The next great frontier was revealed 223 days before mankind took its first steps on the moon. In a small auditorium in San Francisco, Doug Engelbart revealed the future of computing. Windows, the mouse, networks; it was all there. It was the discovery of the Digital New World.
Beyond the obvious importance of the introduction of transformative technology, there is an interesting moment two minutes into the presentation. It takes the form of a gaffe. Engelbart asks what we could accomplish if we could build a computer system that was responsible. Hearing himself he pauses, and then corrects himself with a smile by using the phrase “responsive system.”
This “correction” defined the internet and its evolution by emphasizing responsiveness to individual needs over collective responsibility. Perhaps there was an assumption that a civil culture in this new networked community would emerge to provide for collective responsibility. It did not.
Perhaps responsiveness was chosen as the key metric because it was easier to define and measure than responsibility. How something makes an individual feel is easier to identify than if something fulfills a communal need. Further, individual feelings can be identified immediately while community impact might never be quantified at all.
Would you like to play a game?
A possible answer to the responsibility question came 85 days after Engelbart’s presentation when Buckminster Fuller testified before the United States Congress about a World Game. This was not a board game or something with mages and orcs. Fuller proposed using non-zero sum game theory to address social wicked problems. Fuller contemplated a system that would allow communities to process massive amounts of information to arrive at solutions for poverty, hunger, and inequality. The challenge for him was that he lacked the tools that would allow the timely delivery of information and organization of abilities.
To our knowledge Engelbart and Fuller never met. The world might be a very different place if they had.
The issues we face now are a little different than what Fuller contemplated, but are no less wicked. While the conventions of his game are not suitable for the current technological standard, the inspiration and final cause remains. It is our intention to create an ecosystem that will facilitate groups to identify and address the wicked problems of their age. We will do this through the creation of structures and provision of incentives that will encourage the exchange of important data and knowledge among engaged stakeholders. This involves the evolution of our technology and cooperative systems.
An Old Solution For A New Frontier
To build better cooperative systems, we believe we need to use an old but effective tool: the social contract. A definitive understanding of the rights and responsibilities of all members of this new networked community can support the independence, growth, and satisfaction of its constituents in a rapidly changing world. By implementing collaborative norms, we can promote in-depth articulation of wicked problems and innovative, vetted potential solutions.
In this series of posts, we will identify how a federation of communities can:
- encourage information exchange while protecting content creators;
- aid cooperation in key areas while promoting competition in others;
- promote value spread throughout the ecosystem instead of concentration within a few entities;
- operate with transparency, utilizing direct democratic principles to a significant degree; and
- solve wicked problems without descending into incivility or indulging in blind ideology.
A Call To Arms
On May 22nd through the 24th, a few of us will assemble in San Francisco at the Transform Conference. We will meet to discuss and begin drafting a formal social contract to meet the objectives listed above. It is our intention to assist a transition towards a more perfect union of individuals, organizations, and resources so that we may secure a better future for ourselves and those generations to come.
We welcome the support and input of all interested parties. If you want to join this effort, contact us at SocialContract@mail.com. We look forward to pursuing this effort, and hope you can join us.