a global human sensemaking platform

The thinking that got us into this mess will not get us out of it. If we are to create a new economic order it has to move beyond civil society, governments, and markets. A quid pro quo between private firms and public authorities will only reinforce the status quo.

“A new economic order requires an explicit quid pro quo between private firms and public authorities. To prosper, firms need a reliable and skilled workforce, good infrastructure, an ecosystem of suppliers and collaborators, easy access to technology, and a sound regime of contracts and property rights. Most of these are provided through public and collective action, which is the government’s side of the bargain.

Governments, in turn, need firms to internalize the various externalities their labor, investment, and innovation decisions produce for their communities and societies. And firms must live up to their side of the bargain – not as a matter of corporate social responsibility, but as part of an explicit regulatory and governance framework.” —Project Syndicate 2020-06-11

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strong ideas, loosely held

Blogging is one way I make sense of the world. I have now written over 3,300 posts on various topics. My ways of seeing the world have changed over the years and blogging has helped to keep my thoughts in a state of perpetual beta — strong ideas, loosely held, in order to deal with constant change while still getting things done. Today we are in great need of sensemaking between citizens as we deal with the complexities of a pandemic, an economic recession, and increasing violence in many parts of the world.


One effect of the network era, and its pervasive digital connections, is that networks are replacing or subverting more traditional hierarchies of our institutions and markets. Three aspects of this effect are — 1) access to almost unlimited information, 2) the ability for almost anyone to self-publish, and 3) limitless opportunities for “ridiculously easy group-forming” as Seb Paquet described the effects of social media.

The desire to relate is what drives people to support global social movements on one hand, and to take shelter in tribal identity politics on the other. In politics, social media extend participation but also make information manipulation by small motivated groups much easier. Understanding this deep desire to relate to others should be foremost in mind in understanding human dynamics.

We will not have organizational transformation, or political reformation, without people feeling like they belong. To counter Tribal populism, we also need to appeal to emotions and our feelings of relatedness. The same goes for education and learning.

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prebunking the conspiracy theorists

In confronting the post-truth machines I looked at different types of fake news and what could be done to counter them —  Propaganda, Disinformation, Clickbait, and Conspiracy Theories. I mentioned that the researcher danah boyd defines agnotology as — “the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”. Today, as ever, many forces are at play promoting agnotology — from governments, to corporations, to social movements. This ignorance in our society can easily lead to conspiracy theories.

In the conspiracy theory handbook (March 2020) the authors from several universities explain in detail what conspiracy theory is and what can be done about it. It’s a short read read and a handy reference. The prime differentiation is between actual conspiracy (e.g. VW diesel emission tests) and imagined conspiracy (e.g. JFK assassination). One comes with a perspective of healthy skepticism while the other from one of overriding suspicion. The authors say that conspiracy theories are popular because they address feelings of powerlessness, provide a way to explain unlikely events, help cope with threats, and dispute mainstream politics which can help make some minority movements feel special.

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the reality of missing out

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the Worldwide Web he made it free and open source, so others could build upon it. In the early days it was quite open with individuals sharing knowledge through blogging and collectively building knowledge with wikis, the largest being Wikipedia. But as more people joined the web two things happened.

Commercial forces found ways to monetize their audiences. They built attractive ways for people to get online as easily as possible. They even hired psychologists and anthropologists to study human behaviour and then devised ways to manipulate it. They aggregated this data and used it to sell targeted advertising. All the giants on the internet use targeted advertising — Amazon, Google, and especially Facebook.

Meanwhile, many people found blogs to be too much work, and wikis to be confusing. They wanted convenience so that they could connect with their grandchildren. Facebook was the solution. It was convenient and allowed easy sharing and connections. But convenience, like a principle, has a cost.

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beyond civil society, governments, and markets

Binary thinking is an easy sell. It appeals to our emotions which we developed as children. Binary thinking blinds us. It’s not black and white, or right and wrong, or even Left and Right. Human society is many shades along various spectra. But often politicians and others tell us it’s a simple, binary choice — ”You’re either with us, or with the terrorists.’‘ —President George W. Bush (2001)

Thinking of our society as only Markets and Government (Institutions) ignores the influence and potential of families, communities, and the volunteer sector.  For instance, Public-Private Partnerships are not inclusive. They ignore the Civil sector.

“Every day I’m told our society, our system, has two sectors: the public sector and the private sector — the former referring to government and its agencies, the latter to the market system and its businesses. I’m also told that one sector or the other, or both in partnership, say as a public-private hybrid, offers the best way to deal with this or that domestic policy problem.

Our politicians, policymakers, and media commentators constantly rely on this public-private framework when they talk about fixing America’s health, education, childcare, housing, welfare, infrastructure, energy, communications, and environmental issues. Some proposals call for broader government programs; others urge more privatization; a few recommend improving public-private collaboration.” —David Ronfeldt

Incorporating the third sector, civil society, into decision making is becoming evident in our connected world, especially with an ongoing pandemic.

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new societal infrastructures

Continued from — nine shifts

In 2004 Bill Draves and Julie Coates wrote Nineshift: Work, life and education in the 21st Century. That was the same year I started blogging here. Nineshift is based on the premise that during the first two decades of the 21st century, there will be a major shift in how we spend 9 hours of each day.

“There are 24 hours in a day. We have no real discretion with roughly 12 of those hours. We need to eat, sleep, and do a few other necessary chores in order to maintain our existence. That hasn’t changed much through the centuries, so far.

That leaves approximately 12 hours a day where we, as individuals, do have some discretion. That includes work time, play time, and family time.

Of those 12 hours, about 75%, or 9 hours, will be spent totally differently a few years from now than they were spent just a few years ago. Not everything will change, but 75% of life is in the process of changing right now.”

The authors put forth that society would significantly shift what we do with those nine hours and this would be complete by 2020.

  1. People Work at Home — “Work is an activity, not a place.”
  2. Intranets Replace Offices
  3. Networks Replace the Pyramid
  4. Trains Replace Cars
  5. Communities Become More Dense
  6. New Societal Infrastructures Evolve
  7. Cheating Becomes Collaboration
  8. Half of all Learning will be Online
  9. Education becomes Web-based

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the end of control

Did print enable democracy, and is that why the founders of the USA put freedom of the press into their Constitution?

“ … just invent the printing press. Wait a couple of hundred years while literacy spreads, and presto! We can all talk to one another again, after a fashion, and the democratic revolutions begin.” —Gwynne Dyer

If print enabled democracy, will the emerging digital medium destroy it?

“The main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century — the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place — may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century.” —Yuval Noah Harari

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our natural stupidity

The platform monopolists and the surveillance capitalists are at war with us, citizens of the world. They have engaged some of the best minds — from psychology, cognitive science, usability, addiction research, human factors engineering, anthropology, etc. — so that our evolutionary developed cognitive biases are used against us to sell us more crap. Some people call this ‘peak capitalism’. We have been marketed to for ages but now our every action online is used to manipulate us to buy something or believe something that will influence our actions. Monopolies are not good for democracy.

“The people can be successful only when they are right. When monopolies succeed, the people fail; when a rich criminal escapes justice, the people are punished; when a legislature is bribed, the people are cheated.”Henry Demarist Lloyd 1881

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constant doubt and outrage

When I was visiting Rome in 2012 I met a fellow tourist, an older gentleman from Australia, who told me that he had stopped a pick-pocket on the train who was trying to lift his wallet. He had cried out and grabbed the thief’s hand. As the train came to a stop, the locals on the train created a human wall and forced the thief out, while at the same time calling for the police. They then apologized on behalf of their city. Rome is a 2,750 year-old community that keeps on trying, in spite of its challenges, because its people believe in the city. This is how most humans act — cooperatively — most of the time, as this is part of our common social suite.

The Internet of Beefs (IoB)

But we are also influenced by our social networks and when these become what Venkatesh Rao calls the Internet of Beefs (IoB) then we collectively drag ourselves down. Rao defines two groups — Knights and Mooks — who continuously do battle on digital social media. Each Knight has many follower Mooks, and these Mooks do battle in the Knight’s name. Rao says that one such Knight is Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

“And in one corner by himself, of course, is Nassim Taleb beefing with all comers on all topics … Taleb muddying the factional boundaries of the culture war is one of the few genuinely amusing theaters of the conflict on the IoB. The blast radius around his twitter feed is not a safe space for anyone besides members of his own cult of Mesopotamian personality.”  —Venkat Rao

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turmoil and experimentation

Renee DiResta discusses the challenges brought about by the printing press — invented in Europe in 1450 —  and compares these with the current effects of digital networks in — Mediating Consent.

The printing press, invented approximately 50 years before the 95 Theses, extended Luther’s reach from the door of the cathedral to the entirety of Europe. His criticisms of the Church were the first use of mass media: critiques of Catholic doctrine in pithy, irreverent pamphlets, produced at scale and widely distributed. As a result, Luther ushered in not only Protestantism, but an entirely new media landscape: one in which traditional gatekeepers — the church, wealthy nobles — no longer held a monopoly on the information that reached the people. The Catholic Church responded, of course, with pamphlets of its own — defending Catholic doctrine, refuting the new heretics, fighting the battle for hearts, minds, and Truth. —RibbonFarm

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