Friday, November 02, 2007

Join in creating a shared vision of the networked future

The wiki vision of a completely networked world

The network will disrupt everywhere it touches. I keep saying it. But what does that actually look like? In detail?

Making predictions is a tough gig. Back in 1987, when I left university, I started writing a book (didn’t we all?). It was called The Auto-composer and I. Don’t bother looking on Amazon, I never got round to finishing it, let alone getting it published.

It was a science fiction novel (I read a lot of it at the time…), the themes it explored were familiar ones to anyone following my blog. But it’s only now that I look back that I find my themes have been quite consistent over 20 years. It’s just my perspective has changed – and how full my glass appears.

At the core of the book was how family life and the normalcy of sustained relationships got disrupted by a centrally-dictated regime of cyclical suspended animation. Everyone had to go into suspended animation for five years every 10 years – thus reducing the human demand for resources by one third (yes, kids, even then we knew resources were finite). Oh, and you only got to live for a standard 70 years.

The society-shattering bit was that you had no choice over the stop-and-start of your five years in suspended animation. Didn’t matter if you were out of synch with the people you came to love. Tough. The centre remained in charge. And that impacts on the value/reliance you can place on relationships. Imagine bringing up children…

This level of control from the centre had implications for almost every aspect of life. No real family life, no real long-term friends, time segmented lives – with no chance for appeal when your deadline arrived.

The auto-composer of the title was a device which played back the music in your head, to you. The notion was that the best sounds you ever wanted to hear were the perfect versions (reflections/echoes even…) of what was in your head. The idea was that they ought to be – at least to you.

Relevance over quality. I got that, even then.

You could share what you’d created with your auto-composer. But few wanted to. One scene I wrote described a party in which everyone was dancing to their own beat. Another simple metaphor for the world I was imagining.

Things got really interesting in the book when the makers of the auto-composer launched the auto-reality… people started getting lost in their own virtual realities. None of these were connected to anyone else in any way whatsoever.

So, I guess I was writing about the same ideas – the impact of control from the centre, the importance of relevance over quality, 20 years ago.

When you look at this from a disconnected perspective the world we’re lead to is a bleak one indeed.

In 1987 I didn’t have an email address or a mobile phone. I had a home pc for playing games on (and writing unfinished novellas…) but it wasn’t connected to anything other than the mains.

And this coloured my vision: Centrally controlled and individually obsessed. Maybe I thought like that because that’s how life actually was in 1987?

I had no way of understanding the positive impact the network would yield.

But with the arrival of a platform to enable the network (that’ll be the internet) – taking control away from the centre - everything changes.

The world becomes a positive place in which we can all engage, share and participate. It’s not their world any more – it’s ours.

The individually-obsessed ‘auto-composer’ would be something much more fun and social seen from the networked world of 2007. Perhaps a Last FM with music I collaborate on with others, people I have learned to trust through recommendation of friends and shared passions. Music made from the nobody-is-as-clever-as-everybody perspective. Global niche orchestras/bands/ensembles – developing tools together and taking their music to the places they (not the man) want it to go.

The auto-reality has obvious echoes in Second Life – and the versions of virtual reality that will follow, those which will enable the cinematic experiences in which you and your friends are the stars – which has to be more fun that sitting back and watching a movie (having one broadcast at you). Joining others in creating a virtual world to share is always more fun than making one you only share with yourself, isn’t it?

And instead of enforced down-time for the vast tracts of the human race through suspended animation, the network is allowing us to create value in new ways which I believe will ultimately create an absolute fit between demand and supply – an improved allocation of resources.

Effective models of co-creation enabled by the network will ultimately mean that only that which there is an actual demand for right now will get created. That has to help us towards a less wasteful world.

The notion that we can’t all participate in the creation of everything we need seems to make common sense.

But I wonder if that’s just because we haven’t cracked the tools yet, haven’t fully transferred into a flow rather than focus world, of the kind Stowe Boyd describes.

I’ve referred before to the absolute (potential) match between the demand curve of the long tail and the shape of the exponential growth of Group Forming Network Theory (Reed’s Law). Fulfilling the potential seems a few steps away – just yet.

But what would an utterly, completely, unrestricted networked world look like?

In simple terms what will change when something which is controlled from the centre is controlled from the edge.

We know that in broad terms it should change how things are produced, how education is shared, how politics works, how mainstream media operates. We know the broad strokes.

But I’d like to paint a more detailed picture of the world.

And it’s right that I leave this to the edge. Please, if you can think of one small detailed example to illustrate this, post it as a comment and/or add to the wiki version of this post (which you’ll find here) .

Obviously, pass it on to someone else, share it on your blogs and forums.

Together we will be creating a vision of the future – one which belongs to us all.


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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?