Upon reading Joi Ito’s paper on Emergent Democracy yesterday, my first thought was that while the essay made some interesting points, it was too focused on the tools, on the technology, instead of on the human element.
As I commented on Ito’s site, “instead of being viewed as enablers, the tools come across as drivers of a process”. To which Joi replied:
“I tried to focus initially on the toolmakers because they are testing the medium and creating the architecture… Therefore, I am trying to get the toolmakers to understand that they are doing a lot more than building tools for diaries and that things should be built into the architecture from the beginning to enhance democracy, protect privacy, protect the commons, etc.”
This is a valid and interesting point. Interesting because it implies that we need to bring a variety of perspectives, a multidisciplinary outlook to the things we do (in this case designing and building). Valid because more often than not this does not happen (and here, as a random example, I think of “analog” architecture and all those supposedly functional concrete tower ghetto blocks that have virulently spread across the urban zones of the globe).
And yet it is vital that we bring a renaissance style of thinking to our activities – the ability to mix science and arts, ethics and imagination, can help ignite the
(r)evolutionary potential implicit in our digital artifacts.
We can employ our tools to help us design and implement a different world, a different way of living. Alternatively we can fall prey to the allure of techno-fetishist fantasies.
On 15 February 2003, for example, something unprecedented and historical happened as we witnessed and generated the first common action of a global people. The first planetary protest. Tens of millions across the globe, numbers never seen before. A whole network of demonstrations made up of nodes and hubs (Ironically, the largest of all coming from a city once the center of another empire: Rome, where up to three million people took part in the march against the upcoming war in Iraq.)
Now, beyond the importance of the event in itself, which highlights a sweeping opposition to the warmongers, what needs to be stressed is the emergence of a new awareness. The awareness of acting locally within a global context. The emergence of a common front to tackle planetary problems.
This can become a very powerful physical meme capable of bringing increased attention and demands not only on wars, but poverty, the environment, quality of life. On February 15 it was globalization sunny-side up.
It was also a great feat in communications and network(ing).
Which is why I was surprised, after a weekend spent offline reading print papers and checking out monolithic TV, to discover that the excitement, the possibilities implicit in such an awareness, were not really shared in the online social network I inhabit.
For the blogosphere, the main event to mark February 15 was the sale of Blogger to Google…. An important event, definitely, but a touch fetishistic perhaps? Let your own conclusions emerge.