Thursday, December 31, 2009

2020 vision

I know. I'm meant to review the last decade or predict what'll happen in the next year around this time.

Thing is, I'm not going to follow the rules, because for the years following 2009 it simply wouldn't be appropriate to follow rules which may have applied up to this point.

We're in for a big change: Where the noughties were a decade of discovery, the teens will be a decade of realisation. And not discovery of new tech. The future isn't digital; it is self-organised.

The noughties were when we discovered our self-organising power - little by little. And new models started to emerge.

But we are embarking on 10 years in which people all over the globe will realise the self-organising power now at their fingertips - and start turning that realisation into the world they want; niche by niche.

Which means everything you know is up for grabs. Everything.

Everything that is organised or mediated can and will be disrupted by this.

That's pretty much every aspect of society, then. (image courtesy Life Archive on google)

As the realisation dawns, you can be certain no one will be talking about 'social media' anymore. They will just get on with using the best ever set of tools and platforms to communicate: With each other, find each other, form groups, act.

They won't wait to be directed. They will simply come together and debug their world. Niche by niche. The edge in action.

Which is bad news for those who would organise and those who would mediate.

It's not just traditional media, advertising, marketing etc that's going to be replaced. Even the 'new media' stuff that relies on central organisation is threatened. Traditional search (for example) is already being replaced for many by collaborative filtering.

Ubiquitous, always-on computing will arrive as the enabler. Digital social tools which allow us to express meta data beyond silos (including language) will emerge to enable all of us to find all of us when we need each other most. Those tools and platforms which fulfil those roles most successfully will be those with the best chance of commercial success.

And by 2020 we will have the tech and the will to make communities of purpose the primary form of organisation: adhoc self-forming groups brought together to collaborate - driven by common purpose.

The self-organised future will begin taking shape, new structures for education, law, government - all the aparatus of the state - will emerge. And as they do the state itself, as a formalised centrally-controlled collective based on geography, will submerge.

This new form of organisation will over-ride more traditional methods primarily because it provides a more effective tool for the allocation of increasingly scarce resources. But also because people like doing stuff together. It's a better fit with the reality of our social selves.

Lowest common denominator models will disappear wherever communities of purpose can self-organise (which is pretty much everywhere and anytime).

One example? Mass party politics will decline. New democracy will formulate in open systems - with collaboration delivering a better fit, niche by niche,

In repeatedly failing to understand the cross-border collaboration of 'their' people, our national leaders remind us of the failure of lowest common denominator politics and broad and assumed national interests.

The issue of global warming may prove a key catalyst. We gave our leaders the chance to sort things out with their big, broad, one-size fits all policies (they found that none did).

In a decade of realisation we move beyond being passive consumers in all aspects of our lives - government policy included.

We won't sit back and wait for the centre's solution. Instead we quietly and determinedly get on with wikifixing our world - collaborating across borders, ignoring the fictional silos the nation state has imagined and attempted to impose.

The impact of the edge on the centre has the potential to be cataclysmic. If change from without happens faster than change from within, something will tear. Fundamental organisational change is hard to imagine as a gentle process.

Judging when to cede control will be a key skill for leaders of all organisations in the coming years. Protecting the vulnerable, another.

My daughter has just finished her first term of traditional schooling. I have to wonder if she will complete her education (what a curious pre-network phrase...) within a similar lowest-common-denominator structure. And if she doesn't - then how does the morph from old to new happen? With a meeting of a parents collective and nods of assent - or with teachers manning the barricades?

There is much to consider; much I (and we) could strive to predict.

Instead, in the words of BBC Childrens TV long gone (and with more than a nod to Clay Shirky's Gin-swilling tales of newly industrial London), Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead? Start inventing the self-organised future - niche by niche - with someone you care about, today.

By 2020 a person's worth will be valued by what they share, not what they keep. That may be the most significant shift of all.

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  1. Nice post, and I like your self-organised, ground-up vision.


    At no point do you mention equality, either of income, life chances or opportunity. And I think that's the elephant in the room. A technology-driven, open source, self organised future is one that's organised by those with access to the skills and the technology. That rules out large sections of the population who may be elderly, poor, have low skills or educational attainment, and while they're playing catch-up, the educated middle classes will be organising society in line with their preferences as they have done for years.

    This isn't an attack on the middle classes or their values - just a reminder that they don't include or speak for everybody, and they're very effective at taking and keeping their slice of the cake in terms of education, housing and jobs.

    If a person's worth will be valued by what they share rather than what they keep in ten years' time, a whole host of people will have to say goodbye to their ambitions for bigger and more valuable homes, 'better' schools for their kids, and better prospects for their own careers. That would be a good thing, but I see little evidence that it's starting to happen.

  2. Hi Julian. Sounds like you may want to join us at

  3. I like the post and the sentiment that one’s “worth will be valued by what they share, not what they keep.” In our capitalist culture, which is fascinated by individual wealth will a fundamental shift in mindset be realistically achievable in just 10 years? Hell of an ask! It will be an interesting decade for sure!

  4. First time I've come across your blog...I have to say that this is a very thought-provoking piece. Part of me gets really excited about what you are suggesting--it could allow for greater human freedom, help folks move more towards the anarchist dream (here I am using "anarchist" in the best sense...since I am an anarchist: the collapse of hierarchies and domination towards more deeply horizontal relationships and ways of organizing).

    But the post strikes me as a bit too optimistic. I can almost hear the great French thinker Jacques Ellul ( whispering into my brain: "if this comes to pass we will have the ILLUSION of freedom, but, in the end, Technique will still condition and overwhelm our humanity."

    Does increasingly organic technology mean that we are subjugating technology to our humanity or is our humanity being increasingly enslaved? I'm being a bit dramatic here, but I think we would all be well served by more conversations between folks in the vein of Ellul and those who see increasingly sophisticated technologies becoming largely un-noticeably interwoven into our lives.

  5. 10 years on - perhaps I'm 10 years to early, I'll check back in with this in 2030...


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?