The Surroundup


  • by Gillian Stovel Rivers, MA, CFP®, CEA
  • January 26, 2022

Omicron is running rampant, our lives are locked down (again!) and winter is just getting started. The New Year, normally a time of great optimism, is in its infancy – and already it risks being a big bummer.

But I am finding hope. In an unexpected place, considering that economics is supposedly the dismal science. The glimmer appears courtesy of The Economist, and their recent article: “What next? 22 emerging technologies to watch in 2022.”

(A link to the article, and to a PDF – in case you don’t have a subscription – is at the end of this blog)

Technology stocks have done very well for most of the pandemic. We sometimes refer to them as “stay-at-home” stocks, because with everyone locked down at home, tech companies were bound to thrive (just as two examples, think of how much Amazon and Zoom we have all been consuming). Then in more recent months, with the economy opening up just a bit and companies in other sectors therefore able to do more business, tech cooled off just a tad – and some people were saying we should all do some divesting.

We think that’s a mistake. The Economist piece shows us that there are many amazing things worth getting invested in for the sake of our wealth.

Not just our financial wealth, but our psychological wealth, too. Covid happened and continues to happen, and although we can control our own degree of adherence to the protocols, individually we have zero control over the pandemic at large. So, what can we focus on (thinking back to Andrew’s December Surroundup)?

Talk about your silver lining: as an antidote to focusing on what Covid has taken from us, we can focus on the fact that some of the 22 emerging technologies would not have happened without the pandemic. New vaccine technologies, for example.

The fact is this: the story of our world is a much, much longer and greater tale than that of Covid. If we think of the existence of our planet (approximately 4.5 billion years) as just a single year that runs from January through December, check this out: homo sapiens has only existed since 11:48pm on December 31st! We have only been here for the last 12 minutes! In the most recent seconds of that timeframe, the invention of the internal combustion engine occurred in the 1890s, and from there, the growth in technological innovation has been almost vertical.

(These are some fascinating perspectives I have recently been gleaning from two books. The first is Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence. The other is The Anthropocene Reviewed. Want a copy of either? On me. Just let me know.)

As I argued in the July 2021 edition of The Surroundup, if we look at the big picture, we will see that civilization, by leveraging technology, has actually done an impressive job of mobilizing against Covid, just as it has to other crises of the past. Just as it will do in the future, perhaps driven by some of the incredible technologies on The Economist’s list. Here are three areas from that list that stand out to me:

  • Vaccines: powerful new formulations for HIV and malaria, made by Moderna and BioNTech, respectively. We have learned a tremendous amount from mRNA vaccines in the Covid context, and this has accelerated our ability to tackle other diseases.
  • Personal health: although Canadians are brought up to believe that we can depend on our health system, I think Covid has just proven the system has limits. To boot, our health care system was actually designed as sick care. It was designed to be reactive, not proactive. Some of the technologies on this list, on the other hand, have been designed to put the power in our individual hands – to actually create our own health.
    As just two examples, there is new technology that in a range of ways can optimize your sleep (poor sleep being linked with heart disease and obesity), and apps that actually conduct real-time measurement of your blood and gut microbiome – and then tell you what to eat and when. Remember my fascination with optimizing human performance? This kind of tech puts the health management of ME into my own hands, and that is truly powerful.
  • The environment: a Canadian firm called Carbon Engineering will in 2022 start building the world’s largest direct air capture facility, capable of removing one million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air per year. Other firms are working on it as well. It will take some of the workload off our plants and trees and help regulate the temperature of our overheated planet.

Ok here’s a fourth: artificial meat and fish! Now being pursued by approximately 70 companies. Sounds weird but hey, if they can make it taste great, just imagine the stress it will take off our planet if we no longer have to produce real cows and fish for humans to eat. Not to mention the food that can feed hungry humans because it is no longer needed to feed cattle, the chance that fish stocks will get to replenish the oceans, and the opportunity for increased vegetation to process CO2 generated by human innovation.

Which leads us to something else we can of course control: the way we each affect our natural world. In the form of our investments, for example (socially responsible or ESG investing could be something that interests you). And in the form of our daily actions: by adopting atomic habits (little things that make a big difference) about the kind of food we buy and where we buy it, for example.

Hey… I feel better already! Want to talk about scoping out some silver linings for you? Just let me know.


1.To the Economist story.

2.To the PDF of the story (if you do not have an Economist subscription)