Some Future think
I often wonder what it felt like to live at various points in the past. For example, what did people living in 1911 think about the future? Churchill was born in 1874 when veterans of the Napoleonic wars were still out and about. He participated in one of the last British cavalry charges himself, lived through two world wars, witnessed the dawn of the nuclear age and died in 1965, just four years before man would set foot on the moon. But what did he see coming in 1911? He was no dolt, but I suspect that he did not envision the demise of the class into which he was born, let alone the horrific nature of the impending first world war.
So what about us? With each year, we take one more step beyond the constraints of the 20th century and into something new. But what is it? As with, Churchill in 1911, as of 2011 we have some difficulty describing how the 21st century will unfold. We are in it, yet it is difficult to see it.
But some patterns are emerging. First, there is a paradigm shift under way from valuing fixed interests to dynamic systems. Consider, for example, the debate about SOPA. Beneficiaries of a fixed system (IP rights) are at odds with proponents of a new dynamic system (the internet). Who will prevail? While the battle rages in Washington, I have not seen a single article that urges further protecting IP rights. And I suspect that over time, the dynamic system will be the norm. SOPA will look silly. Why? Because of an underlying standard that we already accept. That standard is the need to accelerate the rate of innovation. Thus, Paul Allen argues for “open science“. Why open? Not because of some idealistic vision of communal paradise. It is because sharing produces faster learning. Hence, we are waking up to the idea that isolation is the enemy of the 21st century. And we know already that the 21st century is the networked century where we build dynamic global knowledge platforms.
To get a sense of how radical this is, we might recall that for most of our history on the planet, societies have been based on the fixed interests of set classes of persons. Was one a “free man” or a “slave”? Was one born to title and privilege or drudgery? Consider that Marx could not have imagined that society could be organized other than via the classes that industry demanded. Similarly, Churchill could not imagine the demise of the British upper class. But now, our ability to connect (and thrive) depends less on who we are than what we can share. Class mobility morphs into class transcendence? Perhaps.
In this frame of mind you might read Kaihan Krippendorf’s FC piece on “one shot” persuasion. One might balk at some of the ideas, but we would do well to get used to the vocabulary.
FOLLOW - By the end of 1911 (as the new First Lord of the Admiralty), Churchill was convinced that a war was coming but he looked on this with enthusiasm, thinking that it would be like the wars of the 19th century - heroic and relatively painless for society overall. Teddy Roosevelt had similar expectations. Neither thought that the more accurate model to predict what was coming was the horrific US civil war. I wonder why not.
2d FOLLOW - An odd footnote about Churchill - he was proud to have been part of great traditions (like the cavalry charge) but not averse to taking advantage of modern technology as needed. Thus, riding in the last cavalry charge against the Mahdi, he wielded a pistol rather than the traditional saber, which may have saved his life.
3rd FOLLOW - For the title, I have shamelessly borrowed from BI, that esteemed internet business journal that regularly offers a similar tagline for its posts, like this - “The World is Imploding - What You Need to Know”. Rather amusing, I think. Reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.