On Christmas Day last year, my wife and I had an open house of friends. By evening, eight of us circled around to discuss these remarkable times of radical change. Politics. Climate. Economies. I didn’t hear in my friends’ voices despair – although I did hear rage, frustration, confusion, hope. And wonder.

Though these are the best of times, these are, also, the worst of times. But one thing is certain: This is not the time of certainty.

When what we think is up is actually down, when what we thought was true is false, we feel as if we are falling down a matrix-like rabbit hole.

It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. It’s dizzyingly new. It is wondrous. This age is an age of wonder. For wonder is not just kids stuff.  

We’re in an age of disruption. We’re in a state of wonder. No surprise.

Ages of disruption in Western civilization bring with them, unlike any other emotional experience, a state of wonder. Wonder is that subtle astonishment of the soul that both disorients and delights with new insight. Wonder itself is a quiet disruptor of our own biased ways of seeing ourselves and our world.

Interestingly enough, during the highly disruptive centuries of the 1200s-1700s, no other emotional experience was debated upon, described, and cataloged as much as wonder was. (1) And I would argue that no other human emotion is being as pervasively experienced right now as wonder and its related faces of astonishment, surprise, and sublime terror.

In The Age of Disruption, We’re Disrupting

Global economics are disrupted. Corporate work no longer relies upon your loyalty in exchange for lifelong benefits and a retirement plan. Consequently, more people – willing to face uncertainty and openness to new realities –  are calling upon their wits, communities, peers, and self-learning to re-create their roles in the world. Micro-businesses and creative enterprises continue as an increasing market segment.

Politics are disrupted. While certain federal governments across the globe seem embroiled in extremist ideologies that stalemate authentic action, more and more wonder trackers have turned to local political action, grassroots action, and meet-up action to make things happen. Creative action, activism, and community are happy alternatives to cynicism.

Higher education is disrupted – and so is deep thinking. My work with several professors and with several colleges points to this fact: The above factors, plus the digital revolution, call into question what it means to be educated and how we should be educated. We can now access information and new knowledge, without higher education, at astounding rates.

The publishing, music, and art worlds are disrupted. Napster crippled music labels the way Jeff Bezos and his digital troupers have crippled Penguin Random House and friends. And yet, these wonder trackers are seizing the moment to find new means of engaging with traditional, digital, and independent publishers. More and more artists are seeking alternative mediums for their art, for their voice.

The analog world of flesh and objects is disrupted. iThings, Clouds, and augmented reality apps call into question what is real and what is virtual, what is physical and what is digital. Instead of wonder trackers reacting like Luddites, they are creating objects and experiences that bring the analog and digital worlds together.

In this vastly changing atmosphere, we need not succumb to anxiety or cynicism. Instead, we can join fellow creatives in conversation and not just adapt to the disruption, but find positive ways to challenge the system.

Creating Communities

Anxieties are running high. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in our country, which is why wonder trackers need to come together, for discussion, for creation, for change.

Thankfully, there are now conferences and meetups available to creatives, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. Online forums, even online communities are flourishing. Even remote work has become more collaborative.

Though meeting in-person beats Facebook, but both are good. Both are needed in this age of disruption and in this world of virtual connectedness.

Answering the Call to Wonder

As creatives, we’re called to rise above the times, not falter from them. We can take our retreats and intentionally crawl into our shells for deep thinking and creating.

But what is calling us out of our shells?

Ultimately, we must track wonder to shift some of the changes for the better – for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our patch of the planet that benefits from our creative work. A call to wonder is about being more creative than reactive in this time of collective fertile confusion.

Place these four tools in your Tracking Wonder Tool Belt. Test them out.

1. Take terror to its extreme and imagine your Third Act. When you feel that the plank of Reason falls from beneath you, entertain worst possible outcomes. It sounds counter-intuitive to think of the worst when you’re afraid, but it’s a helpful exercise I taught myself years ago and have since corroborated with research.

If you fear losing your job, money, or reputation, then play it out in your imagination like a movie. Some call it “catastrophizing.” See yourself in the pit. When you imagine yourself handling hardships, you minimize the fear. Now, imagine that turning point in your movie when you climb out of the pit and become someone new, someone better. Glimpse what could be possible “on the other side.”

Wonder charged by active imagination offers a far healthier approach to handling a crisis or a challenge than letting anxiety paralyze us or make us cynical.

2. Make your own curiosity cabinet. You have a project or idea that matters. If it matters to you, it likely matters to others.

Give that project a space on a table or shelf. Put a box there, and inside that box drop any books, resources, magazine pages, or napkin drawings that relate to that project and help you track your ideas. Create Evernote folders devoted to your project.

Make it happen this year. Momentum on your own impassioned project – no matter how seemingly absurd – serves as a healthy antidote to anxiety and voluntary helplessness.

3. Share the state of wonder. Help other people – loved ones, friends, your fan packs – navigate this disruptive time with more emotional intelligence, creative action, and community engagement. Give them resources and tips, empathy and encouragement.

Open yourself up to discussion, to collaboration. Be a supportive guide in this world of followers, influencers, and uncertain decision-makers.

4. Become a creative disruptor for the good. Don’t settle for the status quo – whether in your family, your work, your neighborhood, your industry or field or genre, your child’s school, your town, your country. If we live in an age of disruption, that means someone is disrupting for better or worse. Which are you?

With disruption spreading like wildfire, it’s time to light your own fire. To use your art for good, to spread your message through the forest.

This coming year, let’s commit not only to living in a state of wonder. Let’s join together to magnify this state of wonder and better this age.

(1) You can read Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park’s remarkable history Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750. Thanks to Daston and Park for their research, and thanks to poet Will Nixon for sending me his copy as he cleared his book shelves.