“Whereas at the beginning of this period (300 years ago ) the rate of new discovery and invention was such that the digestion of a major change extended over the better part of a century, it has steadily increased until the process of digestion must now be accomplished within a decade.
This is something new in history.
The better part of a century is a long human life-time, and within that span, adjustment both personal and social is comparatively easy.
When the time available for digestion of a change is reduced to a single generation, then, though individual adjustment is more of a problem, social adjustment is still not too difficult.
The individual himself is asked to recast his ideas and his attitudes once or even twice within the space of his active working life”.
[From Julian Huxley, On Living a Revolution]
I had to break down this thought into sentences to internalize it when my friend Peter sent it over. There is no skimming for digesting a concept with such vast implications.
Consider the environment in which we are trying to make sense of new ideas and attitudes -- individual.
Now take a look at the graph I superimposed on the magnificent image to provide a starker contrast, which nature has a way of offering. When the rate of cultural change is maximum, individual thinking is not prized. We go with the flow. The problem is we spin it as individual thinking when, if we looked more closely, we would see it for what it is.
Given the infatuation mainstream culture has for looking into the crystal ball, you should be reading Nate Silver's excellent book, The Signal and the Noise: Why so Many Predictions Fail - but Some Don't.
Silver summarizes the difference between risk and uncertainty, two members of the contemporary lexicon that are getting quite the workout lately:
Risk, as first articulated by the economist Frank H. Knight in 1921, is something that you can put a price on. Say that you'll win a poker hand unless your opponent draws to an inside straight: the changes of that happening are exactly 1 in 11. This is risk. It is not pleasant when you take a "bad beat" in poker, but at least you know the odds of it and can account for it ahead of time. In the long run, you'll make a profit from your opponents making desperate draws with insufficient odds.
Uncertainty, on the other hand, is risk that is hard to measure. You might have some vague awareness of the demons lurking out there. You might even be acutely concerned about them. But you have no real idea how many of them there are or when they might strike. Your back-of-the-envelope estimate might be off by a factor of 100 or by a factor of 1,000; there is no good way to know. This is uncertainty.
Risk greases the wheels of a free-market economy; uncertainty grinds them to a halt.
The context for Silver's lucid comparison is that of the alchemy that the rating agencies performed by spinning uncertainty into what looked and felt like risk.
Rebuilding community for the Web
I consider blogging a form of contribution to the open Web. Writing to the way things are to design better conversations and build communities of thought and practice.
The problem with blogging Is that it needs work.
Just when it was becoming useful as a form of thinking out loud, of carrying out conversations with others through posts, across blogs, in comments, etc. it became a tool to convince and convert -- posts tightened, people stopped linking to content other than their own or for the opportunistic wink, and advice hit the recycle circuits.
The broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity# was not the only identity we lost from the early days of the Web.
To me the conversation about rebuilding needs to put people at the center, so it has to be about community.
“Life is the adaptation of creature to environment.
In the pre-human past the tempo of that adaption has been limited, so that a revolutionary change in the environment has always meant the death to the species.
Man, in the Machine Age, has contrived to revolutionize his own environment – an unprecedented feat.
The crucial question is whether with discourse of reason will enable him to perform the equally unprecedented task of revolutionizing himself.
Failing that, his civilization, and possibly his species, are doomed, if only for the reason that the energies he has succeeded in exploiting are incomparably swift and potent to destroy than to benefit, and if not controlled by adequate intelligence, will inevitably do so.
[from Esme Wingfeld Stratford, The Harvest of Victory]
[more book recommendations here]
Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and company events on a variety of topics. To book her for a speaking engagement click here.