Everybody loves progress but nobody likes change – 2016’s best talks and videos
edited by Bianca Pick
The society we live in is becoming more and more complex and predicting the future seems impossible. However, to help us understand what lies ahead, we can look at some of the fundamental societal shifts that are happening. As illustrated here in these videos from 2016, the future could be brilliant but the transition won’t be easy.
In case you haven’t noticed, society seems to be going somewhat haywire at the moment. Between events like the Trump election, Brexit, the War in Syria, accelerating climate change, the migrant crisis and terror attacks, we are confronted with a situation that neither we nor our politicians can understand or control.
This brilliant BBC film “Hypernormalization” tells the epic story of how we got to this strange place. It shows how society in the West – and not just the politicians, journalists and experts, but society as a whole – has retreated into a simplified and often completely fake version of the world which we accept as normal because it is all around us.
Exploring 7 societal shifts
Faced with this almost dantesque scenario, I would like to offer a distillation of some of the most thought provoking videos and talks of this past year that illustrate the changes we face and how to tackle them.
1) Towards an open world
Sharing open knowledge has become a default practice in the maker and fablab movements, as illustrated in the amazing POC21 documentary (2015) and in particular the 2016’s FabCity initiative (video in Spanish).
Another glimpse of what a FabCity might look like is offered by this 60 minute documentary by Wired Magazine about Shenzhen City, China. As the host of the Fab12 conference, the documentary describes how the Shanzai culture of open innovation is one of the key elements to the city’s success.
For the traditional business model and mindset the idea of openness may still seem counter-intuitive, introducing new risks and potential “accidents”. However, unlearning and forcing yourself to think about open business models in your own business domain – hard as it may be – is now necessary. If you don’t do it, someone else in the world will.
2) Aiming for ‘full stack democracy’
The Spanish political landscape got increasingly turbulent in 2016 at local, regional and national level. Not only was Spain without a national government for almost a year, elections had to be repeated due to disagreement over presidential candidates in a highly fragmented parliament, even after 3 months of debate.
In this context, some video activists asked themselves a simple question: Do we live in a real democracy? Their answer was documented in these two videos.
(Note: activate English and other languages subtitles in the settings)
With today’s technology, new participatory processes, institutions and places, we should however aim for a more functional democracy; a ‘full stack’ democracy that goes beyond just casting a vote every four years and a representative government, but which has the power to create a new society.
To dive deeper on this topic, you can also check out the round table about Open Democracy at the OpenSource Open Society event, or the streaming from the Ciudades Democráticas conference: MediaLabPrado + Museo Reina Sofia. This 5-minute clip is just the teaser.
3) Fuck work! ¡ A la mierda del trabajo!
My attention was recently caught on Twitter by an article with the headline: “A la mierda el trabajo!” (original in English: Fuck work!). The article points out the elephant in the room: What if ‘jobs’ are not the solution but the problem?
Part of the problem is that “the job” is an artificial construct, in which work is managed and parceled out by corporations and other institutions, to which individuals must apply to participate in doing the work – Tim O’Reilly.
Indeed, it seems the current way of allocating work is not working for the majority and it is likely not to work for the future either. Crowdcapitalism, platform-mediated jobs, automation, artificial intelligence, etc all have the potential to render our jobs obsolete. But can this technological deflation finance a universal basic income?
In the words of Nick Hanauer, “Technology is the solution to human problems. As long as we haven’t run out of problems, we won’t run out of work”. It is worth noting however that Nick said “we won’t run out of work” not “we won’t run out of jobs.”
The documentary “In the same boat” featuring the recently deceased Zygmunt Bauman discusses this topic in further detail.
4) New types of organizations wanted
A shift in the the way we work work will also require new types of organizations. These organizations must create the right incentives and offer a set of values around which people can congregate. They should enable people to develop their full potential and reward them for their contributions towards the common goal.
OuiShare itself or the Enspiral network are existing examples of such a trans-national “participatory network”. These organizations experiment internally and open source the processes that work for them. They are being invented, discussed and documented as we speak through the Ouishare Ouiki or the Enspiral Handbook for example. With the aim to inspire others, be copied and grow by replication they wish to scale out, not up.
The journey of creating such an organization is explained in this video by Jessy Kate from Enspiral and The Embassy Network.
Another source which addresses the subject of new organizations is Open Collective. Particularly interesting here is a talk by Pia Mancini at the “Poder Hacer” event @ Laboratorio para la Ciudad, Mexico City, or that of Xavier Damman (in English), who spoke at OuiShare Fest Barcelona 2016.
5) Towards ‘A sharing economy that works for everyone’
The Future of Sharing project, which I came across while writing an article for OuiShareFest Barcelona 2016, is an initiative that sets out to answer this key question: How can we make the sharing economy work better for everyone?
Including a set of conversations with USA based thought leaders, this project brings together those who deeply understand the potential of sharing economy, such as Yochai Benkler, Doug Rushkoff, Tim O’Reilly, Arun Sundararajan and Natalie Foster, with the people who run and understand cities.
Watch the full playlist here or click on the image below to find out more.
6) The revolution will not be centralized
In nature most complex systems are decentralized. As a society that is confronted with complexity, decentralization therefore seems inevitable.
However, we don’t yet have the right mental tools to fully understand the implications of a decentralized and distributed society. We are so used to centralization and the industrial scale operations we inherited from the previous century that any other type of organizations appears like science fiction to us.
Yet this is a very real and accelerating trend. This ten minute video of OpenBazzar for example shows what a decentralized Ebay could look like. It’s slogan is “A Free Market for all. No Fees. No Restrictions.”
For organizations that wish to apply the same decentralized principles to the certification of skills there are now also Open Badges. This project launched by the Mozilla Foundation makes it possible to recognize and showcase your skills & literacies across the Web. It is open and 100% decentralized, as explained by Doug Belshaw, who is currently working with City & Guilds on their strategy around Open Badges in the video below.
And finally, The Blockchain, the latest technical incarnation of these principles is explained in simple terms in these four videos.
Matan Field from BackFeed speaks on desintermediation as a continuous process and the 3 stages of the blockchain revolution so far.
Primavera De Filippi’s memorable lecture at IaaC “Blockchain Technology for decentralized collaboration” introduces concepts such as smart contracts, smart property and DAOs. Look out for the Plantoid.
Last but not least you can also review the six five minutes episodes on “Trust Disrupted: Bitcoin and the blockchain” produced by TechCrunch.
7) This is not a technological revolution, it’s a trust revolution
Trust is a fundamental element of social capital and a key contributor to sustaining good outcomes, and economic development. In fact, there is a the correlation between the trust level in a society and its economic development, so in other words, without trust and trustworthiness there is no prospect of economic development.
Probably the most relevant societal shift is a shift in trust. Technology may be the enabler, yet this is not a technological but a trust revolution: “While we used to place our trust in institutions like governments and banks, today we increasingly rely on others, often strangers, on platforms like Airbnb and Uber and through technologies like the blockchain. This new era of trust could bring with it a more transparent, inclusive and accountable society — if we get it right. Who do you trust?” states Rachel Botsman while introducing her TED Summit talk.
Change is inevitable. Progress is optional
In the words of Angela Oguntala: “Visions are powerful because they inspire us, but also limit us”. It is important to keep in mind that there is no single answer, there is no single future, there is only exploration of alternative futures.
So fasten your seat belts and hold on tight! Because the transition is likely to be a bumpy journey, in a (open source!) vehicle that is being constructed as we go through uncharted territory, and surely meet hurdles to overcome.
These societal shifts are meant to draw an image of a desirable future that is worth working for. But we will need to work hard to guarantee real and meaningful progress and not only change.
How do you imagine the future? And how will we get there?
Please feel free to bring your opinion to the table, as I publish this article to foster open debate. Comments, ideas and links are more than welcome.