Do we live in a bubble?

Credits : David Hepworth

One of the richest people I’ve had the chance to meet, even if briefly, was the CEO of the company I previously worked for. He was making around 4M$/year and obviously had very expensive tastes. He liked cars a lot, especially Bentleys, Porsches and Aston Martins, so he had one of each and a few others. He also had no idea what every day things cost.

One day that he was particularly busy, he asked his assistant if she could go out and get him a sandwich. After she agreed, he gave her a 50$ bill and told her to keep the change if there was any. We all laughed at this story, this guy had no idea, he was living in his own bubble!

Last week, on election day, I felt like I was being laughed at. No one had predicted this outcome, not the media, not the pollsters and certainly not me. I felt like the guy living in a bubble with no idea what the outside world was thinking.

The first step to burst the bubble…

… is probably to recognize that I live in one. I had however no idea that I was and wondered if I could ever had enough information to consider that a majority of folks would have voted for Trump?

I’ve reflected on a few points:

  1. Do any of my close friends have any significantly different political views than I do? I’ve thought about the 5-10 people that are the closest to me, including my wife, my college friends and some of my colleagues-turned-friends and we’re all pretty much on the same page politically. Answer is no.
  2. Do any of my colleague have any significantly different political views? Maybe surprisingly, the group of roughly 10 people I’ve talked to in the office have similar political tendencies. Maybe it’s part of the company culture. So answer is no.
  3. Do I get my news from sources that have different opinion? I get my news mostly from The Economist, Yahoo Finance and TheVerge (yes I’m a little bit of nerd) and in most cases their views only reinforce opinions that I already have. So answer i no to this one too.
  4. Do any of my contacts on social media have different political opinions (Twitter, Facebook)? Maybe I’ve already muted them / unfollowed them, but what I see is that social media is an amazing echo chamber. It’s probably too easy on social media to get only news that we want to see and reinforce our opinions. So no to this one  as well.
  5. Is my entertainment supporting different views? I like to watch John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert on Youtube, it’s entertaining but they also have similar political views. Books I’ve recently read have been finance oriented and I’ve probably picked them because I liked the topic already.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I do in fact live in a bubble and it’s probably pretty thick.  I can’t change my friends. I can’t change the people I work with. Changing my entertainment and social media followers is probably not going to happen, because well, I just want to be entertained. The only thing I can reasonably do to create more diversity of opinion is where I get my news from. But that wouldn’t be particularly natural.

I’ve realized that I completely underestimated what I don’t know. Especially since I’ve lived in that environment for a long time.

Knowing what we don’t know

Take personal finance as an example.

When I started to track my finances 10 years ago, I had absolutely no idea what I’d do with that. I just had a feeling this would be a good idea. But I knew that I didn’t know anything.

The longer we’re in a bubble, the more we forget how much we don’t know.

Now after almost 2 years writing thousands of words about it and reading hundreds of thousands of words about it, I know a little more. I have sometimes thought that there wasn’t much anymore that I didn’t know. How arrogant!

One day, I may even decide to try to time the market (and fail). I forgot that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It’s a good example of the curse of knowledge and it can lead to very misinformed conclusions.

My CEO was used to paying 100,000$ for cars and he probably had over half of million worth of them. He was too busy making millions to know the price of a sandwich. To him, a 50$ sandwich or even 100$ was probably a fair price. To everyone else, it was absurd. It would have been pretty difficult for him to know how much it actually cost, he probably had not bought one himself for years!

The Bubble Effect

If you’re reading this, and even more so if you write about money, chances are that you are reaping the benefits of the current system. You are probably pro-trade and pro-globalization. You have most likely achieved more than your peers and you will continue to do so because you’re looking for financial independence.

Eventually, if not already, you’ll be part of the 1%. In income, in net worth or in people retired at your age. And it will become increasingly difficult to understand how the rest of the population can’t be financially independent too. It’s so simple after all.

I’ve forgotten that I live in my own bubble.

But at that point, the rest of the population could be 99% of the population. Even if your life appears ‘normal’, it will be part of a very thick and tiny bubble, where the 1% lives.

The result of the elections last week surprised me, probably because I’m a product of the current socio-liberal-capitalistic-pro-trade system. I’ve used it, I’ve benefited from it and it has worked for me. I have a natural tendency to support it.

But I’ve forgotten that I live in my own bubble.

A bubble that is getting thicker and smaller every day I get closer to FIRE. I’ve also realized that I as expand my knowledge in one domain (like finance), I also reduce it in other domains like pop culture (I haven’t watched TV for over 10 years now). The more I learn about new things, the more I realize that there’s an increasing amount of stuff that I don’t know anything about.

I think I’ve had it backwards for years. It’s not “the more I know, the less I don’t know”, it’s really “The more I learn, the more I realize about all the stuff I don’t know”.

Hopefully, I won’t grow my bubble too thick.


PS: If you want to evaluate how thick your bubble is, there is actually a 25 question test to evaluate it, check it out here on PBS, it takes a few minutes to complete. I got a measly 23 points.

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  1. I was reminded of this after the election as well, and I think it is a problem for everyone across the country. It seems like the country has become more and more divided, and yet we are hearing and seeing a narrower range of opinions. I think you are definitely right that we need to spend more time trying to figure out what it is we don’t know and trying to reach outside our bubble.

    • If we all get a narrower range of opinions, we lose the ability to communicate, debate and even consider hearing different opinions from ours and that can’t be a good thing. We should all try to allow and welcome diverse opinions, so we can reach outside our own bubble and allow others to reach into ours. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Matt!

  2. I think everyone and there brother were expecting a Clinton win, not even sure Trump thought he could pull it off. Quite a surprise no doubt. I did take the test and came in at a 30…it pegged me about right on.

    Absolutely hilarious story about your boss buying the sandwich! I’m guessing he would score quite low!! He is not only in a thick bubble, but in his own separate world.

    Good post, thanks!

    • My previous CEO would probably score in the low 10s and what was interesting is that only the CFO really enjoyed talking to him. The others, from HR, IT, Operations and others found him was too difficult to relate to. Imagine what it’s like to be in the 1% when you can’t relate to the 0.1%!

  3. Whoa, I got 57 on the bubble quiz and it was close to describing my situation!

    For most of your questions though I was thinking, close friends with different political views – not anymore since I’m not counting keeping in touch thru Facebook as close. Colleagues, surprisingly there are a number of vocal Trump supporters at my company, and even Libertarians, but the majority I talk to are all pretty much the same politically, i.e. against electing Voldemort as the President. 🙂

    My news sources though vary quite a bit. Sure I like checking in on mainstream news to see what “the word” is, but I also scan “both sides” so I’ll hit CNN, and then see what Fox says about the same news – it’s so different it’s scary. BBC and NPR, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Seeking Alpha, Bloomberg, Oilprice, Rigzone, and that sort of thing. Scanning those keeps me at least aware of other viewpoints and news. I also have gone back to Flipboard, since they bought and killed Zite, and that helps with more “magazine” like stories as opposed to “typical news.”

    I haven’t been on Facebook in a while, due to all the differing opinions from my “friends”. I just monitor from the fray and don’t really get into politics there too much one way or another. My gosh, they love to shout their views as loudly as they can…

    As far as entertainment, those shows you mention are pretty funny, and in tune with my views, but I rarely watch them and since I don’t record them, they fall by the wayside.

    That bit about your CEO is hilarious though. “Keep the change… If there is any.” Bwahahahaha My bubble isn’t as thick as that, but it’s still there.

    Nice post! Good thought topic going into the weekend!

    • With a 57 score, you’re doing better than me Mr SSC! I don’t record any show, I just watch them on iTunes or Youtube when I have time. I’m telling you, cord cutting has never been easier!
      I like your variety of news outlets, it does definitely help to check what CNN and Fox would say about the same story. In the past week, as a preparation for this article, whenever I was reading news related to politics, I also checked how was covering it.
      I have to say that it is absolutely amazing how 2 different news website can cover the same story and communicate vastly, if not opposite, conclusions.
      Never tried Flipboard but heard great feedback about it, I’ll give it a try this week-end!

  4. “he gave her a 50$ bill and told her to keep the change if there was any”

    Welcome to Switzerland 🙂

    Amazing post TMM, but it’s smply not true that “a majority of folks would have voted for Trump”. He was voted less than Hillary and given people who didn’t vote and third parties the actual percentage is even lower. Yeah, I know, I didn’t accept the result yet. It would take another 10-20 years for me…

    • What do they make sandwiches out of in Switzerland, caviar? 😉
      You’re correct that Trump lost the popular vote and unfortunately it’s not the one that matters, apologies if that was misleading!

  5. oh boy, I got 25 and was surprised! that means my bubble is thick and i don’t even see it.
    thanks for a thought provoking post. I have been consciously trying to see ‘the other side’ of the recent election result, living in MA does insulate me a lot. I’ve noticed a lot of reports recently from journalists interviewing and trying to understand Trump voters. I’ve read and listened to some. I’ve even gained some insight into motives. I’ve tried to understand the driving force that is so strong that it can ignore all the disgusting and demeaning things he has said and done. I am having trouble with that. my bubble will remain thick there.

    • Mrs PIE, 25 is not bad, that’s 2 points higher than my score and I’m sure you wouldn’t pay 50$ for a sandwdich haha.
      Understanding the other side is always difficult, but in this case I believe this is really important to try to understand. There is a wave of populism throughout the world and it’s going to affect hundreds and hundreds of millions of people.
      You can try reading for a week, I’ve found it fascinating. Some of the opinions actually make a lot of sense and I can imagine that my bubble would be less thick if family members, friends and/or colleagues at least shared some of their views. Now it still doesn’t change my views, way too many things and been said and done, but I can see how some people can be drawn into this kind of thinking.
      Also, I live in Texas so I need to try to understand my neighbors 🙂

  6. Very deep post. I think most of us are living in a bubble. I guess, when you are surrounded by like-minded people at work and at home, you tend to forget that there are different views and needs out there. Really god read.

    • Hi Dominique thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. You’re probably right that we all live in a bubble to some extent, but we don’t necessarily realize it. Let’s keep our minds open!

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