What Steph Curry, Amazon and Wormholes Have in Common

When Amazon drops off a package at your home, it’s as if you are at

one end of a wormhole in the space-time continuum. How did that

package get to you? Who knows? You just know it arrived. You might be

sad that your local bookstore went out of business, but you sure like

that you can now whip out a device, order the latest Stephen King

novel (or a neon yellow, full-body, spandex suit) with a “1-click.”

And if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can get the package

delivered to you tomorrow. Being at the receiving end of the wormhole

is a utopia of convenience, and it feels so good when you come home

from work and find that hoped-for package waiting for you.

Amazon has mastered the art and science of moving packages from point

A to point B.

Which brings us to Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warrior point

guard, superstar and (unanimous!) selectee as the Most Valuable Player

of the 2015-16 NBA season. Curry has mastered the art and science of

shooting a 9.5-inch-diameter basketball from at least 22 feet

way—swoosh!—into the 18-inch-wide hoop to score a 3-pointer. Some of

Curry’s long-distance shots are so improbable and so difficult to

defend that they appear to violate the laws of the space-time

continuum. His “dizzying, borderline, mystical shot-making,” as Robert

Silverman of The Daily Beast put it, has inspired scientists, stat-loving researchers and even video-game makers to try to quantify the physics of his ball delivery system. Like Amazon, Stephen Curry owes his success to his ability to move an object from point A to point B with great speed, accuracy and frequency.

Innovators master the art and science of moving things from point A to

point B. We benefit from their innovations even though we desperately

miss what’s been destroyed.

When it comes down to it, almost all innovation is about moving

something from point A to point B—but doing it better, faster, cheaper

or with a higher quality than it was done before. Innovators who

engineer new and improved ways to move an object—whether a ball, a

package or a person—from point A to point B can change the world. When

these new innovations first arrive on the scene, whether it’s the

telephone moving the human voice, the passenger train moving human

bodies or the internet moving human knowledge, they create such a

sense of wonder that they do seem to violate the laws of the

space-time continuum. Social theorist David Harvey uses the term

“space-time compression” to explain how technology can collapse

spatial or temporal distance. In 1851, a British author sounded the

alarm about a about a Victorian Era version of a wormhole created by the

passenger train. “Time, our best and dearest possession, is in

danger,” he wrote, describing how time was being forced to obey “the

laws of a railway company.” But of course, someone has to engineer

that wormhole: The railway company with its inventors, engineers and

workers; Amazon with its software designers, supply chain managers and

warehouse foremen; or Stephen Curry with his body and a ball.

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized the term “Creative destruction,” writing that a capitalist society like ours, “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” He compared capitalism to a severe storm system that regulates itself

with the “perennial gale of Creative Destruction.” But one man’s

creativity is another man’s destruction. Disrupters like Jeff Bezos

and his Amazonians might be radically “creative,” but the people who

lose out, such as bookshop owners, only experience the “destruction.”

But who exactly is the destroyer? It’s us, the consumer.

Americans in the 1850s ditched the Pony Express when telegraph

companies developed the technology to send messages from one place to

another at the speed of electricity. Who was going to pay for a

horse-and-buggy ride when a motorcar could transport them much faster

from here to there? Why go to a record store when Apple can deliver

songs straight to your phone? Once you’re in the wormhole, you’re

never coming back out.

It all begins with the early adopters who are the first to embrace the

latest thing. But these futurephiles only make up about 13 percent of

the population according to Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovations

theory. Most of the rest of us are purists. Deep down we want the

world to stay pretty much the same. Every generation romanticizes the

good old days; every generation gripes about newfangled things. But

even though we might resist the siren call of technology, eventually

we will all succumb.

Which brings us back again to Stephen Curry. Some people grumble about

Stephen Curry and how his epic long-range missiles have changed the

game. Behind the so-called Curry backlash is the disturbing feeling

that even though his play is radically creative he’s “destroying” the

game that we know and love. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks,

wants to change the rules so it’s harder to make a 3-point shot. Some

former players are yearning for the good old days when the heroes were

big men who battled below the basket. Even Stephen Curry’s former

coach Mark Jackson accused him of “hurting the game.” Why? Because

when Jackson goes to high school gyms he see kids, and “the first

thing they do is they run to the 3-point line.” The nerve of these

kids—modeling their game on the greatest player of the day rather than

the stars of the past!

One of the strangest ironies of great innovations is how the

perception of such advances changes over time. Yesterday’s futuristic

wormhole is today’s object of nostalgia. Take passenger trains. They

evoke in us a sepia-toned feeling of yesteryear. Trains! Such a

charmingly quaint way to travel that people take vacations to nowhere

riding storied lines like the California Zephyr or the Orient Express.

But when trains were first introduced, they were the great

technological disrupter of their time.

The same is true for the slam-dunk. Basketball’s miraculously athletic

and spectacularly soaring shot might be today’s crowd-pleaser,

attracting 7 million TV viewers to the most recent NBA slam dunk

contest, but decades ago back when the dunk was a revolutionary

innovation, it was vilified by almost everyone. In 1935 a disapproving

college coach tried to block the shot with his vitriolic essay,

“Dunking Isn’t Basketball.” A Boston Celtic from the 1960s, Satch

Sanders, described how players who were anti-dunk tried “take people

out of games,” punishing those who dared to dunk by slamming into them

while they were still soaring toward the hoop. Dozens of changes were

made to the game to discourage the dunk. In 1967, the NCAA rule-makers

even banned the shot, believing that one player’s mastery of the

dunk—Lew Alcindor’s (aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar)—was destroying the game.

Dunking was its own kind of wormhole, a revolutionary way of getting

the ball from point A to Point B that favored the big men and slighted

the smaller passers and shooters. Eventually, the once-feared dunk was

no longer seen as a game destroyer but as one of basketball’s most

creative innovations. But there was one rule that was instituted by

the NBA in the 1979-80 season to make it a little easier for the small

guys to shoot and a little harder for the big men to dominate. It’s

taken a while for the rule to have its desired effect. It’s called (if

you haven’t guessed already) the 3-point goal.

Innovators master the art and science of moving things from point A to

point B. We benefit from their innovations even though we desperately

miss what’s been destroyed. One of the best hacks for dealing with the

“future shock” of breakneck technological innovation comes from

BoingBoing founder Mark Frauenfelder, who straddles two worlds. On the

one hand, Mark Frauenfelder is a technophile. He started out as an

engineer and was so in love with technology that he wanted to write

about it, so in 1995 he pioneered one of the web’s first blogs, where

he still journals about the creative potential of tech innovation. But

Mark Frauenfelder is also one of the biggest boosters of the

old-school, hand-crafting, DIY maker movement. “Once in while I get

sick of the echo chamber of the web and being on the computer,” he

told us while reporting our book The Art of Doing. “And that’s when I’ll pull out my paints and do some artwork or go out and do something with my kids, like fly a kite.” In other words, sometimes you just want to get from point A to point B the old-fashioned way, with your feet, whiling away the time, meeting people, smelling the roses and experiencing the welcome happenstance of life.

1 Here is Who we are Camille Sweeney Josh Gosf