.
I don’t want to twist the knife further. Instead, I hope this can be a turning point. A moment of awareness. Awareness of how awesome it actually is, this life.
Just because something’s small doesn’t mean it’s not significant. Don’t take miracles for granted. Even if they fit in your pocket.
The question I’d like to leave you with is: how many do you carry right now?