Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Scenario of the Future: Revolution and Change at What Cost?

A Scenario of the Future

Fanned by discontent, top down dictation from the 'powerful', the disenfranchised began to smolder like hot coals underneath a well prepared tent of kiln dried wood. Their complaint: money hungry power brokers are extraditing ever ounce of resource from society. Taking back power and control requires a uniting. Unity through expression. With A uniting and growing opposition a 'revolution' takes place. The disenfranchised are creating news that is being consumed by others around the clock. They have become their own 24 hr newsroom. Using social media sources, they are expressing a voice, a common voice, a voice of change.

Governments fret and are increasingly concerned. They claim they are worried about the effects of irresponsible information being shared by one and cascading to thousands and millions. They are worried about public and national safety. Governments work together to determine how to prohibit the spread of 'misinformation' as if trying to eradicate a pandemic. They discuss registering individuals and providing learners permits to individuals to ensure "responsible" journalism. The controls become tighter all to avoid 'chaos' and all for the sake of national security.

Today's News

This was a future scenario presented during the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) I attended at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, Kenya (UNON). Is this possible? The first half of this scenario is playing out as we speak. The 'Arab Spring' created revolutionary changes throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa despite controls and limits on communications and violence by repressive regimes. These protests are continuing in 'stable' democracies like India and now we are seeing waves of revolution ripple through the 'developed world'. Protests are occurring throughout Europe (Spain, Greece) and the United States (Occupy Wall Street). The "99%" are becoming further disenfranchised
"we will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants."~ Occupy Wall Street.
Unemployment has reached historical levels, food prices are rising rapidly and it is perceived that governments are failing to represent the majority, but rather seemingly pandering to the rich and powerful. Would the free speech democracies of the West actually limit free speech for the 'greater good' of society? Would they compromise individual privacy to avoid abrupt change? Change by the people for the people?

The the topic of the session that directly followed the Future Scenarios presentation was 'Mobile Privacy'. The panel, constructed of representatives from Google, Ushahidi, AT&T, GSMA and academia (a professor from a European Uni and a member of a Indian think tank). The discussion of mobile privacy quickly becomes 'real' when a probing question is posed by an Egyptian and a participant in the 'Arab Spring' for revolutionary change. Although, he states, he was able to circumvent the mobile network and continue to tweet atrocities and rallying cries during the Egyptian revolution, why did Vodafone in Egypt obey a corrupt regimes demands by shutting down their network at the cost of support for the revolution and maybe even lives. Why weren't mobile carriers protecting their customers rather than pandering to government demands.

In addition, mobile location and information was being utilized by this regime to identify and target individuals. What would stop the same thing from taking place in the West? What if Western governments demanded that twitter or mobile communications be suspended in the name of 'national security' or even the creators of this information be identified by location and by mobile number? What is the definition of national security? And wouldn't these governments also be scripting the definition, and thus there be a severe conflict of interest? Should mobile communication ever be suspended or compromised? Or would this scenario never play out because we are part of a free world and free speech democracy? By the people for the people?

The Third Revolution

Author Jeremy Rifkin states in his new book, The Third Revolution: How Lateral Power Will Transform Society, "the conventional, top-down, centralized approach to organizing economic activity that characterized the fossil fuel-based First and Second Industrial Revolutions, is being challenged by the new distributed and collaborative organizing models that go with a Third Industrial Revolution." Rifkin describes this Third Revolution as a change in "our sense of relationship to and responsibility for our fellow human beings." Is change in our economic, political and financial systems inevitable? Is western democracy, the growth of capitalism and evolution of globalization destined for drastic change? Does this mean that these well established institutions need to be razed and rebuilt? But change doesn't come without a price. What price are the disenfranchised willing to pay and how easily will these mature institutions embrace drastic change? What will it take?

This revolution is called the "intercontinental era" according to Rifkin.  He argues that it "will SLOWLY transform international relations from geopolitics to biosphere politics." It does seem that there is a new way emerging. A way of drastic and immediate change which has occurred in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and is taking place in Syria and rippling through the Middle East. Can or does change occur (or need to occur) in the West as abruptly and explicitly?

The only thing consistent in life is change. To finish with a statement about the Third Revolution Mr. Rifkin articulates:
The American dream, long held as the gold standard for aspiring people everywhere, is squarely in the Enlightenment tradition, with its emphasis on the pursuit of material self-interest, autonomy and independence. Quality of life, however, speaks to a new vision of the future -- one based on collaborative interest, connectivity and interdependence. We come to realize that true freedom is not found in being unbeholden to others and an island to oneself but, rather, in deep participation with others. If freedom is the optimization of one's life, it is measured in the richness and diversity of one's experiences and the strength of one's social bonds. A life less lived is an impoverished existence.
A challenge to us all and Mohandas Gandhi said it the best "be the change you want to see in the world".


  1. I've been thinking about this a whole lot lately in the context of my own work and life here in Detroit. I moved here in part for a sense of *community* and connectedness and I find that many of the people close to me are drawn & remain in the city for that reason -- and yet that interdependence, that rich social web, that "deep participation" is so complicated, and often a source of discomfort.

    I wonder how to motivate and manage participation, collaboration, decision-making in "flatter" systems and networks.... how greater interdependence & "richness and diversity of one's experiences and the strength of one's social bonds," while magical on the surface, can be exhausting in practice... the constant give/take/brokering of our values/needs/actions within our networks is a lot in itself. Given our technology as a species, we are no longer operating at the scale of tribes, so we're negotiating an ever increasing number of connections at varying scales... not to mention the fact that different people are able/willing to "enroll" to different degrees and those who have stronger ties end up being asked to give more than they can sustain as individuals or businesses or organizations (e.g. studies on entrepreneurs with stronger family ties being alternately a blessing and a burden on the business)...

    So I guess I just wonder how we deal with this complexity?

    When we move out of more bureaucratic, hierarchical command-based approaches to leadership to more participatory, emancipatory, democratic, distributed/chaordic models ... and when we move from linear, cumulative models of progress or development to a systems approach focusing on sustainability and resiliency, what are the new kinds of tools (technological, cognitive, emotional, social, political) that we need to manage these changes?

    Network modeling? Complex systems analysis? Facilitative leadership skills? Spirituality and religion!?

  2. Hey Jess,

    Thanks for the thought provoking comment. I would really like to chat and expand on your perspective. I hope all is well and I look forward to catching up when I am back in Detroit the week of Oct 31.