Okay – here I go. A few thoughts have been swirling in my mind the last few days after numerous conversations with people whose one thoughts I trust and greatly appreciate/admire, mainly the fellows at Uber, Ross and Pat. So, let me lay it out…
1) Ant Colonies. Ross planted this seed. We chatted extensively the other day about ant colonies and the way they ‘grow up.’ Again, I’m not going to promise this is correct but you’ll get the gist. Ants colonies grow at different times – like teenagers, a colony that is one to two years old behaves erratically whilst an older colony behaves very conservatively. Colonies live to be about 10 years old. The important point, is that the ants only live for one year. So how does a colony ‘grow’ when the ants that make up that colony die every year?
The ants manage and grow by taking their leads from the messages the other ants send out. These messages are incredibly simple and basic – more like the communication of base instincts. Early on in the colonies life, the messages might be “we need to fight’ or “there is food here.” This ties into theory in a book Ross read called Emergence by Steve Johnson. The theory goes (apparently, I’m yet to read the book) that we all do things for a reason. Sometimes, we know why and it is a conscious choice – others it is more like the ants. We pick up on base instincts either communicated to us or drawn from our own being and act on them.
This communicated instinct has begun to change in recent times – especially for people of the younger generations with less ‘happy egg.’ The bulk of people that age (me included) are now drawing a large amount of their self esteem from their peers, rather than from their own sense of self worth. What their peer’s think of them, in many way, matters more than what their own thoughts about themselves are. This is obviously an interesting shift and ties in interestingly to the whole thought process around emergence. What messages are we picking up on as a species? How far into the colony life are we? Are we going backwards or forwards? Are these perhaps our teenage years, where we are entirely self centred, concerned more about what the girl in our maths class think rather than the important lessons taking place at the front of the class? But, it also ties into the new idea (to me) of Infotopia.
2) Infotopia – was brought to my attention for the first time late last night by Pat. His blog post on the book serves as a great 5 minute brief on its main ideas. I haven’t read the book, but after talking to Pat and then reading his post about its main ideas, I feel there is a large amount of relevance to this conversation. So, I’m gonna make some connections without the full knowledge of what I’m talking about – here goes.
The ideas around infotopia seem to revolve around the shared knowledge and ‘group think’ that can occur when people shut out ideas from a different source than they are used to hearing. This is happening continuously more nowadays than ever before. Today, if you don’t like the news you’re watching, the restaurant you’re dining in or even the community you’re living in you can now locate a group of people more inclined to share your views through the internet and other ICT available and then move there cheaply and easily. Don’t like where you live? Go for a drive to the place of your choice and chill there for a bit. Don’t like the way your friends think anymore? Find new friends that do on MySpace/Facebook/web forum etc etc.
In Pats post, he mentions that when people feel their thoughts and opinions are not being heard aptly they choose, instead of communicating it anyway, to not share this information as openly. I think that, more often now; we are seeing people move to find communities that do value their information, all the time, because of the similarities of the people in that community. It’s like the ants choosing which group to broadcast their message to. If they felt their fellow ants weren’t respecting the call to “come here because there is food” then the ant might go off and find a different group of ants (maybe another colony?) and let them know.
As such, I feel we are moving from a place where information is spread diffusely through a complex social system where we do run into people we don’t like/love/know well, to a new place where we are always only hearing what we want to. The social pressure that is mounting is reducing, because we are more and more able to find people like ourselves. This, finally, links with some thoughts on the current Barack Obama campaign which is sweeping the US at the moment, as well as the tactics used by Kevin07/K.Rudd in the recent Australian Federal election.
3) Barack Obama – His current campaign and it’s following has been likened to a religous experience. But what is really happening here? I’m not going to even fathom how he has created such a swell of momentum behind his run at the White House. In my mind, he has done such a great job because he has refused to join the normal skull-duggary associated with Presidential elections and politicians in general. He has campaigned for ‘change’ and has, like K-Rudd, provided little depth and information about specific policy ideas. This has, funnily enough, only benefitted him. By constantly asking for change, and positioning himself as the candidate to bring this fundamental change about, he has begun talking to people’s aspirations rather than their conscious logic or hip pocket.
As stated before, people (young people especially) are currently struggling to find self-esteem and self worth. They constantly seek peer approval, and so are missing out on a larger story of community and meta-narrative which was table stakes only fifty years ago. The politics run by Clinton, McCain et al are essentially still moves from that old game. They figure ‘Let people know what you are going to do,’ the assumption being that they already know their place in the world, understand where they have come from and are secure in their own thoughts and ideas about the future. Essentially, people never needed ‘change’ or ‘dreams’ before because they could do this themselves.
Fast Forward to a world where most young people (now becoming older and of voting age) lack an understanding of what it means to dream and live in a community, and you can understand why Obama, K-Rudd et al are winning the war for hearts and minds. For the first time in many of these younger people’s lives, someone is painting a picture of what their dreams could be. Obama is asking people to imagine what the country could be like. They are, for the first time, dreaming of a larger world. They are thinking about how they could live in a country that is a community once again. They are considering, perhaps for the first time, what it means to contribute to a society, to be an active citizen, to help others grow.
They are being allowed to think this because, instead of a politician telling them things such as “Vote for me and I’ll spend this much more on you/I like the way you live so here have some more money/It’s not your fault that you are poor so have some money etc etc,”
Obama is giving them permission to dream about what could be. This is why voter turn out has been much higher in the democratic primaries for Obama than for Clinton. So, in closing, I think we as a population are becoming much more likely to follow base messages that come to us directly from sources we trust, as we continue to factor out the people in our life that don’t necessarily need to be there anymore. As we move away from this more diverse community and join more like minded friends for more time, we suddenly place much more importance on what those friends think of us. If they are all we have, then their acceptance suddenly means one heck of a lot more. Our self esteem become more and more tied into their thinking to the point that we suddenly draw all our self respect from the thoughts of others.
Obama and K-Rudd have picked up on this, and have realised that to improve the world and create a better life for more, we need to break down some of these walls and be a more diverse community once again. People are crying out for more meaning in their lives, as they struggle to rest easy when that ease is only maintained when other people think the right way about them. The ‘we can change’ and ‘dream about what our country could be/do’ tenant propagates like wild fire through people because they finally, maybe for the first time, feel like a participant in an important discussion about something much larger than themselves.