David speaks with Lauren Razavi, Director of Special Projects at SafetyWing, overseeing the Plumia mission to construct a virtual nation on the internet.

Lauren is also the author of "Global Natives: How Digital Nomads Will Shape the Future of Work, Travel, Innovation, & Migration," a book that explores the impact of digital nomadism on work and culture.

They talked about:

🌍 Challenges of modern-day digital nomad life

🚀 Building digital passports

🕰️ Digital Democracy

🔮 The future of governance

🎙 Listen in your favourite podcast player

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📹 Watch on Youtube

👤 Connect with Lauren:

Twitter: @LaurenRazavi | https://twitter.com/LaurenRazavi

Website: safetywing.com | https://safetywing.com/

📄 Show notes:

0:00 | Intro

2:27 | Challenges of modern-day digital nomad life

7:19 | Building digital passports

12:43 | Digital Democracy

19:42 | The future of governance

🗣 Mentioned in the show:

Safety Wing | https://safetywing.com/

Plumia | https://plumia.org/

Robin Hanson | https://www.theknowledge.io/robinhanson/

Nomad Border Pass | https://plumia.org/nbp/

Benjamin Barber | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Barber

If Mayors Ruled the World | https://amzn.to/3LNooTc

FinTech | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fintech

Balaji Srinivasan | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balaji_Srinivasan

The Network State | https://thenetworkstate.com/

Decentralized autonomous organization ****| https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decentralized_autonomous_organization

Garrett Jones | https://www.theknowledge.io/garettjones/

Ultra Low Emission Zone | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra_Low_Emission_Zone

Full episode transcript below

👨🏾‍💻 About David Elikwu:

David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist, and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people think deeper and work smarter.

🐣 Twitter: @Delikwu / @itstheknowledge

🌐 Website: https://www.davidelikwu.com

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Career Hyperdrive is a live, cohort-based course that helps people find their competitive advantage, gain clarity around their goals and build a future-proof set of mental frameworks so they can live an extraordinary life doing work they love.

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📜Full transcript:

[00:00:00] Lauren Razavi: The Nomad Border Pass is essentially a multi country visa for digital nomads. So if you're a nomad, it's allowing you to go for 90 day stays, completely vetted for remote work. You're allowed to travel and remote work, no grey areas and you are basically applying for like one visa and able to go on the same terms with the same kind of like international standards across our participating countries.

[00:00:23] Lauren Razavi: Some small or controversial countries will be more difficult than others, but the scale of the ambition is to really create a new standard of visa instrument that really allows people to do what people are already doing in the world and which our current systems haven't caught up with yet.

[00:00:42] David Elikwu: This week I'm speaking with Lauren Razavi. Now, Lauren is the author of an awesome book called Global Natives. She's the VP of communications at Safety Wing, which is building a global digital safety net for people around the world.

[00:00:55] David Elikwu: And she's also the executive director at Plumia which is building a global digital passport that would be available again to anyone around the world.

[00:01:04] David Elikwu: In this part, you'll hear Lauren and I talking about this idea of global citizenship and borderless living.

[00:01:10] David Elikwu: So we talk about the work that she's doing at Safety Wing and at Plumia, their ambition to create a more borderless world with a social safety net and also with a digital passport that allows people to move freely and really changing the way in which we conceptualize nation states and the places that we come from and the places that we go to, and the barriers that we put up between people travelling and moving from place to place.

[00:01:31] David Elikwu: We talk a little bit about some of the second-order effects that might create, we talk about DAOs and some of the ideas that Balaji Srinivasan talks about in his book, The Network State.

[00:01:41] David Elikwu: So overall, I think this is a really interesting conversation for anyone interested in this intersection between globalization and travel and how as technology grows it can change the way we conceptualize the future.

[00:01:51] David Elikwu: You can find Lauren on Twitter @LaurenRazavi And if you love this episode, please do share it with a friend. And particularly if you're listening on Apple Podcasts, don't forget to leave a review because it helps us tremendously to reach other listeners just like you.

[00:02:04] David Elikwu: In the show notes or in the description below we'll link to Lauren's book as well as her substack where she writes a lot of really interesting essays about this intersection between borderless living and being a digital nomad.

[00:02:19] David Elikwu: Okay, being a nomad very often just requires your work being very digital, right. So it means that you can just work online and it means that is what gives you the freedom to travel around. But I think when your work becomes very digital, it becomes very easy to spend most of your time just digitally and online. And so yes, you can actually make loads of incredible friends. I've made friends from around the world online, and you can talk to people online, you can share ideas online, you can find these scenes and communities and things online. But I've been trying to make an intentional transition very recently is just realizing that I don't actually spend any time with sometimes these people are in the same city, you know, you and I happen to be in the same city now. And I didn't necessarily realize that, but there's other people that I've known and started making friends with online and they happen to be in the same city, but we've built this online relationship for however many years and just never actually met.

[00:03:08] David Elikwu: And so I wonder if you had any thoughts on I guess, you know, as people travel around is there an extent to which we can erase that barrier between the digital and the physical and how that can be useful and how that can be positive.

[00:03:21] David Elikwu: But I'm also interested to hear your thoughts on, as the world maybe becomes more remote first and more digital, because I'm also thinking about, there's a lot of trends where kids aren't even playing outside this entire summer. I really feel like the only people I see outside are making TikToks. Like they are standing by themselves with their phone cameras, just recording something. And I don't see kids playing by themselves as much.

[00:03:44] David Elikwu: And there are statistics that also say this, you know, everyone's just inside playing Fortnite. And maybe that's just a, a myopic view, that's just like one particular view of the world, but I do think there's a sense in which the thing that enables us to perhaps go out and spend more time meeting people around the world could also just lead to us all staying at home in our rooms and connecting with people around the world, but not actually going there and building any like physical relationships.

[00:04:09] Lauren Razavi: So I think, one of the big challenges we have in like the kind of 21st-century workplace is to kind of figure out like what it looks like to be able to be switched on 24 seven, but to take time away from that in ways that are useful and healthy and then all of that stuff. And I think that for me personally, I have very blurred personal and professional lines in the sense that like one of my personal like career ambitions is always to basically get paid for things that I'd like to be doing anyway, I mean, this podcast is a good example of that, right? Like, I want to be chatting with you right now, David. It just so happens that I'm in a job where it's very useful for me to be able to, to kind of talk about these things in the nomad space.

[00:04:50] Lauren Razavi: But I think for that reason, I suppose, like, I will, like, go out for dinner on my own, or I will, like, go out for drinks or like, have downtime before I'm meeting friends, or something like that. And like, I still have some notifications turned on on my phone, and I don't mind like, getting back to somebody on Slack like, I don't necessarily have this kind of rigidity that I know that some do, where it's like, no, at like, 8 PM or whatever, I turn off all notifications and I won't respond. I have a much more kind of flexible approach at the same time as also taking like a vacation where it's like actually taking time totally away from work.

[00:05:24] Lauren Razavi: And so, yeah, I think that for me, there's not necessarily a huge, huge distinction between, like, the different parts of my life. And this is a roundabout way of just getting to the point of the other part of that blurring is really that, Safety Wing, the company that I work for, is 150 people, and I love all of them. Like I consider them to be my friends as well as my colleagues.

[00:05:44] Lauren Razavi: And so again, it's kind of like, when it comes to social isolation or kind of loneliness, these things that are talked about as nomads issues a lot. I feel like having something and it doesn't have to be a company. It can be online communities as well, but having something that's kind of like giving you access to other people who are kind of living the lifestyle and maybe have that same flexibility as you and are facing some of the same issues can be really, really powerful.

[00:06:09] Lauren Razavi: And can really kind of like help you, you know, and I'm constantly learning from my colleagues. Many of them are nomads about how they do things. I have colleagues who are like raising families as digital nomads, you know, there's so much to learn and there is so much learning to do just from like those kind of one on one interactions. And I think that really reduces like any risk of kind of social isolation and loneliness, if you sort of have access in that way. And within the context of how we do things at Safety Wing, we do have some time in person around the world together every year. And in addition to that, a lot of our team get together informally. You know, so if there's a company retreat in a particular part of the world, a lot of my colleagues will stay there for one to three months afterwards, or arrive one to three months early. And this is a really nice way to be able to, I guess, kind of leverage those very strong relationships that really kind of transcend personal and professional boundaries.

[00:07:00] Lauren Razavi: I don't know if this sheds any light, but basically make friends with people on the internet and then use your location flexibility to physically go to them. That's kind of like the TLDR advice that I'm trying to give in in talking about all this.

[00:07:12] David Elikwu: Yeah, no, that's super useful. And one thing you said is still just ringing in my head and it's funny how big of a divergence that is from, I guess, how a lot of companies might think you mentioned that Safety Wing. When people have conferences, people are trying to get to that place one to three months before the conference happens or stay one to three months afterwards. In other companies that I've worked at or you know, a lot of people listening to this that even work remotely, people are talking about, you know, one to three days, like, Oh, we've got this conference coming up. Maybe I'm going to stay till the weekend. Maybe I'm going to stay one or two extra days just to meet some people and catch up. Oh, I've got one day in this city. And it's so interesting how you've perhaps been able to cultivate this as a company, this idea that actually, Hey, you know, we're going to spend months at a time and just thinking about how many more opportunities that gives you to hang out with people. And I think that's something I've suffered from in the past where, Hey, I'm going to New York. I'm only going to be there for four days and you're just texting all the people that, you know, Hey, can you, can you find time within this four-day span, regardless of whatever else you were doing? Cause this is the only time I have to meet you or to hang out or to talk or to do anything.

[00:08:16] David Elikwu: I'd love to talk about this idea of global citizenship and borderless living. And I know that ties very much to the work that you guys do at Safety Wing. So maybe you could talk about, I guess, you know, what Safety Wing is, what the mission is. And I'd love to dig into some of the work you're doing there as well.

[00:08:33] Lauren Razavi: So Safety Wing is a YC alumni company. And we are like a fully remote company. So 150 people from 60 countries of origin working across 24 time zones. Which means there's always somebody online. And essentially the company's mission is to build a global social safety net. And that means things like health insurance, income protection, and pensions that you would conventionally access through a nation-state. We are building that as a borderless global subscription service. So very much like, designed around nomads and that kind of use case. Our mission goes beyond the global social safety net aspect today and into this idea of building a country on the internet and our kind of like 10-year horizon goal is to offer citizenship as a service. So essentially the functionality, the full functionality of a nation-state in this borderless, portable format.

[00:09:29] Lauren Razavi: I joined Safety Wing in 2021, and I came in first as executive director of Plumia, which is basically Safety Wing's Global Mobility and Internet Countries think tank. And the whole idea was to kind of incubate new concepts, to kind of like do research, to explore a bit of kind of an R & D and kind of knowledge arm of the company. And one of the things that kind of came out of that as an investment by the safety wing founders in kind of like, you know, the future and understanding and all of that. One of the things that came out of it is a product that we're going to be launching in 2025. Which is called the Nomad Border Pass, and the Nomad Border Pass is essentially a multi-country visa for digital nomads.

[00:10:12] Lauren Razavi: So if you're a nomad, it's allowing you to go for 90 day stays, completely vetted for remote work. You're allowed to travel and remote work, no grey areas and you are basically applying for like one visa and able to go on the same terms with the same kind of like international standards across our participating countries. So in launch year 2025, that's going to be 10 countries, but then we want to scale it pretty quickly up to, pretty much every country in the world.

[00:10:40] Lauren Razavi: Some small or controversial countries will be more difficult than others, but the scale of the ambition is to really kind of like, create a new standard of visa instrument that really allows people to do what people are already doing in the world and which our kind of current systems haven't caught up with yet. And that is step one towards our goal of launching a new global passport. So by 2030, we want to launch a global passport available, regardless of where you were born and available to basically like anyone in the world, a kind of global or nomad passport. And in order to do that, you have to build diplomatic relations with existing countries, which is where this kind of nomad border pass concept fits into that bigger vision. We want to really kind of like collaborate and really enrich the countries that we're working with so that we are then able to kind of be more ambitious and do more with those partnerships in future to really kind of change to be honest, to change how global borders work because our border system is very, very outdated now compared to the realities of, you know, being able to open your laptop anywhere in the world and get on with your day.

[00:12:36] David Elikwu: Yeah. That is an incredibly ambitious vision. And it's funny, even as you were speaking, I was just thinking there's probably two reactions to this, probably not necessarily held by people listening, but held within the world, right. So you can have one group of people that might listen to what you were saying and say, wow, that is an incredible utopic vision of the future where everything is digitized and people can move about freely. And then you have another type of person that, you know, the UK has just spent years fighting over Brexit and this idea that, and I think in America the same, you know, we have to close our borders, we have to watch the borders, there's people build a wall, there's people climbing over and coming in on boats and all of this stuff.

[00:13:13] David Elikwu: I think, you know, I've heard you talk in the past about the idea that realistically the concept of nation-states is relatively new. And so maybe I'd love if you could unpack that concept. First of all, you know, what is a nation-state? How does it differ from maybe what came before? And also what might still be the shortcomings of the way we currently conceptualize nation-states that might leave room for future innovation.

[00:13:38] Lauren Razavi: Absolutely. So, nation-states only date back to 1648. So essentially that was when like the nation-state system was established by a bunch of like European white dudes who somehow had the authority to kind of like, organize the world at that moment in history.

[00:13:56] Lauren Razavi: But I think our perception day to day is much more like the nation states have always been here, you know, this place has always been a country. So it can be quite unintuitive to, to really think about that to kind of realize that, but prior to nation states, we had religious empires, we had city-states, we had tribes, like for most of humanity's history. It has been organising in formats that were not the nation-state. It's like a very kind of recent development.

[00:14:22] Lauren Razavi: And essentially where we find ourselves in the 21st century is that, we sort of have three layers in the world. One is, the local layer. For us right now, it's like London, London is the local layer. It's like the city environment that we're interacting with. If I need to go to a shop and buy something, I'm doing that here. If I need to like, yeah, I may access a doctor or whatever. I'm doing that in the locality, right? Like in this kind of like local layer of things.

[00:14:50] Lauren Razavi: You then have the national layer, which is largely defined now, I think by the kind of like political party system. That's like one of the fundamental things, a lot kind of, then connects into that. So for example, you think, okay, so there's like the political party system, you have elections, you have media, et cetera. You have this kind of like layer that's there and everybody's aware of, but most people are very, very dissatisfied with. When you kind of move from local to national, you get this increased distance of relevance, right? Between like you and a politician.

[00:15:23] Lauren Razavi: There's a fantastic TED talk. I think the guy's name is Ben Barber and it's called If Mayors ruled the world. And he makes this argument really, really well where he essentially is talking about how the things that national politicians get away with, you cannot get away with if you're a city mayor because you actually have to be able to walk down the street. And I actually think this is quite a powerful, like, way of thinking about that and kind of thinking about the importance of proximity in this way.

[00:15:47] Lauren Razavi: But anyway, you then also have the global layer. And I really think about the global layer as what the internet has done to the world. So if you think about things like FinTech, you think about things like retail in the case of like what we're doing at Safety Wing, health insurance, we're really at this point where it's possible to do things in a very borderless and kind of global format.

[00:16:07] Lauren Razavi: And essentially what I see happening in the world over the next sort of 10 to 15 years is that that national layer in the middle, but it's definitely very messy and outdated right now is going to kind of be sucked upwards and sucked downwards. So I think we're going to see more power to cities and regions to govern, to kind of sort out problems, to find solutions. They have the proximity to citizens and they're able to like, deal with things on a much more practical level rather than this conceptual level of kind of party politics and things, which I think can get in the way of actual progress. That's on one side. And then I think we're also going to see the national kind of sucked upwards to like the global ie, like in the same way that this has already happened with a whole bunch of industries, we're just going to see more and more handled at that kind of like internet global level.

[00:17:00] Lauren Razavi: An interesting example of this is big tech companies, for example, are already transacting outside of nation-state laws. Like most big tech companies, when they're putting through contracts in the world using international arbitration, these are basically special lawyers who you can use instead of like in a contract, having this contract will be governed by the laws of the United Kingdom or England and Wales, or however we do it in the UK context. But instead of that, you have like this contract is governed by, if something goes wrong, this company, this person is going to be the one who like makes a judgment on it. And that will be legally binding. And you see a lot of this where it's like, if you look into the details of what finance of what big tech of what a whole bunch of players in the world that are incredibly powerful, at least akin to a nation-state at this point, if you think about companies like Google and Facebook. Yeah, you just like see the needs for essentially like government and citizenship-type bureaucracy stuff to catch up with what's already happened in the world. And that to me really requires like a better solution than the nation-state in order to kind of organize ourselves.

[00:18:09] Lauren Razavi: And so the kind of idea that popularized by Balaji Srinivasan and we are quite, like, familiar with his, uh, his ideas and agree with him on a lot of points at Safety Wing that he wrote a book called The Network State, and he calls, like, the next thing after the nation-state, The network states. So this idea that we can build countries on the internet that they can kind of like be the new block with which we organize the worlds.

[00:18:33] Lauren Razavi: So, Plumia and Safety Wing are one of around 30 projects happening in the world in the internet country space right now. And we are the only ones who are kind of working on the social safety net aspect and the, like, borders kind of aspects. And at Safety Wing, we really think about things in terms of trying to make stuff that works in the world today. And so we really want to kind of like change things at quite a near-term way, which requires a lot more collaboration with what already exists today than some of the other projects that are much more kind of at the cutting edge, like the kind of web3 kind of level where they're kind of experimenting with like DAOs and really, really kind of like detailed stuff in terms of the technical infrastructure to kind of create something new. I kind of see us as the bridge builders, you know, for any of those projects to succeed we kind of need to do this work of diplomatic relations with existing countries of kind of preparing the world, so that these more cutting edge things, these more kind of far out things can kind of find a home within a revised system.

[00:19:35] David Elikwu: Thank you for that explanation. I think that was a really good explanation for a few reasons. One, because in a strange way. So first of all, I was going to invoke Balaji as well. And, you know, he talks about a lot of really interesting concepts in his book, The Network State. So, you know, people go two ways about biology. Some people are like, Oh my gosh, he's been incredibly prolific in being able to predict transitions in technology and in society over the last few years. But then on the other hand, some people sometimes say maybe some of these ideas are a bit too esoteric or they seem a bit too far out. But I think like you say, actually, I think it's a keyword using the word bridge. there are very often bridges between some of these concepts and that allows you to find a coherent logical train where you can say, okay, you could go from here to here to here. And then suddenly, like, even just as you were giving that explanation, suddenly DAOs make a bit more sense. Or, you know, I think, perhaps some of the current conceptualization of how people are using DAOs today might be a bit too early. It might not, you know, necessarily have the use case that they're actually looking for. People are using DAOs to buy the Constitution or to do whatever. But in this future version of the world where people can organize at different layers of abstraction to different degrees. Then DAOs suddenly make a lot more sense and they have a useful purpose.

[00:20:47] David Elikwu: But the one question that I have, so I was speaking with Garrett Jones from George Mason University I think a few months ago, and he wrote this book about this idea that, you know, really people are ruled by the elites, but intentionally and people intentionally actually give over their powers of the elites and say, Hey, you spend more time thinking about this and you make the decision for me. I don't necessarily want to deal with the consequences actually of making some of these tough decisions. And it's a lot better that one, I can entrust you to make the decision, but then two, I can also blame you when the decision doesn't go the way that I want.

[00:21:21] David Elikwu: And a really good example of this that I was talking with Robin Hanson about, is this idea like ULEZ and I've been commenting on this on Twitter for a while and I find it just incredibly interesting how, on one hand, everybody would love the air to have less pollution and people would love the environment to be more sustainable and all of this stuff like people want all of these end outcomes. If someone says, you have to pay this tax for, and the tax part is interesting because at least to me, in the way that I had framed the ULEZ thing, I think the hard cut, like if you went straight to the point, you would say, we are going to ban all cars made before this certain time. Instead of banning it, which would probably have gotten you in way worse trouble and people would hate you even more. You say, okay, we're not going to ban all these cars, but we're going to put a tax on it, like, we are effectively banning it in the longterm. We give you a few years runway, but the whole point is you have a few years to change your vehicle and get a newer vehicle. And in the long run, everyone's interests are aligned because that is what you would ultimately have wanted for the future, but in the short run, no one wants that because you actually have to spend some money, it's expensive.

[00:22:27] David Elikwu: So all of that preamble to say, I'm interested in what you think of a world where because things are digitized, people are a lot closer perhaps to the decisions that they end up making and you have the tragedy of the commons, there's a concept that a lot of people can very often make decisions that are in their best interests, but on the wrong time horizon, like if people got to decide everything they wanted, but only as it per se into the next five years, then you would probably not get any of the things that you wanted for the next 20 years. So I wonder how you think about that trade-off perhaps as we become more digitized as a society.

[00:22:59] Lauren Razavi: So I've been really interested in the concept of liquid democracy for a long time, particularly kind of smartphone-powered liquid democracy. So this is essentially the idea of being able to hold referendums with a citizenship, whether that's on like a city level or a national level or whatever. But very, very often, basically like constant asking of questions.

[00:23:20] Lauren Razavi: And there are different ways you can do that. Like referendum suggests that like a result may be binding, but actually you could think of it more as like polling. Getting like, let's say a push notification and it's like, what do you think about this policy issue kind of thing? Or what do you think is the correct thing? And maybe it's not like anyone's obliged to act on that, but actually just having the information and giving people a voice, I think, can be very powerful.

[00:23:42] Lauren Razavi: But, I'm really interested in that as a concept. I think rebooting or reimagining democracy, is a very, very big job and at Safety Wing, that is not something that we're taking on. We have a community, Plumio Community with many, many smart people who I know sort of experimenting and kind of like learning about a lot of the kind of like, newest projects, latest thinking in some of those areas.

[00:24:07] Lauren Razavi: But one of the distinctions we've had to make in the work that we do at Safety Wing is really understanding like what we're trying to be and what we're trying to be is infrastructure. We're not trying to kind of upload electoral politics as it exists today to the cloud and like just digitize it, right. We're actually looking to be like an infrastructure layer where it's like, we make stuff that's so good, people are satisfied with it and they will tell their friends, we want to make stuff that actually just works so that it's not really like a matter of did I get a say in this? Because I do or don't like the outcome. It's actually more like this thing is just working. And actually we're responding to like what people want, what our users, what our citizens actually want from, what it is that we're trying to build.

[00:24:52] Lauren Razavi: I think it's really interesting to think about at this point in time in the 21st century, the importance of user relations and how you do them basically. So it's like, are you going to be a startup, a company, a person, a politician, whatever you are, who actually like listens to your users and design smart ways to actually understand whether their experience is good and what they want. And then how are you going to execute and put that into action?

[00:25:18] Lauren Razavi: One of the things I find interesting, so I've previously worked in like government and policy. And things just get stuck, like no progress gets made because there is this kind of like need for consensus or like discussion at a level that is just nothing happens. And I think this is where a startup is an interesting vehicle to try and build that infrastructure because it's like if you ask everybody, if you have 1000 people in front of you and you ask every single person for their opinion, you're probably going to end up with at least like 900 different opinions. Maybe there are some duplicate opinions there.

[00:25:52] Lauren Razavi: I do think there's something to, when I think of this in the safety wing context, it's like, we are the experts on the infrastructure that we are building, and therefore, like, we want to know what people think of it. We want to know what users are thinking, what could be better, what they want, but we also kind of, like, have to be the ones who are the decision makers if we actually want to move things forward.

[00:26:11] Lauren Razavi: And I think that's a really interesting kind of, like, space to work in, where, you know, you're not trying to be especially political, but by nature of what you're building, there is a huge political aspect to it. But I find that an important kind of framing in my own head. It's like we're building the best infrastructure possible. And that is like something that runs alongside whatever the future of democracy is, as opposed to needs to take on that challenge of kind of trying to kind of like reboot democracy for the 21st century. So, so many smart people working on that. And it's still, still not done. It's still work in progress. So we try and do our best so that people can be global citizens. And then we hope that others are going to be building in that kind of more like what should the new politics look like space.

[00:26:58] David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time.

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