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We only know what we can measure; all scientific knowledge we have about the natural world depends on our observation instruments – Marcelo Gleiser – from my phrase collection in Portuguese

Whoever wants to study the planets must have a telescope; the cells, a microscope. Indeed, the more potent, the better.

What about society? The Internet? Social networks?

A new theory is required, which is nothing more than defining the influential actors and their specific weight in altering the process under analysis.

Thus, if we manage to define:

  • 1 – Who are the actors and how they pressure the system.

  • 2 – What are the factors and how each of them exercises pressure on the process.

  • 3 – Thus, we can define what kind of changes have occurred, are happening, and will likely happen in the future.

  • 4 – Then, this will help us to devise strategies.

  • 5 – And will decrease the risks of shooting in the dark.

In my opinion, when we analyze the Internet we can start tracking down a systemic DNA. I’ve tried to develop this concept here in my blog, based on all inputs I’ve received in my classes, talks, consulting work, readings, discussions at bar tables, and posted comments.

So far, I believe we can outline, as an experimental theory 1.0, the following agents and relations amongst them:

  • 1- Population growth is the starting point of the system, generating increased demand for products and services in society. It’s a starting point because it’s not possible to change this reality by killing people, exterminating peoples, no matter how many attempts to do that have been made. Thus, it’s an unavoidable fact, with a constant increase, ever greater and invisible. The system as a whole has to adapt to this situation because it’s the only factor that cannot presently be changed. Although family planning could be tried, it yields results only in the future.

  • 2- Based on the population growth, public and private productive sectors are established and organized to meet those demands.

  • 3- This productive sector struggles, strives, influences, buys, bribes, and launches coups to set up the market rules. Through the interplay of interests, pressures, and relationships of forces, it establishes monopolies, competition, taxes, and consumer relations, as well as supporting institutions (police, courts, schools, Congress, etc.) to ensure those market rules.

  • 4- In the process, a prevailing ideology is established – a set of premises and ideas that become hegemonic in society – to justify and corroborate the way in which the relation between demand and supply is taking place.

  • 5- As a precondition for this model to be accepted, the main communication media are dominated or heavily influenced to keep the “issues” raised by meeting those new demands within reasonable pressure levels and without big crises, as well as the established model of society as a whole. The media is thus used as a large-scale diffusion channel (repeating the prevailing ideology) to keep the “circus” functioning.

It’s within this delicate balance that we build the modus operandi of any society. Different actors are at work in this process.

These combined factors lead us to systemic social balances and imbalances.

Altering any one of those factors in large proportion generates an overall change in the environment, pushing forward changes in other agents and in the environment as a whole, bringing about subtle or radical adjustments.

From this perspective, we are the civilization formed by the radical crisis of population growth in the Middle Ages.

Then, a miserable population had to face:

  • 1- Population growth and the beginning of urban concentration.

  • 2- Need for new productive models because existing ones were tightly controlled by the Church and nobility.

  • 3- Thus, need for changing the rules of the game, which didn’t allow for new actors to join in and work.

  • 4 – Change in the prevailing ideology, which ran for example against the concepts of profit and private enterprise, both vital for the new productive environment.

  • 5-The strong domination of the information and communication media, through lack of access to libraries (see movies The Name of the Rose and Luther), with all cultivated writings in Latin and the impossibility of circulating new ideas through expensive and hard-to-handle manuscripts. All this domination occurred within an oral model, mainly through preachers in the Mass.

Such a situation generates a crisis of productive innovation.

Larger population, larger demands, need for new productive models that require dynamism, a new environment to create products and services.

In other words, the whole system is pressured to undergo overall changes in order to attain productive innovation.

It’s worth noting that the first step out of the impasse was the appearance of a new medium: the printed book.

A fact like this happens spontaneously, without any planning, and even the main thinkers of that epoch didn’t perceive its dimension, its importance to solve an also invisible crisis. This crisis occurred in the internal latency of each person, without any means or channels to express oneself, except through isolated rebellions, which didn’t lead by themselves to a revolution with the aim of shaping a new model.

Thus, without any articulation or political maneuvering (just like with the Internet) the book was introduced into that system marked by routine and inefficiency, incapable of dealing with the new challenges. This resulted in the circulation of new ideas, without authorization or control by the prevailing power, through what I called a social oxygenation media.

(From 1450 to 1500, 13 million printed books circulated in Europe, with over 27,000 titles, a true explosion of ideas and information for those times.)

Basically, this media enabled the emergence of new leaders, voices, ideas. They began to identify the problems and suggest practical and conceptual reforms of the environment as a whole.

From that point on, change in society is a matter of time and method of mobilization, using the new media and generating counter-information to revise society as a whole.

In that moment, there is an alternative to solve the Middle Ages crisis of productive innovation:

  • 1- The population continues to grow.

  • 2- The new productive sectors (bourgeoisie), based on the printed book, circulate pamphlets and booklets, and start revolutions aimed at changing the rules of the game.

  • 3- They create a new type of state with freedom to do business, based on the Parliament and the Republic.

  • 4- They establish a new ideology, free from a God who would not allow profits.

  • 5- A new hegemony is structured around the new communication media, starting with newspapers and later radio and television. Throughout the last 550 years, these media have enabled economic, political, and social revolutions. Profits have become the heart of the incentives that stimulate ongoing innovation and meet increasing demands, required by population growth.

After those 550 years, we arrived in 2010.

Today, with the world population duplicating every 50 years, we are experiencing a new crisis of productive innovation, similar to the pre-capitalist one.

Despite having undergone rethinking processes, reengineering, computerization, and globalization, productive sectors have not changed the essence of their action.

The model is still strongly based on centralization, hierarchy, the concept of profits without ethic, lying above consumers’ interests (consumers are never right, despite the discourse to the contrary), and the environment is increasingly raped.

This model so far has been driven and sustained by a strong communication capacity, developed and honed during decades, and capable of great manipulation. It has managed to maintain the status quo almost untouched. However, the crisis was pushed onto an unsustainable level, aggravating the contradiction between the desires of new generations and what we have to offer.

(The latency regarding the new atmosphere could be measured by the adherence to the new media, music sharing on the net, collaborative software development, and many other initiatives. This is the first step.)

It’s a crisis of quality (people always want something better and different) and of quantity (increasing numbers of people to eat, dress, drink, etc.), with consequences for our survival, including new factors such as the planetary environmental degradation.

Thus, the Internet, likewise the printed book, emerged to solve this crisis of productive innovation and of the whole ideology that supported the previous model.

It came to introduce the Collaborative Digital Age, the same way we had the passage from the Middle Ages to the Media Age. It aimed to reformulate all society, based on new paradigms. From an ideological perspective, with its new leaders and entrepreneurs, who created the conditions for other practical changes in the system, as well as from a practical viewpoint, with new business environments that went beyond models.

Today, the concept of profit, intellectual property, development without sustainability, lack of respect for internal collaborators, organizational models of the state and political life are all called into question. There is the same latency that starts to have new channels of expression and later will have projects and methods to change into a new environment.

Perhaps the agenda will be the same as put forward by the historical critics of capitalism. However, now we have an environment for sharing of ideas which doesn’t allow any longer the propagation of the prevailing ideology through media domination. Likewise, the productive sector cannot meet – as happened in pre-capitalist times – the latency of a population increasingly undergoing change and differentiation.

We are experiencing today a crisis similar to the one that originated capitalism!

Again, the world is undergoing a great civilizational revision.

For the first time, this new media creates the possibility of collective collaboration at a distance by people who know each other and people who have never met each other. This is a factor driving innovation forward and pointing to a solution to overcome the current crisis of productive models.

This new option cannot be disregarded, but it does exact a high cost in terms of revising basic concepts on the part of those who benefit from the prevailing power structure.

Innovation is wanted, but the alternative requires sharing or changing power rules. This is the conundrum of world 1.0 versus world 2.0!

The printed book popularized writing for the first time in history.

(Actually, the printed book was Writing 2.0.)

It made it possible to share ideas at a distance to overcome a production crisis.

The Internet arrived to create the collaboration of many-to-many and overcome a similar crisis in another moment in history.

By ending media control in the current fashion – as happened in the Middle Ages – the game is restarted. This makes it possible for new leaders to have a voice and suggest projects for the new world.

This is a civilizational change, initiated with a new media, to solve a systemic crisis. This crisis will be resolved through the sharing of ideas and collective acceptance of a new social model based on collaboration. The previous civilization based on a unidirectional structure will be left behind.

A sign of “vacancy” is put up for heading civilization.

We expect the emergence of a new ruling class with new collaborative concepts, in the style of Google and Amazon. It will show the way out of the crisis and charge for the new rules of the game, applying pressure on the old structures to meet the new demands.

So, justice 2.0, government 2.0, Congress 2.0, school 2.0…with a revised concept of profit, with a more ethical commitment shared with consumers.

Clients will be more right than they are today!

We are leaving the civilization of one-to-many, which structured our current system and laid the foundation of capitalism.

And, we are entering the many-to-many system which will shape the new civilization.

Will this be a new capitalism?

Yes, most likely, and even more than that.

However, any prognosis now would be just prophecy.

It’s fairly likely that we are at the threshold of a new political, social, and economic system, based on a dynamism to solve the current crisis of productive innovation, and to make the world spin again. Of course, this will be different in each country, region, or social class, but it will make the world spin.

All this to ensure the livelihood of seven billion human beings on the planet, who do not cease to copulate and increase their numbers.

What do you say?

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Translated by Jones de Freitas. Edited by Phil Stuart Cournoyer.

(This article in Portuguese.)

3 Responses to “The Internet and the crisis of productive innovation”

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