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Rene Daalder
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Jan 18, 2007
Uplinks: 0, Generation 1

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    rene’s projects
    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

    Branding the Species
    Background: Voyager’s Interstellar record is a disk with encoded information that was attached to two space probes currently making their...

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    Start your own revolution
    Catching up with the future. All major institutions in the world today are grappling to come to terms with the internet. The entertainment...

    What happened to nature?
    How to stay in touch with our biological origins in a world devoid of nature? The majestic nature that once inspired poets, painters and...

    The great enhancement debate
    What will happen when for the first time in ages different human species will inhabit the earth at the same time? The day may be upon us when people...

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    A musical mindstorm on the nature of sound, light, space and subjective experience powered by locally produced energy, heralding the ending of the...

    Designing Science Fiction...
    The course will be loosely inspired by the movie (and the book) The Man who Fell to Earth in which David Bowie plays an extraterrestrial visitor...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    I very much appreciated the recent discussion Should SpaceCollective be open?, which is a conversation Folkert, Josh and I are having on an ongoing basis, invariably coming to the conclusion that the Invite Only model works. Besides SpaceCollective, it has also been working well for the Cargo project even though it is based on a subscription model, and we will once again use it for our upcoming film/video art platform Instant Cinema.

    Most internet initiatives are geared towards attracting as many users as possible, which is our ambition as well, but at the same time we want to set the bar on our projects as high as possible simply because we like to be personally engaged with the communities we help to create.

    In fact, our way of starting these projects has been to put a lot of our own content on the site before showing it to anyone (check out the early posts in the Time Capsules of Megan, Folkert and myself, or the Future of Everything movies on the home page as well as the SpaceCollective Gallery).

    Initially, we provided SpaceCollective with an underlying narrative that was inspired by the Time Capsules on board of the Voyager space probes. By becoming a member you acquired the status of being “immortal,” and your content was supposed to be your “Cargo” for the ages. At one point we even played with the idea to launch all the content from the site into space. Ultimately these ideas would feed into many aspects of the site, as well as the soon to be completed Sci-Fi documentary “The Terrestrials” about 6 students at UC Santa Cruz digitizing the archive of Timothy Leary to grant him his wish of a “permanent home in cyberspace.”

    In addition to our own curation of the site, we continued to establish a niche for ourselves by inviting some of our friends teaching at major universities to conduct SpaceCollective-related courses. Soon after, the floodgates to the outside world were spontaneously opening up.

    Here’s how I put it in an early post:

    While students at UCLA in Los Angeles and Vienna’s School for the Applied Arts were in the early process of beta testing the site (see Projects), scores of aspiring members from the outside somehow found our unpublicized URL and were applying for membership to our yet to be launched invite only community. Without any publicity or public beta, an instant network of forward thinkers from all over the world had spontaneously sprung into existence.

    As it turns out many of the most important contributors to SC found us when the site was still password-controlled. A teenage whiz kid named dmitri, was one of them, as were the prodigiously forward thinking Wildcat, Spaceweaver and Rourke, who have since acquired the status of Fellow Founding Fathers of this precocious think tank.

    Other significant early pioneers who continue to contribute are Meika, Xarene, Michael Rule and Sjef, eventually joined by a 2nd and 3rd generation, which includes several of the much appreciated writers who commented on the thread that prompted this post.

    In the ‘60s Timothy Leary (who posthumously became an honorary SC member) and Aldous Huxley were deeply involved in the cause of advocating mind expansion through psychedelics. During long conversations they defined possible strategies to accomplish their goal. Huxley believed that turning on great poets, artists and other influential minds would start a long-lasting trickle down effect, whereas Leary would eventually find himself playing the role of the great populist promoter and was forever burdened by the backlash that was the corrosive side-effect of his mass-oriented approach. Much as I love Leary and his infatuation with popular culture, in the end, he may have had more luck with the artists that he and Alan Ginsberg turned on according to Huxley’s elitist model. Among them were the painter Willem de Kooning, Jack Kerouac, Thelonious Monk and many other figures that are highly influential to this day. Both approaches are valid, but only one keeps cutting through the clutter with timeless clarity, and the same can ultimately be said of the frequent glimpses of the future that are offered by the select few who are posting here, unimpeded by the unwieldy noise of the masses.

    SpaceCollective is created with this meritocratic mentality in mind as we were fully expecting to help create something of much longer lasting value than your average social network. Long before it was proven to us that the high caliber of discourse conducted here was even possible outside of an institutional context we went to great lengths to come up with as many ways as possible to navigate and preserve the extensive amount of sophisticated content we hoped for.

    Besides Search, the usual Tags and RSS feeds, we instigated curated “Projects”, members’ individual “Time Capsules”, featuring their posts as well as their personal “Favorites”. There are “Synapses” that refer to related content, and below the top bar of the home page there are multiple ways to revisit the archive based on “Recent Activity,” “Most Popular” Posts, “Newest First,” “Most Active,” and “Yours” which allows you to display a different overview of your own work. In your Time Capsule you can access recent posts by “Affiliates”, or view “Recent Images”, and so on. In other words, there are more ways to interact with the content here than any of us would typically need on a regular basis.

    Although these functionalities may not always be obvious, it appears that at least some of these different ways of browsing the content are paying off when new members join and peruse the vast archive, reviving posts from the distant past, which without exception seem surprisingly current and draw comments as if they were written yesterday.

    Now remember that when you signed up we made the commitment to keep your cargo alive and indeed granted you the status of being immortal, just like the inhabitants of that mythical place nom the puppet evokes when he sums up the consensus that for the time being SC should remain as it is today, because, according to him:

    “this might be the Shangri-La of the internet...”
    Tue, Dec 14, 2010  Permanent link

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    This article, co-authored by Rene and Megan May, will be published in the Counter Culture issue of Volume Magazine, August 2010.

    As two of the founding members of, a forward-looking think tank concerned with how exponential changes in technology are shaping our future selves, we are often reminded how much our inquiry owes to the US Defense Department's Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).

    In spite of its connection to the US military, DARPA exemplifies the essence of America's much heralded knack for innovation, unapologetically anticipating failure as one of the inevitable outcomes of looking farther forward than most — according to DARPA, if you don’t have failures, you’re not far enough out.

    In order to “accelerate the future into being,” DARPA foots the bill for some of the most ambitious engineering projects known to man, including reverse engineering the brain, while opportunistically embracing whatever unpredictable results their esoteric projects may yield.

    Thus far, the results of their envelope pushing, scattershot approach have been impressive. They have successfully funded breakthroughs like global positioning satellites, the cell phone, speech recognition software, the graphical user interface, the Unix operating system, super-capacitors, advanced fuel cells, a multitude of air, land, and sea robots, and more. Even the US Space Agency, NASA, was a spin-off from DARPA (called ARPA at the time).

    Ironically, while DARPA’s formal ambition is to create a superhuman soldier, most of the agency’s projects don’t end up on the battlefield, but rather proceed to transform the civilian world we live in, and ultimately our overall sense of who and what we are. In his book Radical Evolution, which extensively documents DARPA’s ambitions to enhance humanity, Joel Garreau makes the fundamental hypothesis that today we are riding a curve of exponential change that is unprecedented in human history, and will transform no less than human nature. Garreau defines our historical moment as follows:

    “We've tried Socratic reasoning and Buddhist enlightenment and Christian sanctification and Cartesian logic and the New Soviet Man. Our successes have ranged from mixed to limited at best. Nonetheless, we are pressing forward, attempting again to improve not just our worlds but our very selves. Who knows? Maybe this time we'll get it right.”

    In the mid ‘60s, Darpa took a giant step in that direction by funding a project that promised to “augment human intellect,” through computers.

    At the time, there was no field of computer science, there were no computer science departments in universities, and certainly no computer networks. There was, however, an engineer named Douglas Engelbart, who was convinced that computers had a purpose beyond number crunching.

    Engelbart's vision was shared by the head of DARPA's research department, J.C.R. Licklider, who articulated the idea that a “man-machine symbiosis” would produce a new entity that would “think “as no human brain has ever thought before." It was Licklider who would convince DARPA to fund Engelbart's Augmenting Human Intellect project. 

    Engelbart’s research would culminate in an epic demonstration of the first computer mouse, the graphical user interface, hypertext, and networked computers to a crowd of awestruck engineers who initially balked at Engelbart’s DARPA-supported schemes. And soon enough, his center at Stanford would become the first node of the Internet – giving rise to a technology that we never knew we needed but which has since become ubiquitous.

    As it happens, the instigators of the world transforming technological paradigm shifts that are the subject of this article, are engineers whose primary focus is on how things might work without being overly preoccupied with the precise outcome of their tinkering. Indeed, neither Engelbart nor Licklider could have possibly predicted the explosive impact their joint venture would have a few decades down the line.

    As has been extensively documented by Kevin Kelly, in just the first 2000 days after the web was born, we had already contributed 3 billion web pages, demonstrating an unanticipated eagerness to share. In the process, we’ve taken the liberty to freely share billions of dollars worth of copyrighted material, increasingly cut out the middleman from our commercial transactions, and forced many institutions that represented the dominant culture to reinvent themselves or perish. It’s safe to say then, that in today’s world the engineers who materialize these technologies are the instigators, if not the leaders of a revolution, often operating without manifestoes, business plans, or even support from the scientific community, which, according to Joel Garreau, "can take years if not decades to catch up with adequate explanations for some of the technological developments DARPA and others are pushing through. It is the final triumph of Edison over Einstein."

    In the last ten years, a younger generation of triumphant engineers have stepped to the plate to build upon Engelbart’s augmentation metaphor. Foremost among them are the founders of Google Inc, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who set out to “expand people’s minds” with an ever-refined search algorithm that has since become one of the key operating principles of the web.

    From their humble PhD project at Stanford, they’ve gone on to index all the world’s information and managed to create one of the most successful companies in the world, based almost entirely on the popularity of its revolutionary search technology, which has since prompted Google to venture into many unforeseen directions. Despite its founders’ initial reluctance to turn their project into a platform for advertising, one of these ventures is Google’s world famous Adsense technology, which leverages their powerful index of related information to generate context-specific ads alongside search queries and other Google services.

    This customized approach has elevated advertising to a level that is infinitely more subtle than blanketing the world with TV commercials for McDonalds, while providing Google with the financial wherewithal to pursue its founders’ far-reaching vision to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”

    This is a tried and true strategy; after all broadcast TV first provided us with an unprecedented window on the world thanks almost exclusively to revenue generated by commercials for shampoo and vacuum cleaners. The success of this trade-off would ultimately contribute to such world changing feats as ending the war in Vietnam by bringing the battlefield into our living room.

    In the ‘60s, Marshall McLuhan, the media philosopher who seems to have understood the engineer’s mind better than most, predicted that what had started with a TV in every home would eventually turn the world into a “Global Village.” But what he couldn’t have foreseen is that today Google is marrying television with the Internet, and is getting to know all the villagers on a first-name basis while - like an old-time switchboard operator running a local party line – the company’s Android operating system for smart phones will allow Google to keep close tabs on all its neighbors around the planet, wherever they are, swapping recipes and gossip or reporting on the current patronage of their local pub. In this increasingly symbiotic relationship with their customers, Google is becoming intimately aware of who we are, where we are and what we like, while optimizing our lives, by providing us with a constantly updated supply of mutually beneficial tools and services, like Gmail, Google Wave, Google Chrome, Google Voice, Google Checkout, Google Health — the list is getting longer by the day. And in every instance we voluntarily share more and more of our private lives with Google’s ever-growing data centers. Indeed, it may not be long before we're sharing even our most personal genomic details with the company; after all, Sergey Brin is not only an investor in the leading personal genomics company 23AndMe, but the company’s co-founder is his wife.

    Given the tremendous task of indexing and contextualizing the rapidly growing amounts of data Google acquires from one moment to the next, including their massive digitization of books, their controversial worldwide street view project, and so on, it seems only logical for Sergey Brin to anticipate that “artificial intelligence” will emerge within a few years. A prospect that did not escape George Dyson, when he visited the Googleplex several years ago and concluded that the company would soon find itself “at the precipice of astonishing changes in human communication...and ultimately, in our sense of who or what we are." And in the most remarkable about-face, rather than suffering from Big Brother paranoia, younger generations today appear to be in on the master plan, freely sharing everything with Google’s cloud computing infrastructure as if they agree by consensus that throwing caution to the wind may well be the necessary path by which the Internet will deliver the constant innovation they have come to expect.

    As we continue to develop our relationship with the machine, we may yet become the enhanced human beings envisioned by the early advocates of augmented intelligence. However, according to maverick inventor Ray Kurzweil, chances are that soon we may no longer be able to recognize the emerging entity as one of our own.

    In the best tradition of the calculated recklessness American innovators excel at, Kurzweil predicts that within decades machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, at which point all bets will be off, and we may find ourselves jumping into a DARPA-esque black hole from which a whole new existential paradigm will emerge.

    Google is certainly no stranger to the fact that technology can change faster than expected, and the company is throwing in its lot with Kurzweil by co-sponsoring his Singularity University. This initiative may spawn yet another generation of radical engineers, inspired by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge who first defined the Singularity as the inevitable moment when “computer /human interfaces become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent,” and go on to create exponentially more intelligent entities at accelerating speeds.

    While this may sound like a far-fetched concept only DARPA would fund, the Singularity theory is actually based on Intel founder Gordon Moore’s sober observation that the power of information-technology is doubling every eighteen months and will continue to do so. Moore’s law, of course, has become the core faith of the booming computing industry for the last few decades, and has recently inspired Intel to promise a complete merger between man and machine by 2050.

    When you add it all up, it looks like the next step in our DARPA-esque technological evolution may not be financed by the military, but by a major corporation like Google or Intel, at the risk of trading one potential liability for an even more debatable patron.

    After all, anyone who has read alarming books like counterculture stalwart Douglas Rushkoff’s “Life Inc” or watched the equally bleak documentary “The Corporation,” knows that these business entities are often viral, perhaps even "sociopathic," institutions, operating in the sole interest of quarterly results and shareholder value. So one can only wonder what will happen if Page and Brin's longstanding promise to do no “evil” is jeopardized by their unexpected failure to deliver the enviable profit margins the company has been boasting so far. If they were to arrive at such a juncture they might be forced to relinquish control or even be ousted by the company’s shareholders who — as Apple's Steve Jobs and Yahoo founder Jerry Chang found out the hard way — are ultimately calling the shots. This would inevitably leave us at the mercy of whoever might step in to guide Google’s exploding machine intelligence, and inherit the mountains of data we have entrusted to the company.

    Ultimately, the best thing corporations like Google can hope for is that we, the users, continue to go along with their founders’ plans, and that our compliance will generate sufficient income to hold the company's board at bay — leaving it up to Larry Page and Sergey Brin to stay the course as they help ring in the Singularity.

    If there is one redeeming aspect of working within the corporate system that rules the Internet today, it’s that the same services that allow us to share personal information, also provide us with a platform to voice our discontent. When Facebook, for example, makes unfavorable changes, their initiatives are instantly squashed by user revolts. And at the moment, the social network’s less than transparent attempts at manipulating privacy settings for its own gain are seriously jeopardizing its reputation among users who make their negative opinion of its founder, Marc Zuckerberg, very public.

    At this juncture, corporate leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg, Page, and Brin — and all the other engineers operating within this mysterious algorithmic culture whose products we so eagerly adopt, should perhaps be scrutinized in the same way as we probe our politicians. So we decided to use Google’s search algorithm to do a little data mining on its creators, and the results of our queries proved to be as reassuring as they are revelatory.

    It turns out that the philosophical underpinnings of today’s Internet, take us back as far as 1907, when a radical Italian woman, named Maria Montessori, conceived of an anti-authoritarian educational system that would focus entirely on the students’ individuality, tapping into their eagerness to share, and their inherent desire to learn.

    What at the time was seen as a marginal educational model has, more than a century later, taken on a prophetic significance, which the educational innovator herself could not possibly have imagined when she wrote:

    “Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.”

    From the first day of class the Montessori method offers pre-school students a simple set of building blocks to play with, which has caused a Singularity in its own right by catalyzing the genius of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian and George Braque, all of whom left an indelible mark on 20th Century culture.

    As it happens, in the 21st century, the list of Montessori alumni includes Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both of whom attribute Google's success story to their Montessori education, which they credit for teaching them to be self-directed and to think for themselves, while giving them the freedom to pursue their own illustrious path. This would ultimately lead to the creation of their non-hierarchical mega-corporation, which promotes the Internet’s bottom-up ethos through the creation of simple user-friendly tools to access all the world’s information. And these tools have in turn produced a whole new generation of autodidacts, spontaneously sharing with each other and the world in the best tradition of a Montessori education.

    In fact, no initiative on the Internet demonstrates the success of Montessori’s educational principles better than Wikipedia. This open-source platform for knowledge creation has proven that people are both willing and able to collectively generate and regulate a vast accumulation of knowledge. So it makes perfect sense that its founder, Jimmy Wales, is a Montessori graduate as well.

    Other disciples include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who revolutionized online commerce, and Will Wright, the pioneer of interactive games, who credits Montessori’s ideas as the main inspiration for his world-building game “The Sims” and the more recent “Spore,” which invites players to single-handedly re-invent the entire universe.

    Together, these men make up the pillars of today’s interactive paradigm, which encourages us to participate in “the unfolding of the human soul,” and by extension “the rising of a New Man,” as envisioned by Maria Montessori, who, at the tender age of 13 attended an all-boy technical school in preparation for her dream — to become an engineer.

    She must have understood — even back then — that, as Marshall McLuhan puts it,

    “first we build the tools, then they build us.”

    Megan May
    Fri, Jun 25, 2010  Permanent link

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    Some interesting books were recently brought to my attention by Carel. In one of them, Barry Sanders’ “Unsuspecting Souls,” the author unfolds a theory that somewhere around the beginning of the 19th Century we began to lose our humanity. Sanders illustrates this with Gothic tales of ghosts, zombies, doppelgangers, robots and Frankenstein’s monster, all taking up residence in the human imagination around that time. He uses the inventions of capturing photographs and moving images of reality, as well as the revolutionary non-representational art of Russian constructivist Malevich, who was the first to eliminate the human figure from his paintings, as early examples of our increasingly disembodied, “unfleshed” condition.

    Further evidence of humanity’s disembodiment is demonstrated by his account of the ghastly technology-enabled slaughter of the American Civil War where men were shooting scores of other men slipping and sliding atop mountains of putrefying human flesh. Similar atrocities took place during the First World War when millions of people started to annihilate each other for no apparent reason; and so it goes, all the way up to America’s dehumanized torture practices in Iraq.

    The book quotes a New York Times Review of Books article listing the signposts on the road to modernity as “neoclassical economies, liberalism, Marxism, revolution, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, imperialism and “industrialism,” all of which, according to Sanders were instrumental in “driving out the people as their theories helped to displace the humans. In other words, for the implementation of these “isms” the human beings had to disappear first.”

    It struck me that close to the beginning of the time-line covered by Sanders’ book — in 1866 to be precise — our present era of connectivity was launched in the form of the telegraph wire, which was heralded as “the nerve of international life, transmitting knowledge of events, removing causes of misunderstanding, and promoting peace and harmony throughout the world.” Similar claims have been made for consecutive inventions like the telephone, television and now the internet, which many of us here consider an essential evolutionary step. But extending his reasoning to the present day, Sanders concludes that some of the metaphors of digital disembodiment we have been exploring here, could be just as easily be interpreted as a further dismantling of our humanity.

    Seen through that lens the interest we express in science and technology, mind habitats, the transhumanist impulse and the embrace of the metaverse would without a doubt meet with a barrage of negative connotations. Indeed, Sanders observes that “from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, our days are filled with little but a continuous bombardment of information and demands on our attention that brings us out of our world and into a sterile one of inhumanity and abstraction. We are losing entirely any palpable attachment to our physical reality.” He notices that on the internet “people take on the wildest new identities, “constructing and deconstructing entirely fanciful lives with utter ease. People struggle, it seems, to regain some of that ambiguity on the very machine that robs them of it — by spinning new selves on the web. There is tremendous irony here, for they are being forced into that kind of splintering just to feel whole and alive — trying to feel more real on a virtual canvas…”

    There are of course good reasons to simply dismiss such contrarian opinions, but it is true that these technological developments can be a liability as well, since in the Western world the connectivity that enables the internet is firmly presided over by the corporate sphere.

    Douglas Rushkoff’s provocative new book “Life Inc.” provides us with yet another lens that shows how our humanity has been under attack for much longer than most of us may think. According to Rushkoff, after centuries of Corporatism, we have reached a stage where we so willingly adopt the values of corporations that we are no longer even aware of their all-pervasive influence. Supposedly, we have long since been living in a world where “real things such as human beings, land and resources only matter insomuch as they keep the credit side of the balance sheet bigger than the debit side.” Commerce, government and culture all have been reconfigured for corporatist purposes, and as far as the internet is concerned, “a technology that seemed destined to reconnect people to one another instead ends up disconnecting them in new ways. For example, on social networking sites “where real hugs can never happen, people compete instead for love in the form of numbers: how many “friends” do you have? The way to get friends, other than inviting people, is primarily to list one’s facorite books, movies, bands, and products. This results in a corporate-friendly identity defined more by what one consumes than what one does.” Somewhere down the line, brands have come to “substitute for the real connections we had to people, places and value.”

    “Clearly, this is not how the early pioneers had envisioned the internet as they celebrated the decentralization they believed would soon occur on every level of society,” Rushkoff continues, “they saw in new media the emergence of a truly social and organic human collective (..) where new growth and value could come from anywhere, a rhizomatic culture constantly negotiating meaning and value wherever meaning and value needed to be determined – instead of through some arbitrary central authority.”

    He is right of course that the corporatization of the web is in full force today, but that hasn’t yet suppressed the enormous value that is being created online on a daily basis. Still, Rushkoff’s somber outlook gives one pause about the vulnerability of the connected mindset we have been advocating on SpaceCollective.

    That brings us back to Barry Sanders’ warnings in “Unsuspecting Souls” that today our only hope to save the planet is to “recover” our long lost humanity. The problem with his defintion of “humanity,” however, seems to be that, like so many academicians, he considers humans as rather static creatures, fixed in some evolutionary time-lapse. This in contrast to the vision of the future promoted by self-proclaimed proponents of exponential change like us whose aim it is to explore the limits of our human potential.

    Author of “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley once said in a lecture that “we are pretty much the same as we were twenty thousand years ago. We have in the course of these twenty thousand years actualized an immense number of things which at that time and for many, many centuries thereafter were wholly potential and latent in man.” Pointing out that many other potentialities remain hidden in us, he urged his audience to develop the methods and the means to actualize them.

    Rather than Sanders’ static point of view, Huxley sees our species as an evolutionary work in progress. We may look more or less the same as the generations that came before us because we are physically still mostly defined by the laws of natural selection, but our appearances are no longer indicative of our actual capabilities. As a species, we have come to be defined by our technologies, which have radically increased our mobility, our tools, our life spans, the wiring of our brains, and whatever else is on the horizon. Even if one believes that some of these developments have robbed us of our “humanity”, there is no question that we have also made significant gains which have greatly effected our relationships, our intelligence and our values. Instead of a nostalgic longing for the recovery of our humanity expressed in these books , the solution to the world’s ills is more likely to be found in the ever ongoing discovery of our human potential.

    In the same vein as Sanders and Rushkoff, another brilliant writer, Bill McKibben, offers invaluable research about the precarious state of the planet today. His book “The End of Nature” warns us that with respect to our environment we have already done everything wrong as we have altered the earth’s atmosphere to our lasting detriment. Similarly, Al Gore’s well-researched documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” espouses that the untampered paradise we were once given has been permanently corrupted by the artificial world we have imposed on it.

    Novelist Michael Crichton once said about environmentalism that if you look carefully, “you see in fact a perfect 21st-century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.” And indeed, the self-fulfilling prophecies implied by the apocalyptic visions referred to above belong more to the preordained fate we have been assigned by the Bible than to the evolutionary story in which we cast ourselves as active participants in a story arc of our own making.

    It is true that with every city block and road we have built and every acre of land we cultivated, we have been destroying “nature”, yet at the same time we have been diligently uncovering and actualizing our latent human potential while continuing to map uncharted scientific territory in every which way. In the words of futurist George Land, “inventing the future requires giving up control. No one with a compelling purpose and a great vision knows how it will be achieved. One has to be willing to follow an unknown path, allowing the road to take you where it will. “

    In the first ever fully realized science fiction novel, Dr. Frankenstein was considering similar existential matters as he wondered, “where should we be if nobody tried to find out what lies beyond..?” In many ways, Frankenstein is the most prophetic story of our time. The novel’s theme of the mad scientist playing god, grappling with his love and fear for technology, has since become a permanent part of pop culture. In Hollywood there are currently at least 6 movies in production that are cautionary tales about the loss of our humanity through technological progress. In an early post on SpaceCollective I accused the movie industry of:

    …relentlessly manipulating the people’s deep-seated fears for the future. In one cautionary tale after another, mad scientists threaten to push mankind over the edge. And without fail, these characters who set out to change the world are depicted as Frankensteinian ogres whose final comeuppance warns humanity that tampering with the Natural Order will inevitably cause us to screw up.

    In a typical moment of existential angst about the fact that “we have tainted every single aspect of the natural world with the stamp of man,” McKibben implores us “to remain God’s creatures instead of making ourselves gods.” To which he desperately adds “of course we can splice genes. But can we not splice genes?”

    The implicit answer to this rhetorical question is that we are born from the hit and miss of evolutionary tinkering and transformation on a cellular level; it is part of our program, for better or for worse. As Joel Garreau puts it in his book “Radical Evolution”: “With the development of agriculture we controlled our food supply. In cities we sought safety. Telephones and airplanes collapsed distance. Antibiotics kept death-dealing microbes at bay. (..) Now we are aiming our technologies inward where they will start to merge with our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny, and perhaps our souls.” With regards to the –isms which according to Barry Sanders began the erosion of our humanity, Garreau has the following to say:

    “We have been trying to transcend the limits of human nature for a long time. We've tried Socratic reasoning and Buddhist enlightenment and Christian sanctification and Cartesian logic and the New Soviet Man. Our successes have ranged from mixed to limited at best. Nonetheless, we are pressing forward, attempting again to improve not just our worlds but our very selves. Who knows? Maybe this time we'll get it right.”

    As the Frankensteinian scenarios proliferate in our time, we must finally give up on the old cliché of the mad scientist playing god, and learn a lesson from my favorite scientist, Nikola Tesla.

    This exemplary human being didn’t seem to care that his inventions were consistently ripped off by Thomas Edison and others, nor did it bother him that he was largely ignored by history. He was far too busy developing AC electricity and ways to wirelessly transmit electricity for free, while contributing to the invention of X-Rays, robotics, remote control, radar and computer science. He created man-made lightning, set off artifical earthquakes with mechanical oscillators, deviced a plan that could split the earth in two and, most importantly, succeeded in beating the sun at its own game by giving us the electric age.

    When Tesla was asked one day what motivated him, the greatest human tinkerer of all time didn’t miss a beat as he responded with a surprising mixture of hubris and humility, “all I ever really wanted was to stand proudly beside my creator.”

    Aldous Huxley would agree.
    Mon, Oct 19, 2009  Permanent link

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    Many manifestoes have been written during the last century by architects wanting to lay claim to new territory for their practice.  Some of the ones that come to mind are the Futurists in Italy, the Constructivists in Russia, and French architect Le Corbusier who was seen in Russia as the prototype of the New Man who would emerge from the social revolution, capable of bridging the gap between science, the arts, and technology. The main inspiration for their manifestos was the machine age which would change everything, to the point of putting in question their own profession.  Le Corbusier, for example, proclaimed that the environment of the future would no longer be built by architects but by engineers taking their clues from airplanes, cars and ocean liners.  

    Years later, writer/architect Rem Koolhaas observed that very few buildings were ever built on the basis of these manifestos, while across the ocean the great metropolis of Manhattan had spontaneously emerged in the absence of any intellectual discourse whatsoever.

    When Le Corbusier first laid eyes on New York City he was overcome with jealousy that everything he had conceived of in his mind was already realized (mostly by engineers who typically aren’t prone to write about such things), and he went on to publicly decry the skyscrapers as too small and corrupted by decorative facades that were painfully at odds with his modernist vision.  In an attempt to do New York one better he presented his baffled American hosts with a superior alternative: horizontal skyscrapers!

    A few decades later, Rem Koolhaas is fascinated by Le Corbusier’s rage, as well as the ambivalence felt by Salvador Dali, who is more shocked by New York than the New Yorkers are by him. Both men were preceded by  Sigmund Freud who visited the New World in 1901 and declared America “a gigantic mistake”. Rather than fessing up to his own envy, Rem sets out to write his career making book “Delirious New York”, which includes a hilarious chapter on the city’s jealous European visitors.  In a characteristic master stroke, he conceives of the book as a retroactive manifesto, which allows him to become the self-appointed “ghost writer” for the unsung heroes who built the city and in the process claim some of Manhattan’s glory for himself.

    To Koolhaas’ generation the machine age had long since become common place.  He was more interested in the city as a “social condensor” and proclaimed that “the culture of congestion is the culture of the 20th Century.”  As opposed to the earlier manifestos that didn’t seem to foster any results, the book started his career, but like the architectural thinkers before him, it would still take many years before his own buildings would be realized.  By that time the ever growing congestion he foresaw went hand in hand with widespread consumerism. And before long the computer age was threatening the status quo of established institutions which started to increasingly reach out to “starchitects” for final architectural affirmation of their once undisputed place in the scheme of history.  Indeed, by the time the internet rolled around,once again everything began to change, and there was hardly any intellectual discourse to reinforce the major engineering feat that would accomplish this. 

    During World War II one early pioneer of the internet, Vannevar Bush, was coordinating 6000 scientists  for the application of science to warfare.  Looking ahead he advised his team of scientists that once the fighting had ceased they should turn their attention to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering repository of knowledge.  Two decades later scientist Douglas Engelbart started a research program at Stanford, which was also funded by the military and devopted the augmentation of human intellect by using computers. This research led him to the all-important invention of the mouse.

    Who signed these men’s paychecks is ultimately irrelevant.  What counts is that they provided us with the backbone of the current internet – a feat of computer engineering and collective genius that was even more seminal for human progress than the buildings of Manhattan rising from the grid into the skies, stacked around gravity-defying elevator shafts.

    Thinking about this, it struck me that, since its inception, much of the writing and thinking on SpaceCollective can be looked at as a retroactive manifesto for the internet, which - like Rem Koolhaas’ book – might allow us to share some credit for its collective genius after the fact.  This certainly isn’t an uncommon strategy for those who call themselves futurists, nor is it contradictory to taking a proactive stance.  Just look at (engineer) Ray Kurzweil who extrapolated the historical equation of Moore’s Law into his far-reaching Singularity theory, which may once again change everything

    Many of us on this site advocate a similar revolution of consciousness, based on the ever increasing connectivity of the internet and the collective genius from which it has emerged.   
    In this context, one could argue that the dismay about New York its esteemed visitors from Europe felt at the time was at least partially due to the fact that no individual could lay claim to its inception.  Both its grandeur and its failings seemed like the spontaneous outcome of an emergent event.  However, no matter how much Le Corbusier had once exalted the role of anonymous engineers in the age of modernity, the fact that no single genius, like himself, was present at the city’s birth, ultimately proved counter-intuitive to his decidedly European mindset.

    I have often wondered to what extent the complexity and connectivity of our time is still capable of producing and nurturing the individual genius attributed to the likes of Le Corbusier. Over time I have met a fair share of people the world has endowed with genius status, but these days I can’t help but feel that there is  something truly antiquated about the concept.

    A few weeks ago I came across a thread initiated by Wildcat who posted an article from MSNBC which posed the question: Does groupthink harm diversity and innovation?  
    In response, Mushin Schilling states that “the answer to the title is NO. This is still coming from the premise that there are these creative geniuses who, after deep thinking, come up with something brilliant whereas innovation, I'm sure, nowadays comes from groups of creative people, loosely interconnected, that openly share their ideas and then someone happens to put formerly unconnected things together in an innovative way...” 

    Shortly after, Wildcat happens upon another response in the form of a Kevin Kelly article about Brian Eno’s “Scenius” concept: 

    Brian Eno suggests the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or "scenes" can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: "Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius. Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.” 

    As a filmmaker, I work in an extremely collaborative medium, and the same can certainly be said for a musician like Brian Eno, who is a music producer for other people’s bands before he is a solo artist or for that matter a futurist.   

    Without wanting to bother the reader with my personal biography right now, let me just mention that I once had a film group that was very much opposed to the creative hierarchy imposed by the French Cinema d’Auteur with its relentless focus on the director, often at the expense of actors, writers, cameramen, production designers, effects supervisors, composers, etc. There were five of us, including Jan de Bont who started out as a cameraman and went on to direct Hollywood blockbusters, and, as it happens, the above mentioned architect Rem Koolhaas.  We made a series of successful short films in each of which one of us would alternate as star, director, writer or cameraman, and we even published a number of manifestos about our democratic ambitions for the medium. Though our ideas proved very controversial at the time, this collective effort started our careers, and most of us have continued to pursue collaborative working models whenever possible.

    Before the French auteur theory got hold of America, Hollywood revolved around a studio model that drew from a vast roster of in house talents who identified with the studio’s distinct sensibilities and were collectively responsible for Hollywood’s Golden Age.

    In today’s Hollywood, the sole organization that has enjoyed a golden decade of its own is Pixar, whose computer animated movies have consistently been highly rewarding, both creatively and at the box office. At Pixar, all creative people share in the company’s successes, and it’s in-house animators, writers and directors all work together to assure the best possible outcome for every one of its pictures, regardless of their final job description on any particular production.  It helps of course that the company is fully entrenched in the digital culture which provides mutual access to everybody’s networked computer, and a strong Silicon Valley pedigree in contrast to a backwards film industry which hasn’t been able to figure out the magic that makes Pixar one of the most critically acclaimed film studios of all time.  Clearly, this success story is a shining example of the collective genius that is deeply ingrained in the digital age.

    Every expression of the collective genius described above revolves around emerging technologies, from the elevator and the mouse to HTML and animation software.  And in almost every instance, it concerns collaborations between engineers, developers and interface designers who create the tools, which consequently become a medium that generates new content.   To stay close to home, even as we contemplate Wildcat’s notion of a polytopian mind habitat, Spacewaver’s call for a new mind, or SpaceCollective’s early references to a collective consciousness, we all know that on some level we are contributing to a retroactive manifesto for the world transforming powers of the internet itself, whose system is our essential idiom of expression.  As proper heirs to Marshall McLuhan, to whom I referred in my last post, we have reached a stage where the medium and the content it promotes are deeply intertwined.  Or to put it differently, one could say that our discourse is rooted in both the tools we have been handed and the future tools we desire.

    Right now the tools that encourage “scenius” are scattered all across the web, from Twitter and Tumblr to Facebook, Friendfeed, etc.  A collaborative open source tool - Google Wave -which will allow users to edit each other’s content is on the way, and there no doubt is a lot more to come, and even more to be desired in the pursuit of our game changing ambitions which have been stirred by science and technology.

    But thus far, no single online platform is properly equipped to harness the true potential of our collective genius. So it’s up to each of us to individually cobble things together, which luckily is something the internet excels at. In fact, no infrastructure that went before it has ever been as jury-rigged as the worldwide web and its unwieldy contents. Part of its emergent genius is that hardly anybody ever seems to know which online initiatives will fly and for what exact purpose. The people who ended up developing Flickr set out to create an online game (The Game Never Ending), Twitter was initially perceived as a quirky fad, Craigslist was a small email community featuring local events in San Francisco, while MySpace morphed from a virtual storage space into a social network with a completely unexpected emphasis on music and Facebook was born from a prank.

    In this context, it is of interest to mention the soon to be launched Cargo platform, which was spawned by SpaceCollective and produced by founding members Folkert & Josh (check out SC’s now much emulated card-look and Folkert’s SC Gallery).

    The initial release of Cargo is a creative publishing platform where users can present their multimedia content and create personal networks, "following" whoever they want.  But in the near future it hopes to offer many functionalities that will allow people to easily create their own scalable communities and collaborative work spaces, and continue to evolve into an all-encompassing compendium of the latest web technologies.

    Who knows, from the site’s versatile templates a colony of Polytopian mind habitats may suddenly emerge, which – like the skyscrapers of Manhattan rising from its urban grid – will one day merit a retroactive manifesto of its own.
    Wed, Aug 12, 2009  Permanent link

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    In our upcoming film The Terrestrials, made by a cast and crew of SpaceCollective members and dealing with, among many other things, the evolution of intelligence, the controversial ‘60s promoter of mind expansion, Dr. Timothy Leary, does a stand-up comedy routine which he calls a commercial for the brain:

    Now this moment I must stop for a commercial from my sponsor…and your sponsor: the human brain. You’re carrying around a perfect instrument. This instrument is designed to create any reality that you can wire it up to create. The brain is perfect. It’s that program that screws it up. The programs that they lay on us. I’ll tell you what the brain wants, the brains wants to be excited. To be surprised. Electrified. Your brain wants you to take your brain everywhere. Your brain doesn’t want to be stuck in cities all its life. Your brain wants to do it all and see it all. Your brain wants you to go all the way - wouldn’t you if you were a brain? And to continually show your brain that same old dumb soap opera…here’s what your brain is gonna do. It’s gonna turn you off. The brain wants to…evolve! That’s the end of the commercial. How about a round of applause for the brain! (Applause)

    You’ll notice that Leary’s routine centers around the dynamic between our brain and ourselves as separate entities, illustrating that we are a body, a mind and a person working together to maintain the illusion that the head contains a person: a Self.

    Technically, however, in the space behind our face is nothing but material substance; flesh, blood, bone and the “grey matter” that is the brain, which through interaction with the physical and social world manages to create a “mind.”

    In his post “Mind – The need for a new model,” Spaceweaver calls for an updated theory of mind:

    Theories of mind held by individuals arise at a very early age as a consequence of interactions with the environment. They can be fairly simple or incredibly complex depending on factors such as the individual’s mental and emotional capacity, upbringing, education, life experience and cultural background.

    He goes on to suggest that in the face of modern civilization’s “massive transformative pressures, a revision of the prevailing theory of mind, the very manner by which we perceive reality and ourselves, seems to become imperative.”

    From its inception we have endeavored various initiatives to create new paradigms on Space Collective, including inquiries into a New Society, a New Language, PR campaigns for the Future, the collective Polytopian Mind Space coined by Wildcat, all of which have since been perused by millions of visitors to the site. It is hard to gauge how influential all of this has been, but the work that is being done here has received numerous stellar reviews in the online community and has far exceeded our initial expectations.

    Yet futurists are by nature impatient and anxiously looking for evidence that the potentials they perceive will eventually come to some kind of fruition. Laymen like us derive great hope from the scientific progress that is tracked on blogs like K21st (and republished here via Wildcards), but between the discovery of DNA in the early ’50s to the completion of the first human genome in 2003 still lies a lag time of half a century.

    Therefor it is both disheartening and encouraging that so many of the thinkers and the concepts that are regularly referred to by this community go back to the sixties. They are the likes of Gregory Bateson mentioned in Spaceweaver’s forementioned post, the above quoted Timothy Leary (who is a recurring presence in The Singularity is Near and is reinvented for today’s audiences in The Terrestrials), Nano-technology, Kurzweil’s coveted Moore’s Law, Transhumanism, etc. All of these serve as milestones to measure our progress (and admittedly in every single case advances have been made), but sometimes one can understand why such great thinkers of the ‘60s as Brian Eno and Stewart Brand (the one time employer of maverick futurist Kevin Kelly) have established their Long Now Foundation for long-term thinking.

    In light of the above, it is reassuring that ‘60s media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s premonition of a then non-existent internet has since changed the world beyond his wildest expectations. His concept of a global village is all pervasive in today’s online world and his other oft-quoted insight – the medium is the message – may provide a useful model for the yet to be realized Polytopia project.

    McLuhan famously proposes that media itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. According to a Wikipedia entry on the subject, “a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. This concentration on the medium and how it conveys information — rather than on the specific content of the information — is the focal point of his theory. McLuhan goes as far as to postulate that “specific content might have little effect on society. For example, it does not matter if television broadcasts children's shows or violent programming — the effect of television on society would be identical, and profound.”

    A mass of neuronal electrical sensors (dendrites).

    In keeping with McLuhan’s logic, one could say that the brain is the medium and the mind is the message. In that respect it’s interesting that the internet not only provides us with universal access to information (and each other), but its non-linearity and capacity to generate massive connectivity is responsible for a rapid rewiring of our brains, which at the very minimum suggests a significant evolutionary shift.

    Research has shown that today’s internet generation is growing up with brains that are wired differently from those of the previous generation. The book Grown Up Digital substantiates that there is evidence of younger generations processing information and behaving differently because they have indeed developed brains that are functionally different from those of their parents. Their minds seem to be incredibly flexible, adaptable and multimedia savvy. According to the Learning Center at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory “they have developed hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.” In his book Digital Game-Based Learning, Marc Prensky argues that digital immersion has literally rewired brains under 40, and the participatory culture enabling us to interact with both people and computers has expanded our mental abilities by allowing us to tap into a collective form of intelligence for “distributed cognition.”

    Evolutionary shifts in people’s consciousness have happened before of course.
    Just two weeks ago, scientists at the University College of London published a provocative study that puts a new twist on the long-standing belief that the hustle and bustle of cities is the most conducive environment for invention and innovation, whereby population density was the catalyst for the emergence of modern human behavior. This density, they argue, has led to a greater exchange of ideas and helped people develop, maintain and extend skills that led to technological and cultural innovation – not to mention a mental leap forward we now take for granted.

    Constant, Group Sector 1962

    The internet of course far exceeds the urban architecture in terms of its amazing density of connections, and by virtue of that fact alone its impact may serve as a key factor in bringing about some sort of Singularity. Even right now we’re experiencing a phenomenal upheaval forcing corporations, politicians and for that matter almost every established institution on the planet to adapt to the networked public sphere, which, incidentally, for the first time ever, makes it much more difficult for oppressive political regimes to squash such fundamental human accomplishments as free speech.

    All this we owe to software applications (i.e. Twitter or Facebook), which provide us with platforms that – to a much larger extent than their content – turned out to be revolutionary forces despite themselves, proving more than ever that the medium is the message.

    Ironically, my circle of friends has been consistently made up of on the one hand writers, artists and designers and on the other urbanist thinkers (architects) as well as software designers. In particular the latter have made me appreciate how the narratives of our time are most effectively shaped by those who are conversant with computer code. They, rather than my content creating friends, are the facilitators of the revolutionary paradigms artists and writers can only dream of. Their software development will ultimately set the stage for collective mental exercises like Polytopia, which once again serves as testament to McLuhan’s prophetic insight.

    Yet, regarding us content creators, our predicament is accurately expressed by
    Milan Kundera who writes that, “without the faith that expresses our Self, without that basic illusion, that arch-illusion, we cannot live or at least we cannot take life seriously.”

    Thus we will soldier on as we reflect on the tools that are rewiring our brains and take it upon ourselves to imbue recently acquired evolutionary conditions and fresh neural pathways with new theories of mind and enhanced concepts of Self.
    Mon, Jul 6, 2009  Permanent link

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    Besides an occasional landmark building, the cities we live in aren’t all that different from the urban settings we’ve had to contend with since the day we were born, the most conspicuous variable being that there is more of it. But for those of us who are engaged with culture as an ever-changing expression of the zeitgeist it can be frustrating to live in a time capsule that exhibits the frozen relics of an otherwise long forgotten past. The main reason for this is architecture’s inherent immutability. Once erected, a building’s walls rigidly maintain the status quo while the culture at large constantly reinvents itself.

    As SpaceCollective contributor Greg Lynn puts it in his book Animate Form: “More than even their traditional role of providing shelter, architects are expected to provide culture with stasis. Because of its dedication to permanence, architecture is one of the last modes of thought based on the inert.” By contrast, today’s prevalent mindset, as exemplified by the internet, is all about breaking down boundaries between established and emerging forces, pitting yesterday’s top down hierarchies against the bottom up rule of the online population, and promoting the hegemony of the immaterial over the material world.

    By now we’re all familiar with the successful online community Second Life and its virtual landmass exceeding the area of Greater Boston, where people are effectively leading their double lives. It won’t be long before social networks like this will be fully immersive 3D environments where players can talk to each other in real-time lip sync while consummating their online relationships via telepresence, achieved through the transmission of stimuli from one location to the next.

    It is interesting to realize that the standoff between digital space and the built environment were at the heart of the two most recent downturns of the economy: On the one hand the dot com bubble of the late ‘90s and on the other the mortgage crisis which recently caused the real estate market to collapse. Meanwhile, the online world is thriving. Although by no means an economist these subsequent recessions somehow struck me as being tied to a clash between the old and the new vying for dominance of a world in transition.

    Because of the internet every traditional institution is suddenly subject to a wholesale transformation of its historical model, from the entertainment industry’s losses due to illegal downloading of its content, the waning import of the print media and academia’s changing role in the age of the search engine, to the economy’s response to globalization facilitated by the web.

    Until now architecture didn’t seem much affected by the emergence of this new world order, but it becomes ever harder to deny the unmistakable symptoms of a rapidly emerging digital diaspora. As more immersive internet strategies keep presenting themselves in the form of a million different services offered by the limitless digital information space, people will continue to transcend the physical restrictions of their residences as they expand their lifestyles ever further beyond their local zip codes.

    From an architectural standpoint it may be somewhat depressing to realize that the real estate in Second Life, where the imagination runs free, nevertheless mostly consists of the same old ranch houses and McMansions people prefer in the outside world. However it is the reality of the built environment itself that is to blame for this state of affairs. After all, these virtual houses closely resemble the places many of us were born in and have been surrounded by for generations. This is the stasis we have lived with all our lives. Indeed, besides the occasional cultural landmark, we have little reason to assume that the world will ever look any different, be it outside our doorstep, online or in the future.

    If, by contrast, you were to link up the computers of every one of Greg Lynn’s colleagues and students who produced virtual buildings for years, their combined output of computer-designed architecture would provide the online community with an alluring animated city the likes of which we’ve never seen before, neither in reality nor in science-fiction films

    So far few architects have been inclined to settle the unruly frontier of the internet because they’re way too busy promoting their buildings in the “real” world, even though in today’s economic climate that has become a rather hopeless task. Yet some of them, like the Argentinian designer Hernan Diaz Alonso, who studied under Greg and now has his own worldwide following, would rather break into the movies than sacrifice their lives at the altar of the built environment. Greg’s own work made it into the movies after being appropriated for the production design of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. And as you can see in this video clip he made with frequent collaborator Imaginary Forces, he at least considers the potentials of what architect Rem Koolhaas once called the “(digital) “revolution that seems about to melt all that is solid.”

    The problem architecture faces is that today’s technologies are beginning to merge with our minds, creating levels of immersion and interaction with which physical embodiment can no longer catch up.

    Historically, cities may have served as magnificent aggregators of human activities, elevating rural lifestyles to unprecedented levels of sophistication, but in the age of hyper-connectivity it becomes clear that the built environment is a major contributor to its inhabitants’ relative isolation. For more than half a century this walled in condition was alleviated by one way broadcast media but it is now busted open by the digital diaspora that is increasingly effecting our contemporary existence. In this context, people invariably raise the issue that the body does not migrate into the virtual world, but, as Edward Castronova argues in his book Exodus to the Virtual World, “that is not important...where you are is where you are looking. Gaze is location."

    In fact there is much less of a dichotomy between artificial and actual reality than most observers of the phenomenon acknowledge. The digital infrastructure is everywhere which allows people to free up their bodies and go anywhere in the physical world while remaining connected to our online “home.” This, more than anything, may ultimately re-vitalize today’s urban landscape. Besides the familiar internet connections in coffee shops, one can imagine a new generation of virtual flâneurs. In the 19th Century a flâneur was a person who walked the city in order to experience it or to actively participate in street life, not unlike the critical explorations of the built environment the Situationists called dérives.

    Today’s versions of these escapades in the analog world would be enhanced by the capacity of new-style urban drifters to tap into a seamless overlay of digital connections wherever they would go, infusing physical reality with potentials and narratives that would otherwise have been obscured by the buildings’ opaque demeanor.

    As I put it in an earlier post

    in the streets we may know what lies behind the facades of every store or public building, giving us an instant impression of its tagged contents, and people will have devices, as they did in a Japanese  experiment, transmitting and receiving each other’s personal profiles, alerting them to the presence of compatible others. In this ultra-serendipitous environment we will experience far more advanced forms of socializing which will infuse the world with a plethora of social and romantic opportunities that have eluded us so far.

    Ever since the 19th Century young people, who in Germany were referred to as Wandervogel (meaning migrating birds), have been seeking an alternative to the bourgeois lifestyles that had taken them hostage, which in those days often meant losing themselves in nature.

    However, short of literally getting lost — which is not nearly as easy in the age of satellites and GPS — today we can have the best of both worlds.

    Thanks to the digital diaspora geography is no longer destiny as physical distance can be negotiated from any location and the virtual realm shows ever more potential for near physical immersion. The Japanese term for Virtual Reality translates into English as Intimate Presence, which is a great way to suggest the “real time” interactions that are currently facilitated by the web. Even though this immersiveness is still hampered by a poor visual component due to the current lack of available bandwidth, the analog and digital realms continue to merge as entire generations of internet users are engaging in a frenzy of instantaneous connectivity. The more the web will become an all-encompassing immersive place, the more we will be able to live in multiple dimensions at once without ever losing touch with the extended worldwide community that will be along for the ride wherever they or we may physically reside. This marriage of virtual and actual presence will provide us with a range of visceral and mental experiences that will increasingly transcend all boundaries that restrict us today.

    Somewhere along this trajectory we will be ready for our impending migration into the shared mind space that is foreshadowed in so many contributions to SpaceCollective under the aegis of the Polytopia project.

    Indeed, it would appear that in preparation for this event we are currently in the process of rewiring our brains, optimizing our personal relationships, expanding our access to knowledge and capitalizing on our collective intelligence, all of which in a bygone era were bogged down by the noise of a vast cognitive waste that we are finally learning to overcome.

    Wed, May 6, 2009  Permanent link

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    If there is one thing I have enjoyed about Space Collective since its inception, it is the polymath nature of most of this site’s forward thinkers. Almost everyone here has a mixture of creative and intellectual ambitions, which more often than not covers philosophical and literary ground and a strong focus on art and design. In a way one could say that this a community of Generalists, similar to Wikipedia’s description of the Renaissance Man, aka as Homo Universalis:

    The term "universal man" or "man of the world" is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields, based on the notion of Renaissance Humanism that “a man can do all things if he will.”

    A person of that era was expected to speak several languages, play a musical instrument, write poetry, and so on, thus fulfilling the Renaissance ideal. The idea of a universal education was pivotal to achieving polymath ability, hence the concept of the University, which at the time did not specialise in specific areas, but rather trained their students in a broad array of science, philosophy, theology and the arts. This universal education contributed hugely to their being able to comprehend the universe as it was understood at the time.

    This could have been the description of any of us here on SpaceCollective trying to comprehend the universe as it is understood in our time and beyond. A good representative of such a new-style Homo Universalis is NotThisBody, whose joint practice with his partner/girlfriend, covers: “film, video, photography, grapic design and media platform development.” They create multi-media works in English, French and Macedonian, not to mention computer code. NotThisBody does not “recognize borders between mediums” and they are “open to any and all who’d like to cooperate and co-create” with them. Since they spend most of their time as digital nomads, these collaborations could take place on the multiple online platforms where today’s Digital Renaissance is shaping up, or wherever their physical bodies may find themselves on this battle-worn planet as they are passing through, breaking down boundaries between people and cultural expressions wherever they go.

    During the Industrial Revolution the idea of the Homo Universalis was discredited because it was considered extremely difficult to genuinely acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of everything, and even more so to be proficient in several fields at the level of an expert. Not to mention to achieve excellence or recognition in multiple fields. As specialization became the norm at the world’s Universities, the word polymath began to take on a negative connotation, but the internet is rapidly bringing the era of the expert to a close by providing everyone universal access to all knowledge.

    Most of today’s educational institutions are still adhering to centuries old teaching models, bolstered by tenure and obligatory publications, wrought under the academic mandate to Publish or Perish. But as the dissemination of information is increasingly taking place online, knowledge creation is no longer the exclusive privilege of lecturing professors drawing from a canon that is frozen in time and often out of date. Instead, universal access to information allows for community-driven curricula which are forever updated by students interacting with an ever growing online repository of educational materials. None of this takes away from the necessity of brilliant teachers or the essential knowledge exchange between professionals and those who have signed on to learn from them. But it does mean a radically different dynamic between the institution and an increasingly participating student body whose contributions are transcending hierarchical, disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

    The mandate that may define tomorrow’s technologically integrated education might as well be, Participate or Perish, bringing the University in closer alignment again with the ideals of the original Renaissance Humanists. And these visionary minds are not the only ones from the distant past who established a precedent that is surprisingly relevant today.

    Recently I came across another historical inspiration that foreshadowed the potential of today’s internet revolution. Working on a concept for an online educational platform it came to my attention that at least three pillars of the current internet were informed by a century-old educational system conceived by Maria Montessori who hoped that her anti-authoritarian learning principles might ultimately bring about world peace. Born in 1870 in Italy, Maria would have been considered a true revolutionary in any time, leave alone hers. When she was 13 years old she attended an all-boy technical school in preparation for her dreams of becoming an engineer, and she was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome’s Medical School, becoming the first female doctor in Italy. She ultimately became famous for her theory that education is not something that teachers do, but that learning comes naturally to humans.

    Being a product of the visionary lady’s ideas myself, it piqued my interest to find out that both Larry Page and Sergei Brin attributed Google’s success story to Maria Montessori. According to them their Montessori education taught them to be self directed and self starters, adding that their schooling taught them to think for themselves, giving them the freedom to pursue their own path, which would lead to the snowballing success of Google, which aims to provide the world with near universal access to all information known to man.

    A similar background informed the career of Jeff Bezos who created the groundbreaking online retail organization, and another online celebrity on the list is no less than Jimmy Wales, whose Wikipedia has become the online fount of encyclopedic knowledge. Interactive game designer Will Wright also mentions Maria Montessori as his main inspiration for his seminal hit The Sims, while crediting like-minded Dutch educator Kees Boeke for the Powers of Ten metaphor that helped him create his new game Spore. These are the founding fathers of the interactive paradigm, the new Renaissance Men courtesy of Maria Montessori.

    This completely unexpected tribute to an often marginalized educational system struck me with the realization that the internet might indeed be looked at as a giant Montessori System with its respect for people’s individuality, innate curiosity and natural inclination to share which would become the underlying principle of Google’s PageRank, Amazon’s recommendation algorithm, and Wikipedia’s collaborative knowledge creation. In a Montessori school as well as on the web, students are given the appropriate tools to search the educational landscape without peer pressure or the need to compete. As a result of their firmly established autonomy they are much more inclined to contribute to the group, which in turn rewards them by sharing the outcome of everybody else’s inquiries, jointly increasing the community’s collective intelligence.

    Thus, on the eve of the First World War which would so violently expose humankind’s destructive tendencies, one woman’s prescience may have launched an educational model that helped set into motion one of the biggest mental revolutions to date. Who knows, one day her vision might help us realize the resolution she hoped for, as an exponentially growing number of unwitting digital disciples will finally foster peace on earth. Certainly, had she been around to see the fruits of her labor, she would have considered Google’s motto “Don’t Be Evil” a good start! Now it’s up to today’s educationalists to take notice and follow suit, or perish like every other institution harking back to the industrial revolution.

    So here, courtesy of Google and Wikipedia, is an invaluable message from the visionary pedagogue herself:

    “Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”.

    Wed, Apr 15, 2009  Permanent link

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    In Spacewaver’s recent post about the Singularity University he mentions a discussion concerning the institution’s recent mission statement which, according to Jamais Cascio claims to be "preparing humanity for accelerating technological change," but is “spending a lot more time talking about nifty gadgets than about the connection between technology and society.”

    Spaceweaver considers Cascio’s opinion a possible “invitation to a discussion and exchange which is much in need,” and he believes that “the SpaceCollective can and perhaps should become a stage for such discussion.”

    Here are my thoughts on the matter: I admire Ray Kurzweil’s advocacy of radical ideas. However, like so many scientists and tech mavens he has never been able to frame the essential humanistic components of his master plan in a compelling way. When you promote powerful notions of human transformation it obviously becomes important not to portray humanity as something that must be overcome. Therefore it would seem to be essential to include a Future Humanities department as part of the Singularity University's curriculum.

    I agree with Spaceweaver that the futurist thinkers on this site can contribute something of value to the Singularity University, and even to the curricula of the regular universities, like the ones SC worked with on several projects, since they conversely tend to ignore the subject of the future altogether.

    Spaceweaver himself is a perfect example of how the thinkers who contribute such valuable content to this site could play a role in filling this vacuum. In post after post he demonstrates a phenomenal grasp of the ethical and philosophical implications of the impending changes in the equilibrium of our culture. Likewise, the Polytopia project has become an impressive forum for the evolution of Future Mind, while SC’s mix of art, science and design represents precisely what is so painfully absent from most blogs dealing with topics like Nanotechnology, Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence, etc.

    Check out KurzweilAI, for example, and note the banner ad for Ray & Terry’s Longevity Products, which rather looks like an advertisement for a Bed and Breakfast. The artless quality of the site makes one long for Folkert’s designs, Xaos’ Singularity-inspired poetics, Andy Gilmore’s art and the multi-media that makes the future represented by SpaceCollective so enticing. Unfortunately, we have to assume that Kurzweil’s X-Prize-, Google- and NASA-sponsored university, heady and scientific as it will undoubtedly become, will be lacking some of the emotional and aesthetic experiences we aspire to. In all likelihood, little attention will be paid to the fact that the future could actually be a sexy and stimulating place and there will be a deficit of the magic many of us here associate with technology. Nor will there be many young faces gracing the institute’s vaunted halls, due to its prohibitive tuition. I can’t help but imagine the place as an ivied, corporate institute, rather than a desirable haven for techno-optimism.

    Many of us have been influenced by Eric Drexler’s brilliant introduction to nano technology, Engines of Creation, and I read The Singularity is Near from cover to cover. I was inspired by Vernor Vinge’s novel True Names and Timothy Leary’s plans to cryonically preserve his molecular framework for future resurrection as well as Hans Moravec’s dream of taking science to the edge where Humanity becomes Trans-Human.

    Being foremost a storyteller I would dream up future scenarios informed by the ideas of these Wizened Elders of Futurism that were populated by human characters people could identify with. These science-fact based stories became exciting exercises in creating entirely new worlds based on new potentials and rules, even though most of them stood little chance to become movies because the film industry has a longstanding policy to only fund dystopian narratives (check out this post on the subject).

    In response to that dismal state of affairs I’m now finishing up a SciFi documentary about the late Timothy Leary, my favorite ‘mad scientist,’ promoting the evolution of intelligence by whatever means possible. Leary’s main challenge in life was not to let dystopia’s henchmen – who chased him across the globe and kept him in jail for years – succeed at turning his life into a cautionary tale. As a result, his story is one of the most spectacular object lessons in optimism, defiant at every turn and as prescient as only the best futurists manage to be.

    It just so happens that Leary makes a number of posthumous appearances in Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, one of which is a fictional conversation with a character called Molly2004, who tries to figure out what will separate future humans from “bacteria who would talk and think” once we will be “saturating the universe with our intelligence.” Someone by the name of George2048 responds, “Indeed, Molly, that is fundamentally what the Singularity is all about. The Singularity is the sweetest music, the deepest art, the most beautiful mathematics…” “I’m still trying to envision what the universe will be doing,” Molly insists, whereupon Timothy Leary elucidates that “the universe will be flying like a bird…”

    No matter my critical remarks in this post, Ray Kurzweil deserves our highest admiration for encouraging so many people to take a giant leap into a future that not so long ago would have been considered unthinkable. Only someone willing to play the part of ‘straight man’ could have possibly succeeded at rallying the support which should make the Singularity a reality, by which time he may finally be able to transcend his cheerleader role.

    After all, by then everything will have changed.

    As Xaos put it in his first SpaceCollective post:

    The amazing thing about the singularity, the Story of the singularity that is, is the way it affects us. When projecting it on the line of our event horizon, the singularity is a story that brings us into deconstruction and moves us into composing ourselves anew.

    The human today lives in a radical time, actually an extremely radical time; the future is rushing at us, proposing for the first time the idea and reality of a better platform, distinctively different from the imperfect outcome of natural selection. It is the beginning of an accelerating change that is starting to gain a confident and attractive position, projecting the human over an open horizon. Changing the very meaning of what, who and how a human is.

    So Mr. Kurzweil, just to let you know, we are waiting for your call. In the meantime we’d appreciate a courtesy discount on your school’s tuition or perhaps even a few scholarships as a token for our relentless promotion of your cause.

    P.S. In an excellent comment by EINitro, he includes a great quote by RISD President John Maeda:

    Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered ‘useless,’ will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously.

    Images: Lebbeus_Woods
    Sun, Feb 22, 2009  Permanent link

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    An often recurring discussion on SpaceCollective concerns the limitations of language, typically meaning the written word, which seems most closely related to human thought. While other languages, like music or visuals, appeal more directly to our ‘intuitive’ capacities, written or verbal language, along with the abstraction and logical reasoning of mathematics, seems to appeal mostly to our ‘intellect’.

    According to the classic Myers-Briggs typological theory a relatively small percentage of
    people perceive the world intuitively. These individuals “tend to trust information that is more abstract or theoretical, that can be associated with other information (either remembered or discovered by seeking a wider context or pattern). They may be more interested in future possibilities. They tend to trust those flashes of insight that seem to bubble up from the unconscious mind. The meaning is in how the data relates to the pattern or theory.”

    This sounds like a reasonable explanation why, even though most people on this site communicate their futuristic ideas through writing, they simultaneously have an ambiguous relationship to a language which subjects their reasoning to a simple rule-based syntax.

    Most people contributing to SC are thinkers, who are very much tuned into the above mentioned “possibilities” and “patterns,” and whatever else the brain processes in between the thinking and the words. As a rule, futurists have a strong intuitive side. Where others experience the world in concrete terms, they see reality as a scrim revealing the future potential of things, so they understandably want to adapt the modes of expression to fit their advanced paradigms. Yet we continue to be highly dependent on a linguistic tradition which is firmly tied to conventional processes of thought and, although frustrating at times, at this point it must still be considered the best available option to futher the discourse. Just think about how often we launch into a sentence, stringing along words with only a general sense of where they are leading us. Somehow the words keep coming out of our mouth (or word processor) trying to catch up to the speed of thought while the stream of consciousness moves its argument forwards as if it had been preconceived. Just like the improvisation of a jazz musician or a shaman speaking in tongues to conjure a vision.

    Look how Wildcat pushes language around and coins new phrases in his relentless attempts to hone his Polytopian vision, while expessing his frustration that “we are in dire need of a new kind of language, a language that may be able to bridge the immensity of the gap we have created between the perception of the world and the manner by which we describe the same world.” Also check out the writings of Meika and Xaos’ Montevideo posts , which shed light on future realities by elevating their words to a more evocative intuitive level. Or read Obvious’ post in which he observes that “language is revealed through text as the mode of our conscious experience – a truth which furthermore transforms the very capacities of the thoughts which think it. Once text, in its essence, is transmitted and elucidated via readership there is transformation “of the process of coming-into-being of the world.” Meanwhile Al wants SC to “create its own dictionary containing new words and new understandings of old words,” Folkert calls speech “a bottleneck for modern thinking and communication” and wants us to “come up with richer forms of idea-exchange,” and Carel suggests “non-symbolic, non-representative ways to communicate.” All of these appear to be the stirrings of the non-linear associative mind that mark the beginnings of a new typology.

    Lately, I’ve been doing a little exercise, trying to imagine some actual experiences if the brain were to seamlessly interface with machine intelligence. We have to assume that once technology turns inwards it will change our very way of being and profoundly transform our sense of Self because we will be known in much greater detail to our newly enhanced mind, from the minute data of our human genome to the collective awareness of our constantly updated life on this planet. This “invasive” brain/computer interface will deeply effect the experience of our surroundings, providing new layers of immersion and annotating every aspect of our reality, adding a whole new dimension to wherever we go and whoever we meet. In the streets we may know what lies behind the facades of every public building, giving us an instant impression of its tagged contents, and people will have devices, as they did in a Japanese experiment, transmitting and receiving each other’s personal profiles, alerting them to the presence of compatible others. In this ultra-serendipitous environment we will experience far more advanced forms of socializing which will infuse the world with a plethora of romantic opportunities that have eluded us so far. Access to immediately available data anywhere will bring the world alive, creating connections, synapses and links that will keep us connected to everyone and everything in our immediate surroundings and the world at large. As our minds will attain the non-linear associative powers that will do away with the static mold of analog information we will finally break through the speed barrier of thought. At this juncture, our brains may more frequently experience the precious moments when suddenly everything seems to be falling into place, like the occasional epiphanies we have today. In such a hyper-conscious world a majority of people may be able to achieve a form of machine-enhanced intuition bordering on telepathy, which in the days of Myers-Briggs used to be the exclusive domain of a privileged few. Finally, through the scrim of “reality,” the future potential of things will be revealed to all.
    Tue, Dec 9, 2008  Permanent link

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    In a recent post by Connor, who is one of several recent SpaceCollective members whose contributions continue to raise the bar here, he wonders if the emergent nature of SC’s future vision might be strong enough to overcome the economic system’s detrimental impact on the natural environment and innovation.

    Image from The Bridge Project, by Elif Ayiter

    Polytopian visionary Wildcat responds that this economic system is based on an “outdated (Neolithic) manner of organizing and distributing resources,” and announces that this “era of lack” will be replaced by an “era of abundance once the impending nano/biotech singularity is in place.” As a hardcore futurist, he adds that the direction implied by “beautiful projects as SpaceCollective and Polytopia” are so removed from the present economic system that in terms of future philosophy at least there seems to be no reason to discuss it, banking instead on the fact that no force is stronger than “an idea whose time has arrived.”

    Quixotic Meganmay contributes the optimistic thought that, coincidentally with the impending crises we are facing, the human brain may have evolved to the point where we can “comprehend the complex socio-economic networks we’ve built up just in time to consider rearranging them.”

    Diligent as always, Sjef is keeping one foot on the ground as he states his belief that a collapse is almost inevitable and may well have dystopian consequences, unless “the void will be filled by a plan that is ready for implementation and someone is in the position to present it through the right channels at the right time.” He doubts that our ideas, locked up in SC’s “circle of a few thousand minds” will be up to the task: “Having a clear view of the future to be created is certainly necessary, but so is having an idea of how to get there in order to push in that direction.”

    Even though he forgets to mention that SpaceCollective reaches hundreds of thousands people beyond the 2000 active minds that have so far been invited to partake in this experiment, it cannot be denied that this is still a marginal outpost of thought in the global scheme of things, which begs the question how important our collective efforts really are.

    In the context of the present environmental and economic turmoil, thinking about the future becomes increasingly meaningful, but in the world at large the necessary foresight and intelligence appears to be in short supply. Stalwart SC member dmitridb blames this on the “very learning institutions supposedly meant to foster thinking,” and I wholeheartedly agree with his statement. To my knowledge, there is no faculty anywhere in the academic world which specifically addresses the future. In fact, the very subject tends to be dismissed as a legitimate topic for lack of empirical validation. Scientists at least are consistently pushing the envelope of their respective disciplines, but the Humanities are firmly entrenched in a canon-based tradition that is thoroughly out of step with the moving target that is our future. Everything concerning the world that lies ahead is routinely relegated to the realm of science-fiction, leaving it up to individual forward thinkers to make up for this wholesale denial of one of the most critically important subjects of our lives.

    Nobody on this site understands the mandate to articulate the Humanities of the Future better than Spaceweaver, who weighs in on Connor’s post with one of his finely calibrated arguments, offering that “the future of human civilization is embedded in an ever increasing complexity,” and therefore our best bet may be “to figure out how to bring about a collective consciousness that will become an open-ended platform for growth and transformation.”

    In conjunction with Connor’s post, a contribution of dimitridb from 2007 about “wealth as a system of abstracting worth” is revived, bringing Sjef, Connor and Spaceweaver together again. They cross-reference the recent post by Connor, who once more tries to take the conversation to a level of “doing something,” and is reminded yet again by Spaceweaver how questionable it is that we “we can transform or replace our economical system whithout undergoing a very deep and all encompassing transformation regarding the human phenomenon and life at large.” In turn, dimitridb ends his response to their comments by posing the question:

    “how exactly can we imminently actualize this very deep and all-encompassing conceptual transformation (…) before the snowball effect towards total hell becomes too strong for us to do anything at all?”

    One possible answer to his question could be to develop critical mass for such a transformation by mobilizing the learning institutions he berates in his earlier comment.
    If only we could introduce this predisposed segment of the population to a mind set that promotes an intuitive understanding of the complexity Spaceweaver refers to, we might have a better chance to accelerate such a complex future into being. Although earlier attempts to reach out to universities involved such highly respected institutions as UCLA, Vienna’s school for the Applied Arts, SciARC, Columbia University, even Yale, and were conducted by stellar faculty, few of the courses truly reciprocated by engaging with the forward thinking that is featured on this site. In large part this may have been due to the fact that in most instances the curriculum for these classes wasn’t initiated by SC but by faculty whose academic mandate does not include future studies.

    The other day notthisbody (who is another welcome new voice here) turned me on to an interesting article about rhizomatic learning by Dave Cormier, in which the author states that in the rhizomatic model, “curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself (…). The community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather the community is the curriculum.”

    I like to think that we are such a community, creating a curriculum for the future, while picking up the slack from institutions, academic, political or otherwise, which are infinitely more powerful, yet singularly incapable of moving the world forward.

    I share Wildcat’s and Meganmay’s opinion that we shouldn’t waste time here on immediate political problems or temporary fixes, but focus on emergent solutions. Although there are interesting lessons to be learned about the world’s interconnectivity from the present economic collapse, it appears to be of a transient nature rather than the deep and all encompassing transformation typically envisioned by our collective.

    Just as I was writing this, another great entry was submitted by AlanSmith, whose earlier post Nationhood: The future of nationalism proposed a future in which the “importance of geography will be matched by the importance of values and ideas.” Expounding on this idea, his recent gorgeously illustrated post, proposes that

    time will be the new Money. More accurately, your time, and other peoples time, are a new form of currency. We all have the same amount, every day. Whether we are rich or poor in dollars, we are all equal in time. (…) This scaffolding for a new system will be called the Ecommony, and it's measurement will be Commoncy. It will measure what you can do, and what you need done. Everything becomes shared, except our own personal time which will be the basis of the new Ecommony. Commoncy will measure how individuals spend their time to contribute to the commons of human progress. Ecommonics will be the study of how people contribute most meaningfully to this commons.

    There’s more to it besides the above quote, not to mention the author’s great illustrations which serve as powerful contributions to the curriculum for the future we are jointly conceiving here, as each of us is accruing Commoncy and generating wealth for the new Ecommony.
    Tue, Nov 4, 2008  Permanent link

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