Attention versus impact

Certain events, such as the Academy Awards or the World Cup games, attract an almost insane amount of focus from the world. Even randomly weird and relatively meaningless events can captivate the attention of millions, like a suggestive dance between Miley Cyrus and a large foam rubber finger.

Yet every day significant things happen which will have a long term impact on all of our lives and yet somehow pass below our collective radar, lost in all the noise. Such influential events can take many forms: A law enacted, a disease cured, a more lethal handgun perfected.

If there were some way to spot such game-changing events early on, surely that would be a good thing.

If we look back over the years, the wisdom of hindsight can sometimes allow us see such long term impacts with greater clarity. For example, it didn’t seem to occur to anybody in the 1950s that the massive expansion of roadways out of New York City by Robert Moses would result in entire industries moving out of the city, leading to the city’s economic collapse by the 1970s.

Perhaps it would be interesting to chart, going back in time, what sorts of events had a particularly high “long term impact” versus “initial attention” ratio. That might make it easier learn what to look for while such events are occurring, rather than discovering their import only years later.

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