There is a common story about what money is, which is based on a common story about how money came to be. In the beginning, people lived in small communities of blood relatives and fended for themselves. They hunted and gathered for their subsistence, and learned how to weed out undesirable plants so that they would have easy access to plants that produce food. As people became more adept at cultivation, populations grew. And people found that they could not always grow or procure from nature the things they needed in order to survive. Trade was born. ... People in different communities had surpluses of different goods. They traded these goods with one another. They established value and conducted their trade by bartering a certain quantity of one good for a quantity of a different good. ... lugging around his own goods in sufficient quantities to trade became burdensome and impractical. Furthermore, stockpiling his surplus might have worked up to a point, but once the mice and the weather got at it, it quickly became worthless. ... In some accounts, people decided to use a thing of value to them, and intrinsically recognisable as valuable to others, for money. It would initially serve as a means of exchange, and would gradually take on other classic functions of money as people expanded their use of it to include the payment of fines, tribute or fees (as in ancient administrative states, tribute-based empires or the tax collectors of the Old Testament). Certain kinds of shells were good: they were pretty, of uniform size and shape, easily transportable, and durable. Precious metals were even better: they were universally valued; they did not rot, rust or degrade; and they were easy to store and to transport. ... Other accounts consider implausible the idea that certain things are of intrinsic value. ... an important problem in the history of money: is it a commodity in itself, or a token of an existing agreement, an agreement in turn resting on a prior social relationship? ... are new forms of money really more efficient? They often come at a price, after all. What does efficiency mean? Efficient for what purposes, and when?
For much of the twentieth century, Brazil defined the region’s approach to the aislados: its National Indian Foundation sent scouts to contact them, with the goal of assimilation. These efforts were mostly calamitous for the contacted people, who tended to die out from disease, or to wind up living in frontier shantytowns, where the men often succumbed to alcoholism and the women to prostitution. In barely fifty years, eighty-seven of Brazil’s two hundred and thirty known native groups died off, and the ones that remained lost as much as four-fifths of their population. In the nineteen-eighties, officials at the National Indian Foundation, horrified by the decline, began to enforce a “no contact” policy: when its agents spotted aislados, they designated their land Terras Indígenas—areas forbidden to outsiders. ... Most of the neighboring countries adopted Brazil’s no-contact policy, which anthropologists now see as the best way to insure the survival of the remaining aislados. But, for Peru, land in the Amazon was too rich to give up. In the past two decades, the country has experienced an economic boom, based on natural resources. Opening up the jungle has made Peru one of the world’s largest exporters of gold (as well as the second-largest producer of cocaine), and the Camisea natural-gas facility, north of Manú National Park, provides half of the country’s energy. ... But, even as Peru embraced the no-contact policy, a new idea was emerging. Last June, the journal Science published a paper in which two prominent anthropologists, Kim Hill and Robert Walker, argued that isolated indigenous groups were “not viable in the long term,” because their environments are too degraded or too vulnerable to incursions. Instead, they advocated a new policy, built around “well-organized contacts.”
Thanks to sites around this city-state, including Holmul, archaeologists are now piecing together the story of the Snake kings. ... Holmul isn’t a big, famous site like nearby Tikal, and it was mostly ignored by archaeologists until 2000, when Francisco Estrada-Belli arrived. ... He wasn’t looking for anything fancy, such as Classic-era written tablets or ornate burials—just some insight into the roots of the Maya. One of the first things he found was a building a few miles from what appeared to be Holmul’s central cluster of pyramids. In it were the remnants of a mural portraying soldiers on a pilgrimage to a faraway place. ... Oddly, parts of the mural had been destroyed, apparently by the Maya themselves, as if they’d wanted to erase the history it depicted. Hoping to understand why, Estrada-Belli tunneled into several nearby pyramids. Ancient Mesoamericans built their pyramids in stages, one on top of the other, like Russian nesting dolls. When the people of Holmul added a new layer, they preserved the one beneath, which has allowed researchers to tunnel in and see previous structures almost exactly as they were left.
The capital of the Kunene region, Opuwo lies in the heartland of the Himba people, a semi-nomadic people who spend their days herding cattle. Long after many of the world’s other indigenous populations had begun to migrate to cities, the Himba had mostly avoided contact with modern culture, quietly continuing their traditional life. But that is slowly changing, with younger generations feeling the draw of Opuwo, where they will encounter cars, brick buildings, and writing for the first time. ... How does the human mind cope with all those novelties and new sensations? By studying people like the Himba, at the start of their journey into modernity, scientists are now hoping to understand the ways that modern life may have altered all of our minds. ... Like an irregular lens, our modern, urban brains distort the images hitting our retina, magnifying some parts of the scene and shrinking others.
I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation. ... Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it. ... I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. ... the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy. ... There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.