I feel very strongly that we need to seriously upgrade the way people relate to each other and are involved with each other – and themselves.
At the heart of what information is, is connection and linking, where ‘connection’ is everything which is connectable and ‘links’ are explicitly created connections.
At the heart of what being human is, is also about connections and links.
This short document is about saving the world, and by ‘the world’ I mean the people in it, by binding us closer intellectually and emotionally.
Please noter that this document was written over a short period of time and that notions and understanding changed during this time. I have edited it a little but some of the evolution of thinking will still make it a little bit confusing. Sorry about this.
This document is mostly about asking questions and trying to get to grips with the scope of the issue, not offering much in the way of solutions, which I think is a later stage effort.
What’s Wrong with the World
To talk about saving the world the natural first question might be: To save it from what?
Mankind’s spectacular takeover of the planet – let’s be honest, it’s a takeover – has come about through a potent mix of collaboration and competition – of ‘natural’ empathy vs. the uniquely human trait of abstraction and imagination.
We come equipped with mirror neurons (don’t argue with me here, I know the science is not simple, please follow the general principle) which allow the infant human to wiggle arms and legs around and see “ah, so that is what that does”. Our first interface is ourselves.
Our second interface is other people: We see our arms wriggle and we learn their reach – there are no systems in our brains for how our arms work at age zero, one, two and so on – we constantly have to use our arms to see what happens – the most basic feedback loop. The beautiful, powerful, tiny cells we call neurons (interesting etymology, worth a look), buried deep in our bodies have no direct link to what our arms do, they are informed by other neurons. The recognition of your own arm move and those of another is very similar. This is why we feel uncomfortable watching others in emotional or physical pain.
Abstraction & Imagination
Our fantastic abilities to imagine and make what we imagine ‘real’ to use as unequivocally as a hammer or a knife – that is to say, our institutions, our laws and our cultures. Countries are no more real than unicorns, what is more real is the behaviour the imagined idea of a country engenders in us.
Collaboration & Competition
There are countless expositions on how homo-sapiens cooperated within our species to either directly or indirectly remove what or who we don’t like and make more of what we like. As Curtis Marean writes in Scientific American, collaboration and competition are forces intertwined with resource availability and stability.
There is no need to collaborate with anyone if a creature has all that it wants. There is a need to collaborate to get what you need if you can’t get it on your own. And there is also a need to collaborate with someone if someone else is taking what you want.
In other words we need to not only look at collaboration but also how we see each other in relation to each other.
Evolution of the Connect-Space
Cyberspace is a neat term – ‘navigator’ space! Knowledge space is similarly cool. But what we need is a connect-space, a space where we truly and effectively connect with not just information but other people. It’s a clunky term and I’m sure we’ll think of something better, but it frames what I am talking about in this document.
There are many changes to the way we are, who we think we are and how we communicate which will need to come about for the human race to run in harmony.
Do we want to have it evolve in a purely commercially valued environment or do we want to work to raise the dialogue to a richer set of evolutionary influences?…
The Digital Dimension
For the simple reason of scale, electronic interactions will be a component of this. The wider issues of spirituality, morality, religion, and so on will need to be carried through this electronic medium – and make no mistake about it – whether or not ‘we’ build such a system consciously, electronic media will carry and help shape the dialogue and flow of human perspectives and the core human experience of self and community. We cannot see without seeing through something. We cannot feel without feeling through something. Our very selves are becoming ever more intertwined with our technological media and communications.
I put it that working to shape and direct the evolution is crucial and that that is the real effort required; a kind of stewardship.
In the world I wish for we will all feel closer to everyone else. The notion of borders, genders, race and all these other categories will add colour to the human race, not turn us into stark black and white contrasts.
I have no idea how to achieve this. But this is what the world will need to become. Solving pre-understood problems is not enough. Project management is not enough. Developing a deeper way to connect us is what will matter.
What will such a world be like?
Such a world would be as different from ours as ours is from the world of pre-literate societies. The leap required for communication – and connection – is massive. We are trying to describe a media and a world with the media that preceded it.
Such a world would value the continual exploration of communication, meaning and connection to the point of making military spending seem small and archaic. In the army we called ‘personal defence weapons’ (that is small sub machine guns and hand guns) weapons which would be used when the battle was lost – they have little offensive capability. The real capability lay in the long range weapons ‘system’s – missiles, aircraft and so on. In the world I am talking about the longest range, most powerful weapon would still be considered a failure to use. The long range defence will be in not overpowering or destroying an enemy, but by connecting with such a potential ‘enemy’ and the ‘enemy’ connecting with you, to such a point that, despite and in addition to your differences, causing harm would be tantamount to self harm.
In the world I am talking about religion would melt into the deeper human experience of the ecstasy of being. In this world we would see a version of God in everyone and everything and all would be holy – in very different, very individual ways.
In the world I am talking about the human race is a race for collectively exploring the pure joy of existing with other conscious creatures in the universe – in such a world everyone feels a deep sense of connection, of being seen and heard and respected, while being able to enter into critical dialogue and questioning of beliefs and presented ‘know’-ledge.
And there we have the foundation the system will need to try to deliver; a system which connects while maintaining individual identity, intelligence and heart.
So let’s talk about what the basic criteria for what the technological underpinnings would need to be:
• Designed to last 500 – 1,000 years.
• Flexible evolutionary options.
• Huge investment needed to pay people to work on what the system can and should be, including anthropologists, psychologists, technologists and all kinds of ‘gists’ and people in completely other fields, including economics and the arts.
Different Users. Different Systems
There will not be a single solution but a myriad of systems, for very different users – stakeholders, including:
• Knowledge Professionals who work on big issues
• Knowledge Professionals who work elsewhere
• One person trying to understand something
• A small team
• Larger teams until at least 1,000,000 people are active participants
• to the most casual user
• and the type of person who feels they know all and what’s the point of dialogue
These user groups will require very different systems and these systems should all share the same information space somehow, perhaps via the notion of URLs being taken further.
Different Kinds of Collaboration, Connecting
The scale of collaboration will be different with people who know each other well and people who share very little in common. Sam Hahn puts the importance of scale in perspective: We understand that there are different laws in physics, chemistry, biology and physiology but we for some reason expect it to be the same when it comes to politics and interactions.
This is an insight shared with Doug Engelbart who did a scaling study for the airfare and it became clear to him that when aircraft were tested as models in a wind tunnel they behaved differently than when full size and further work showed that when electronic components were made smaller they would also change their characteristics, something Doug would later talk with Gordon Moore about, according to Jeff Rulifson who was there, and thus Moore’s Law should maybe be called Doug’s Law.
What are the laws of scaling interactions with people?
Where do the layers exist? Between one (interaction with one’s own thoughts) and two? Then what? Below and above 7? And the next stages?… What about group to groups (NIC)?
Also, where are the thresholds of direct and indirect collaboration?
How can we best design systems for the different kinds of interactions at the different levels?
I believe that the written word, or more broadly ‘symbol manipulation’ as Doug called it, will have a rich and powerful future.
There is no question that video, particularly the new literacy and experiences of VR, will have profound effects on how stores and told and how we can relate to each other and this and much more will need to be investigated, thought about, tested and kept improving.
Text is something magical. The lines of text capture concrete and abstract thought, ideas and sounds and come alive again in the readers mind. Sometimes more vividly than other times, sometimes more accurately than other times.
Text has something else magical; it is fungible. The a word here is the same as the same word over there. It sounds silly but this is not the case of pictures. The word ‘hello’ is the same there as it is here ‘hello’. This means that words can be interacted with and, as Jack Park says; ‘harvested’ in ways that other media cannot.
There is an important wrinkle to this though, which comes out of what is almost a paradox. The word ‘hello’ is the same as the word ‘hello’ but the effect the word has is slightly different. Same goes with the word in different typefaces.
When words were printed onto a substrate these differences were inherent in the text.
With words in digital form these differences are changeable aspects of the text. And this is profoundly important.
Bold is designed to emphasize a word on a page, whereas italic is designed to emphasize a word in a sentence. Both are used in different ways for different purposes by different authors though, and that is fine, such is the evolution of any media, in fact, it is the brilliant part of evolution. Italic can mean emphasis, it can mean the text is a quote or a level of heading. The way this is ‘attributed’ to the text is in two ways: Directly describing the look, such as with <bold> and setting a colour, but you can also assign meaning, which the rendering of the text will assign a visual characteristic to (or not), such as <heading> or indeed, <emphasis> or <quote>.
This is marvellous. And technically sometimes dangerous.
When you copy and paste HTML or other ‘formatted’ text you can sometimes copy too much or too little of the ‘markup’ and the pasted text might change. This is one of the biggest design challenges I think we have in moving forward; building a robust way for text interaction to handle what is behind, what is supporting the characters on the screen.
Once we solve this problem we have an entirely new canvas before us, where the author can more clearly add meaning to the characters of text.
More Meaning Tags
For example, you can add context to a sentence which can be automatically modified based on the context changing. For example you can say what will happen on a certain date and once that date apses the sentence will change to say what was planned to happen (or even somehow be linked to a datasource to see if it did Enid happen).
The reader should be able to ‘open’ the text to see it’s history, it’s attributes – what’s behind it and what’s dragging it forward.
You could put glossaries into words, themselves tagged with who put them there and when. What was a word or a term used as when first typed? This can be put right there, by the author and subsequent citers, quoters and otherwise users of the same text can add their further meaning and commentary.
This goes with the notion of keeping reading and writing as two separate modes. In the reading mode expanding text will be something different from when you are in editing & writing mode.
Select text and see what options are available.
Interact with a whole document to highlight different aspects of the text, as you demand it.
Such as I wrote about above are my dreams.
However, I feel that many different dreams based on common goals of connecting us in ways where we all feel more empowered, more active, appreciated and acknowledged members of society, and where the notion of society itself extends to include all of us, I feel that many different approaches need to be invested in.
I’m picking up Dino from the airport soon. I have to do a few practical things. Such is the world. I look forward to reading all of your Operations Concept Documents. Let’s see where we overlap. Let’s see where we can actually work to make a difference.