Effortless power is a defining feature of what we began, roughly 150 years ago, to call “modern” life. In countless domains, technology has equipped human beings to vastly increase the sensation of strength while vastly reducing the sensation of effort. A world-class weightlifter is physically powerful, but anyone can see that performing an Olympic deadlift requires tremendous physical, mental and even emotional strain, prepared for by years of training. Someone operating a forklift, on the other hand, can lift far more weight than any athlete with almost no exertion at all.
The sensation of extraordinary capacities without effort has a name, long applied to comic book heroes but now available to all of us: superpowers.
Social media, for example, has given almost everyone a taste of the kind of recognition and affirmation that used to be available only to a handful of movie stars and television personalities. From Facebook to Instagram to the latest app on a 15-year-old’s home screen, a series of platforms have granted us low-friction relationships, along with highly visible cues of our status and standing with others. They have given us recognition and influence at a distance: social superpowers.
It’s increasingly clear, however, that superpowers come at a cost. Every exercise of superpowers involves a trade: You have to leave part of yourself behind.
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