Can technology overcome and change institutions otherwise overcome by inertia and stagnation? Will technology help overcome tyrants and change the relationship between state and citizen in positive and hopeful ways, or will it enable dictators and make governments even more oppressive?
These were some of the questions posed at Techonomy this past November.
These aren’t merely political questions. The corporation as it has been conceived of for quite some time – that massive bureaucracy built upon a steep hierarchy – is also threatened by innovation and technological change. The old boss model may be facing its own near-extinction as the gig economy grows. Tech is changing everything.
The Techno-Futurists Are On to Something
In many ways, this is the same thinking behind Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch’s new book on libertarianism and its effects on stagnant institutions and mainstream culture. The free-wheeling nature of cultural libertarianism and economic freedom lead innovation and creative expression in ways that subvert and invariably alter the nature of the status quo.
Society is not defined by when the disruptive technologists adopt something – it is defined by when the majority – the doers – finally do.
In my opinion, Libertarianism actually works well for a very small percentage of people. For the rest of the population, it results in the tragedy of the commons, the rise of bandits and thieves and a society in which a few benefit while most struggle for existence.
We are a social animal and we survive because our societies survive. Cooperation is as important for our species as competition – sometimes more important. The most resilient, adaptive and sustainable societies have always been those that best found ways to balance those competing needs with new technologies that threatened to disrupt things.
Technologists love the disruptive effects of new things – they switch from new toy to toy like a bee. I say that as a disruptive technologist.
But a society built entirely upon that type of personality would rapidly fail – the constant disruption with new things would prevent much from being done. The endless wars – between Mac and PC, between Apple and Google, between LCD and LED, between Star Trek and Star Wars– provide too much disruption.
Society is made up mostly of people who accept change slowly and carefully. And a good thing they do. It greatly reduces the chance we might chose some technology that rapidly destroys the underpinnings of the society and how we interact.
We thrive because we provide important social roles for both the disruptors and the doers. Too much of either type threatens to produce either a stagnant or a chaotic organization or society.
It is all well and good to wish we could make a trip back and redo things to create a Jetson’s future. but we did not at the time and Toffler explained why over 40 years ago.
We have now hit a plateau. It is similar to a change of state of a liquid to a gas. The temperature does not change at all as more energy is added until a certain point – then the liquid becomes a gas.
There is the same sort of dynamic taking hold now. A whole generation has grown up without the same sort of Future Shock previous generations were suffering from. Their doers are much better prepared to deal with the rapid change now found in many sectors of society. Society can now make the transition to a new state very rapidly.
I expect 2022 will be very different because that change in state is now ready to happen. On my optimistic days, it will be great to have a world were most of society is more adaptive and resilient than today, having found ways to sustain itself without being totally reliant on current resources.
But it could also be very bad, as the old dinosaurs trample the faster mammals before they finally die off.
We need a society that permits the disruptors to continue to experiment with new approaches. But society will also still adapt slower than they might want because not every experiment deserves to spread throughout society.
Good thing too.