Technological progress is the creation of shortcuts. These shortcuts allow us to go from wanting to accomplish something to having done it by spending orders of magnitude less effort than we would need to invest otherwise. Instead of having to spend weeks to cross the Atlantic on a ship we now hop on a plane and are done with it in half a day. True innovation brings about dramatic decrease in the amount of effort that has to be invested.
With every action we consciously perform, we start in a certain state of being and want to end up in a “better” state. Let’s call these states A and Z, respectively. State A can be “hungry” and state Z “full”, or “uneducated” and “educated”. Going from A to Z is desirable and leaves us better off than we started . Unfortunately for us, going from A->Z requires effort. For hungry->full we either have to prepare food or get someone else to prepare it, in which case we probably have to pay them. Getting an education can be even harder than finding a meal. In any case, there is a transition state with an elevated level of required effort when going from A to Z. We can call this transition state T.
Let’s say we have a way for measuring the level of discomfort and unease in our lives. On the figure below the A state involves a higher level of unease than the Z level. A tired and hungry judge is more likely to deny parole than a rested and fed judge. Transitioning from A to Z results in a benefit – an overall reduction in the amount of discomfort (the difference between A and Z). However, to go from A to Z we need to put in effort which is the difference between discomfort at the transition state T and the original state A.
The purpose of technological shortcuts is to lower the effort of the transitional T level. These days you don’t have to chop wood, find kindling and cook precariously over a fire – with an oven you can be eating Jamie Oliver’s spring quiche in less than an hour. You also might not need to spend years and tens of thousands of dollars on a fancy college and instead opt for learning what you really need through Udacity, edX and Coursera.
Effort is still needed, but at reduced levels (the blue line on the figure below). Once a big enough drop in effort levels is achieved, the Z state becomes the new A state and is taken for granted – hardly anybody in the developed world worries about clean water as the effort involved in turning a tap is pretty much nonexistent.
What does this all have to do with Teleport? Simply put, Teleport wants to create a shortcut that reduces the level of effort needed in making a move. If you decide to get out of bed in the morning, you’ve already moved from one location to another (if you’re like me then this first move is to the coffee machine in the kitchen). At Teleport we’re generally focused on somewhat more long term moves. Starting from a few weeks to join a Hacker Paradise event, a couple of months to kickstart your startup at Y combinator to more permanent moves involving changes in who gets to collect your taxes. Still, each such move is taken with the intention that by the end you’ll be better off. But we have to work for it.
As an example, let’s take a closer look at a permanent move from one country to another. Perhaps it is not even clear initially what the destination should be. Figuring this out can be a considerable challenge in itself. Once a destination has been established, it might be necessary to find a new job before getting a visa, deal with a bunch of bureaucracy, figure out the logistics, etc. All the necessary steps might not be even known initially.
Overcoming any of these hassles will get you a bit closer, and having dealt with all will eventually land you in the place of your dreams. Once there you’re still a few steps away from bliss – need to find an apartment, get bank accounts, change driving license, find interesting people, etc. This progression can be visualized as a sequence of transitions towards being slightly better off.
We can combine the efforts included in all the steps into a grand total effort of the move. If the effort for completing any of the components is reduced so is the total effort. At Teleport we want to reduce the trouble you have to go through when performing the discovery and execution phase of the move and settling in once you’re where you want to be. Which is nice, but why do we think it matters?
Most people probably prefer not be compared with molecules. Still, we can draw a few parallels with the hustle and bustle of billions of people, each trying to find an optimal state of being, and thermodynamics of molecules. In biochemistry, the shortcuts mentioned above have an analogy in the form of enzymes. They speed up chemical reactions which otherwise would take hundreds of years to complete by themselves.
For example, a particular enzyme is required to accelerate a reaction necessary for digesting milk sugar. If the enzyme is missing, the reaction takes place far too slowly and results in lactose intolerance. Enzymes do their magic by lowering the effort needed (T state) when going from start to end (A to Z). This is relevant because we can try to apply results from thermodynamics to our present case of move kinetics and explore what effects we can expect to see.
For the sake of argument, suppose the effort needed to execute a move is a single unit of discomfort. It can be estimated that halving this single unit effort will result in about 1.6 times more people going through with the move. On the other hand, halving a 10 times larger effort causes a roughly 150 time increase in the number of people making the move! The effort levels here are arbitrary, but the conclusion that can be made from this is simple. The effect from reducing the trouble involved in a move depends exponentially on the amount of effort originally required. The bigger the original effort needed, the larger the effect from reducing it. And not just larger – exponentially larger!
This makes sense intuitively as well. A relatively small percentage of population undertook long distance travel prior to flying becoming mainstream. As the considerable effort required was slashed by the advent of air travel, the number of travelers ballooned. On the other hand, incremental increases in technological progress that yield smaller reductions in efforts produce less stellar effects.
At Teleport we want to make people move. Skills have no borders but the world, alas, does. By providing tools to reduce the friction when making a move, not only do we make it easier for our users to realize their potential, but also increase the total number of skillful people on the move. Creating a shortcut for a big enough pain can have profound consequences and can bring us closer to a world where places compete for people and not vice versa.
 In other cases these shortcuts take us to places we didn’t even know we wanted to go to (think of the creation of the WWW for example).
 At least in state A we believe we’d be better off in state Z
 Consequently, this might be why it is hard for most to fathom the effort needed to obtain bare essentials like drinking water in the less developed parts of the world.
 The formula for the estimation is exp((T-A) * (n-1)/n), where exp is the exponential function , T-A is the original effort of the move and n is the amount by which the effort is reduced (to halve the effort n=2)