Highlights from The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, by Kevin Kelly

References below to The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly are from the Kindle edition

At the center of every significant change in our lives today is a technology of some sort. Technology is humanity’s accelerant. Because of technology everything we make is always in the process of becoming.110

Constant flux means more than simply “things will be different.” It means processes—the engines of flux—are now more important than products. Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the invention of the scientific process itself.113

Get the ongoing process right and it will keep generating ongoing benefits. In our new era, processes trump products. This shift toward processes also means ceaseless change is the fate for everything we make.117

In the next 30 years we will continue to take solid things—an automobile, a shoe—and turn them into intangible verbs– services and processes. Embedded with high doses of technology, an automobile becomes a transportation service, a continuously updated sequence of materials rapidly adapting to customer usage, feedback, competition, innovation, and wear. Whether it is a driverless car or one you drive, this transportation service is packed with flexibility, customization, upgrades, connections, and new benefits. A shoe, too, is no longer a finished product, but an endless process of reimagining our extended feet, perhaps with disposable covers, sandals that morph as you walk, treads that shift, or floors that act as shoes. “Shoeing” becomes a service and not a noun. In the intangible digital realm, nothing is static or fixed. Everything is becoming.119

We can get the most from the technologies when we “listen” to the direction the technologies lean, and bend our expectations, regulations, and products to these fundamental tendencies within that technology. We’ll find it easier to manage the complexities, optimize the benefits, and reduce the harm of particular technologies when we align our uses with their biased trajectory.138

Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself.156

Long ago I learned that even the most inanimate things we know of—stone, iron columns, copper pipes, gravel roads, a piece of paper—won’t last very long without attention and fixing and the loan of additional order. Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance. What has surprised me recently is how unstable even the intangible is. Keeping a website or a software program afloat is like keeping a yacht afloat. It is a black hole for attention.158

So I now see upgrading as a type of hygiene: You do it regularly to keep your tech healthy. Continual upgrades are so critical for technological systems that they are now automatic for the major personal computer operating systems and some software apps. Behind the scenes, the machines will upgrade themselves, slowly changing their features over time. This happens gradually, so we don’t notice they are “becoming.”173

Technological life in the future will be a series of endless upgrades. And the rate of graduations is accelerating. Features shift, defaults disappear, menus morph. I’ll open up a software package I don’t use every day expecting certain choices, and whole menus will have disappeared. No matter how long you have been using a tool, endless upgrades make you into a newbie—the new user often seen as clueless.

In this era of “becoming,” everyone becomes a newbie. Worse, we will be newbies forever. That should keep us humble. That bears repeating. All of us—every one of us—will be endless newbies in the future simply trying to keep up. Here’s why: First, most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented, so naturally you’ll be a newbie to them.

Second, because the new technology requires endless upgrades, you will remain in the newbie state. Third, because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating (the average lifespan of a phone app is a mere 30 days!), you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced, so you will remain in the newbie mode forever. Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.176

The flaw in most dystopian narratives is that they are not sustainable. Shutting down civilization is actually hard. The fiercer the disaster, the faster the chaos burns out. The outlaws and underworlds that seem so exciting at “first demise” are soon taken over by organized crime and militants, so that lawlessness quickly becomes racketeering and, even quicker, racketeering becomes a type of corrupted government—all to maximize the income of the bandits. In a sense, greed cures anarchy. Real dystopias are more like the old Soviet Union rather than Mad Max: They are stiflingly bureaucratic rather than lawless. Ruled by fear, their society is hobbled except for the benefit of a few, but, like the sea pirates two centuries ago, there is far more law and order than appears. In fact, in real broken societies, the outrageous outlawry we associate with dystopias is not permitted. The big bandits keep the small bandits and dystopian chaos to a minimum. However, neither dystopia nor utopia is our destination. Rather, technology is taking us to protopia. More accurately, we have already arrived in protopia. Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better.206

This subtle progress is not dramatic, not exciting. It is easy to miss because a protopia generates almost as many new problems as new benefits. The problems of today were caused by yesterday’s technological successes, and the technological solutions to today’s problems will cause the problems of tomorrow. This circular expansion of both problems and solutions hides a steady accumulation of small net benefits over time.216

There is no happy flying-car future beckoning us any longer. Unlike the last century, nobody wants to move to the distant future. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we’re stuck in the short now, a present without a generational perspective.227

That makes us future-blind. This future-blindness may simply be the inescapable affliction of our modern world. Perhaps at this stage in civilization and technological advance, we enter into a permanent and ceaseless present, without past or future. Utopia, dystopia, and protopia all disappear. There is only the Blind Now. The other alternative is to embrace the future and its becoming. The future we are aimed at is the product of a process—a becoming—that we can see right now. We can embrace the current emerging shifts that will become the future. The problem with constant becoming (especially in a protopian crawl) is that unceasing change can blind us to its incremental changes. In constant motion we no longer notice the motion. Becoming is thus a self-cloaking action often seen only in retrospect. More important, we tend to see new things from the frame of the old. We extend our current perspective to the future, which in fact distorts the new to fit into what we already know. That is why the first movies were filmed like theatrical plays and the first VRs shot like movies. This shoehorning is not always bad. Storytellers exploit this human reflex in order to relate the new to the old, but when we are trying to discern what will happen in front of us, this habit can fool us. We have great difficulty perceiving change that is happening right now. Sometimes its apparent trajectory seems impossible, implausible, or ridiculous, so we dismiss it. We are constantly surprised by things that have been happening for 20 years or longer.230

It’s hard to believe now, but until 1991 commercial enterprise on the internet was strictly prohibited as an unacceptable use. There was no selling, no ads. In the eyes of the National Science Foundation (which ran the internet backbone), the internet was funded for research, not commerce. In what seems remarkable naiveté now, the rules favored public institutions and forbade “extensive use for private or personal business.”284

Billions of users created the content for all the other users.311

Surprise: Users do most of the work—they photograph, they catalog, they post, and they market their own sales. And they police themselves; while the sites do call in the authorities to arrest serial abusers, the chief method of ensuring fairness is a system of user-generated ratings. Three billion feedback comments can work wonders. What we all failed to see was how much of this brave new online world would be manufactured by users, not big institutions. The entirety of the content offered by Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter is not created by their staff, but by their audience. Amazon’s rise was a surprise not because it became an “everything store” (not hard to imagine), but because Amazon’s customers (me and you) rushed to write the reviews that made the site’s long-tail selection usable. Today, most major software producers have minimal help desks; their most enthusiastic customers advise and assist other customers on the company’s support forum web pages, serving as high-quality customer support for new buyers. And in the greatest leverage of the common user, Google turns traffic and link patterns generated by 90 billion searches a month into the organizing intelligence for a new economy. This bottom-up overturning was also not in anyone’s 20-year vision.336

Where are the time, energy, and resources coming from? The audience. The nutrition of participation nudges ordinary folks to invest huge hunks of energy and time into making free encyclopedias, creating free public tutorials for changing a flat tire, or cataloging the votes in the Senate. More and more of the web runs in this mode. One study a few years ago found that only 40 percent of the web is commercially manufactured. The rest is fueled by duty or passion. Coming out of the industrial age, when mass-produced goods outperformed anything you could make yourself, this sudden tilt toward consumer involvement is a surprise. We thought, “That amateur do-it-yourself thing died long ago, back in the horse-and-buggy era.” The enthusiasm for making things, for interacting more deeply than just choosing options, is the great force not reckoned—not seen—decades ago, even though it was already going on. This apparently primeval impulse for participation has upended the economy and is steadily turning the sphere of social networking—smart mobs, hive minds, and collaborative action—into the main event. When a company opens part of its databases and functionality to users and other startups via a public API, or application programming interface, as Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook, and most large platforms have, it is encouraging the participation of its users at new levels. People who take advantage of these capabilities are no longer a company’s customers; they’re the company’s developers, vendors, laboratories, and marketers. With the steady advance of new ways for customers and audiences to participate, the web has embedded itself into every activity and every region of the planet.354

Presently major portions of the digital world can’t be googled. A lot of what happens in Facebook, or on a phone app, or inside a game world, or even inside a video can’t be searched right now. In 30 years it will be. The tendrils of hyperlinks will keep expanding to connect all the bits.380

moment on your phone when your sister received her acceptance to college. The web will reach this. It will also extend to physical objects, both manufactured and natural. A tiny, almost free chip embedded into products will connect them to the web and integrate their data. Most objects in your room will be connected, enabling you to google your room. Or google your house.384

In 30 years we’ll have time sliders enabling us to see any past version. Just as your phone’s navigation directions through a city are improved by including previous days, weeks, and months of traffic patterns, so the web of 2050 will be informed by the context of the past. And the web will slide into the future as well. From the moment you wake up, the web is trying to anticipate your intentions. Since your routines are noted, the web is attempting to get ahead of your actions, to deliver an answer almost before you ask a question. It is built to provide the files you need before the meeting, to suggest the perfect place to eat lunch with your friend, based on the weather, your location, what you ate this week, what you had the last time you met with your friend, and as many other factors as you might consider. You’ll converse with the web. Rather than flick through stacks of friends’ snapshots on your phone, you ask it about a friend. The web anticipates which photos you’d like to see and, depending on your reaction to those, may show you more or something from a different friend—or, if your next meeting is starting, the two emails you need to see. The web will more and more resemble a presence that you relate to rather than a place.390


It is hard to imagine anything that would “change everything” as much as cheap, powerful, ubiquitous artificial intelligence.431

Because AI improves as people use it, Watson is always getting smarter; anything it learns in one instance can be quickly transferred to the others. And instead of one single program, it’s an aggregation of diverse software engines—its logic-deduction engine and its language-parsing engine might operate on different code, on different chips, in different locations—all cleverly integrated into a unified stream of intelligence.461

IBM provides Watson’s medical intelligence to partners like CVS, the retail pharmacy chain, helping it develop personalized health advice for customers with chronic diseases based on the data CVS collects. “I believe something like Watson will soon be the world’s best diagnostician—whether machine or human,” says Alan Greene, chief medical officer of Scanadu, a startup that is building a diagnostic device inspired by the Star Trek medical tricorder and powered by a medical AI. “At the rate AI technology is improving, a kid born today will rarely need to see a doctor to get a diagnosis by the time they are an adult.”468

One of the early stage AI companies Google purchased is DeepMind, based in London. In 2015 researchers at DeepMind published a paper in Nature describing how they taught an AI to learn to play 1980s-era arcade video games, like Video Pinball. They did not teach it how to play the games, but how to learn to play the games—a profound difference.479   At the end of several hours of first playing a game, with no coaching from the DeepMind creators, the algorithms, called deep reinforcement machine learning, could beat humans in half of the 49 Atari video games they masteredAIs like this one are getting smarter every month, unlike human players.486

The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services—cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off. This common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need. You’ll simply plug into the grid and get AI as if it was electricity. It will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century past.490

In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.496

Contemporary phone cameras eliminated the layers of heavy glass by adding algorithms, computation, and intelligence to do the work that physical lenses once did. They use the intangible smartness to substitute for a physical shutter. And the darkroom and film itself have been replaced by more computation and optical intelligence. There are even designs for a completely flat camera with no lens at all. Instead of any glass, a perfectly flat light sensor uses insane amounts of computational cognition to compute a picture from the different light rays falling on the unfocused sensor. Cognifying photography has revolutionized it because intelligence enables cameras to slip into anything (in a sunglass frame, in a color on clothes, in a pen) and do more, including calculate 3-D, HD, and many other options that earlier would have taken $100,000 and a van full of equipment to do. Now cognified photography is something almost any device can do as a side job. A similar transformation is about to happen for every other X. Take chemistry, another physical endeavor requiring laboratories of glassware and bottles brimming with solutions. Moving atoms—what could be more physical? By adding AI to chemistry, scientists can perform virtual chemical experiments. They can smartly search through astronomical numbers of chemical combinations to reduce them to a few promising compounds worth examining in a lab. The X might be something low-tech, like interior design. Add utility AI to a system that matches levels of interest of clients as they walk through simulations of interiors. The design details are altered and tweaked by the pattern-finding AI based on customer response, then inserted back into new interiors for further testing. Through constant iterations, optimal personal designs emerge from the AI. You could also apply AI to law, using it to uncover evidence from mountains of paper to discern inconsistencies between cases, and then have it suggest lines of legal arguments. The list of Xs is endless. The more unlikely the field, the more powerful adding AI will be. Cognified investments? Already happening with companies such as Betterment or Wealthfront. They add artificial intelligence to managed stock indexes in order to optimize tax strategies or balance holdings between portfolios. These are the kinds of things a professional money manager might do once a year, but the AI will do every day, or every hour.505  Music can be created in real time from algorithms, employed as the soundtrack for a video game or a virtual world. Depending on your actions, the music changes. Hundreds of hours of new personal music can be written by the AI for every player. Cognified laundry—Clothes that tell the washing machines how they want to be washed. The wash cycle would adjust itself to the contents of each load as directed by the smart clothes.523

Cognified nursing—Patients outfitted with sensors that track their bio markers 24 hours a day can generate highly personalized treatments that are adjusted and refined daily. Cognified construction—Imagine project management software that is smart enough to take into account weather forecasts, port traffic delays, currency exchange rates, accidents, in addition to design changes..533

Cognified toys—Toys more like pets. Furbies were primitive compared with the intense attraction that a smart petlike toy will invoke from children. Toys that can converse are lovable. Dolls may be the first really popular robots.540

Rather than use AI to make its search better, Google is using search to make its AI better. Every time you type a query, click on a search-generated link, or create a link on the web, you are training the Google AI.555

Each of the 3 billion queries that Google conducts each day tutors the deep-learning AI over and over again. With another 10 years of steady improvements to its AI algorithms, plus a thousandfold more data and a hundred times more computing resources, Google will have an unrivaled AI. In a quarterly earnings conference call in the fall of 2015, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated that AI was going to be “a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing. . . . We are applying it across all our products, be it search, be it YouTube and Play, etc.” My prediction: By 2026, Google’s main product will not be search but AI. This is the point where it is entirely appropriate to be skeptical. For almost 60 years, AI researchers have predicted that AI is right around the corner, yet until a few years ago it seemed as stuck in the future as ever. There was even a term coined to describe this era of meager results and even more meager research funding: the AI winter. Has anything really changed? Yes. Three recent breakthroughs have unleashed the long-awaited arrival of artificial intelligence:


  1. Cheap Parallel Computation. Thinking is an inherently parallel process. Billions of neurons in our brain fire simultaneously to create synchronous waves of computation. To build a neural network—the primary architecture of AI software—also requires many different processes to take place simultaneously. Each node of a neural network loosely imitates a neuron in the brain—mutually interacting with its neighbors to make sense of the signals it receives. To recognize a spoken word, a program must be able to hear all the phonemes in relation to one another; to identify an image, it needs to see every pixel in the context of the pixels around it—both deeply parallel tasks. But until recently, the typical computer processor could ping only one thing at a time. That began to change more than a decade ago, when a new kind of chip, called a graphics processing unit, or GPU, was devised for the intensely visual—and parallel—demands of video games, in which millions of pixels in an image had to be recalculated many times a second. That required a specialized parallel computing chip, which was added as a supplement to the PC motherboard. The parallel graphics chips worked fantastically, and gaming soared in popularity. By 2005, GPUs were being produced in such quantities that they became so cheap they were basically a commodity. In 2009, Andrew Ng and a team at Stanford realized that GPU chips could run neural networks in parallel. That discovery unlocked new possibilities for neural networks, which can include hundreds of millions of connections between their nodes. Traditional processors required several weeks to calculate all the cascading possibilities in a neural net with 100 million parameters. Ng found that a cluster of GPUs could accomplish the same thing in a day. Today neural nets running on GPUs are routinely used by cloud-enabled companies such as Facebook to identify your friends in photos or for Netflix to make reliable recommendations for its more than 50 million subscribers.
  1. Big Data. Every intelligence has to be taught. A human brain, which is genetically primed to categorize things, still needs to see a dozen examples as a child before it can distinguish between cats and dogs. That’s even more true for artificial minds. Even the best-programmed computer has to play at least a thousand games of chess before it gets good. Part of the AI breakthrough lies in the incredible avalanche of collected data about our world, which provides the schooling that AIs need. Massive databases, self-tracking, web cookies, online footprints, terabytes of storage, decades of search results, Wikipedia, and the entire digital universe became the teachers making AI smart. Andrew Ng explains it this way: “AI is akin to building a rocket ship. You need a huge engine and a lot of fuel. The rocket engine is the learning algorithms but the fuel is the huge amounts of data we can feed to these algorithms.” 3….557

The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on. A cloud that serves AI will obey the same law. The more people who use an AI, the smarter it gets. The smarter it gets, the more people who use it. The more people who use it, the smarter it gets. And so on. Once a company enters this virtuous cycle, it tends to grow so big so fast that it overwhelms any upstart competitors. As a result, our AI future is likely to be ruled by an oligarchy of two or three large, general-purpose cloud-based commercial intelligences.604

Today the best chess player alive is a centaur. It goes by the name of Intagrand, a team of several humans and several different chess programs. But here’s the even more surprising part: The advent of AI didn’t diminish the performance of purely human chess players. Quite the opposite. Cheap, supersmart chess programs inspired more people than ever to play chess, at more tournaments than ever, and the players got better than ever. There are more than twice as many grand masters now as there were when Deep Blue first beat Kasparov. The top-ranked human chess player today, Magnus Carlsen, trained with AIs and has been deemed the most computerlike of all human chess players. He also has the highest human grand master rating of all time. If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers. Yet most of the commercial work completed by AI will be done by nonhuman-like programs. The bulk of AI will be special purpose software brains that can, for example, translate any language into any other language, but do little else. Drive a car, but not converse.619

In the next 10 years, 99 percent of the artificial intelligence that you will interact with, directly or indirectly, will be nerdly narrow, supersmart specialists. In628

What we want instead of conscious intelligence is artificial smartness. As AIs develop, we might have to engineer ways to prevent consciousness in them. Our most premium AI services will likely be advertised as consciousness-free. Nonhuman intelligence is not a bug; it’s a feature. The most important thing to know about thinking machines is that they will think different.632

Facebook has the ability to ramp up an AI that can view a photo portrait of any person on earth and correctly identify them out of some 3 billion people online. Human brains cannot scale to this degree, which makes this artificial ability very unhuman. We are notoriously bad at statistical thinking, so we are making intelligences with very good statistical skills, in order that they don’t think like us. One of the advantages of having AIs drive our cars is that they won’t drive like humans, with our easily distracted minds.

In a superconnected world, thinking different is the source of innovation and wealth. Just being smart is not enough. Commercial incentives will make industrial-strength AI ubiquitous, embedding cheap smartness into all that we make. But a bigger payoff will come when we start inventing new kinds of intelligences and entirely new ways of thinking—in the way a calculator is a genius in arithmetic. Calculation is only one type of smartness. We don’t know what the full taxonomy of intelligence is right now. Some traits of human thinking will be common (as common as bilateral symmetry, segmentation, and tubular guts are in biology), but the possibility space of viable minds will likely contain traits far outside what we have evolved. It is not necessary that this type of thinking be faster than humans’, greater, or deeper. In some cases it will be simpler. The variety of potential minds in the universe is vast. Recently we’ve begun to explore the species of animal minds on earth, and as we do we have discovered, with increasing respect, that we have met many other kinds of intelligences already. Whales and dolphins keep surprising us with their intricate and weirdly different intelligence. Precisely how a mind can be different or superior to our minds is very difficult to imagine. One way that would help us to imagine what greater yet different intelligences would be like is to begin to create a taxonomy of the variety of minds. This matrix of minds would include animal minds, and machine minds, and possible minds, particularly transhuman minds, like the ones that science fiction writers have come up with.644

The point of this speculative list is to emphasize that all cognition is specialized. The types of artificial minds we are making now and will make in the coming century will be designed to perform specialized tasks, and usually tasks that are beyond what we can do. Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all. Our most important thinking machines will not be machines that can think what we think faster, better, but those that think what we can’t think. To really solve the current grand mysteries of quantum gravity, dark energy, and dark matter, we’ll probably need other intelligences beside human. And the extremely complex harder questions that will come after those hard questions may require even more distant and complex intelligences. Indeed, we may need to invent intermediate intelligences that can help us design yet more rarefied intelligences that we could not design alone. We need ways to think different. Today, many scientific discoveries require hundreds of human minds to solve, but in the near future there may be classes of problems so deep that they require hundreds of different species of minds to solve. This will take us to a cultural edge because it won’t be easy to accept the answers from an alien intelligence. We already see that reluctance in our difficulty in approving mathematical proofs done by computer. Some mathematical proofs have become so complex only computers are able to rigorously check every step, but these proofs are not accepted as “proof” by all mathematicians. The proofs are not understandable by humans alone so it is necessary to trust a cascade of algorithms, and this demands new skills in knowing when to trust these creations. Dealing with alien intelligences will require similar skills, and a further broadening of ourselves. An embedded AI will change how we do science. Really intelligent instruments will speed and alter our measurements; really huge sets of constant real-time data will speed and alter our model making; really smart documents will speed and alter our acceptance of when we “know” something. The scientific method is a way of knowing, but it has been based on how humans know. Once we add a new kind of intelligence into this method, science will have to know, and progress, according to the criteria of new minds. At that point everything changes. AI could just as well stand for “alien intelligence.” We have no certainty we’ll contact extraterrestrial beings from one of the billion earthlike planets in the sky in the next 200 years, but we have almost 100 percent certainty that we’ll manufacture an alien intelligence by then. When we face these synthetic aliens, we’ll encounter the same benefits and challenges that we expect from contact with ET. They will force us to reevaluate our roles, our beliefs, our goals, our identity. What are humans for? I believe our first answer will be: Humans are for inventing new kinds of intelligences that biology could not evolve. Our job is to make machines that think different—to create alien intelligences. We should really call AIs “AAs,” for “artificial aliens.” An AI will think about science like an alien, vastly different than any human scientist, thereby provoking us humans to think about science differently. Or to think about manufacturing materials differently. Or clothes. Or financial derivatives. Or any branch of science or art. The alienness of artificial intelligence will become more valuable to us than its speed or power. Artificial intelligence will help us better understand what we mean by intelligence in the first place. In the past, we would have said only a superintelligent AI could drive a car or beat a human at Jeopardy! or recognize a billion faces. But once our computers did each of those things in the last few years, we considered that achievement obviously mechanical and hardly worth the label of true intelligence. We label it “machine learning.” Every achievement in AI redefines...700

We’ll spend the next three decades—indeed, perhaps the next century—in a permanent identity crisis, continually asking ourselves what humans are good for. If we aren’t unique toolmakers, or artists, or moral ethicists, then what, if anything, makes us special? In the grandest irony of all, the greatest benefit of an everyday, utilitarian AI will not be increased productivity or an economics of abundance or a new way of doing science—although all those will happen. The greatest benefit of the arrival of artificial intelligence is that AIs will help define humanity. We need AIs to tell us who we are.733

It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation—including the job you hold. In other words, robots are inevitable and job replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This broad automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work. First, machines will consolidate their gains in already automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Robots like this already work in Amazon’s warehouses. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. In fact, prototype pill-dispensing robots are already up and running in hospitals in California. To date, they have not messed up a single prescription, something that cannot be said of any human pharmacist. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually advancing to toilets. The highway parts of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs. By 2050 most truck drivers won’t be human. Since truck driving is currently the most common occupation in the U.S., this is a big deal. All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one of Google’s newest computers that can write an accurate caption for any photo it is given. Pick a random photo from the web, and the computer will “look” at it, then caption it perfectly. It can keep correctly describing what’s going on in a series of photos as well as a human, but never tire. Google’s translation AI turns a phone into a personal translator.749

The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated.769

“Right now we think of manufacturing as happening in China. But as manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Nearby will be cheap. So we’ll get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within five miles of where they are needed.” That may be true for making stuff, but a lot of remaining jobs for humans are service jobs.801

He demurs and suggests it might be 30 years before robots will cook for us. “In a fast-food place you’re not doing the same task very long. You’re always changing things on the fly, so you need special solutions. We are not trying to sell a specific solution. We are building a general-purpose machine that other workers can set up themselves and work alongside.” And once we can cowork with robots right next to us, it’s inevitable that our tasks will bleed together, and soon our old work will become theirs—and our new work will become something we can hardly imagine.806

Jobs Humans Can Do but Robots Can Do Even Better

Humans can weave cotton cloth with great effort, but automated looms make perfect cloth by the mile for a few cents. The only reason to buy handmade cloth today is because you want the imperfections humans introduce. There’s very little reason to want an imperfect car. We no longer value irregularities while traveling 70 miles per hour on a highway—so we figure that the fewer humans touching our car as it is being made, the better. And yet for more complicated chores, we still tend to mistakenly believe computers and robots can’t be trusted.811

A computerized brain known as autopilot can fly a 787 jet unaided for all but seven minutes of a typical flight. We place human pilots in the cockpit to fly those seven minutes and for “just in case” insurance, but the needed human pilot time is decreasing rapidly. In the 1990s, computerized mortgage appraisals replaced human appraisers wholesale. Much tax preparation has gone to computers, as well as routine X-ray analysis and pretrial evidence gathering—all once done by highly paid smart people. We’ve accepted utter reliability in robot manufacturing; soon we’ll accept the fact that robots can do it better in services and knowledge work too.

Jobs Humans Can’t Do but Robots Can

A trivial example: Humans have trouble making a single brass screw unassisted, but automation can produce a thousand exact ones per hour. Without automation, we could not make a single computer chip—a job that requires degrees of precision, control, and unwavering attention that our animal bodies don’t possess. Likewise no human—indeed no group of humans, no matter their education—can quickly search through all the web pages in the world to uncover the one page revealing the price of eggs in Kathmandu yesterday. Every time you click on the search button you are employing a robot to do something we as a species are unable to do alone.817   We aren’t giving “good jobs” to robots. Most of the time we are giving them jobs we could never do. Without them, these jobs would remain undone. 831

Jobs We Didn’t Know We Wanted Done

To reiterate, the bulk of new tasks created by automation are tasks only other automation can handle.845

It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet.849

Jobs Only Humans Can Do—at First

The one thing humans can do that robots can’t (at least for a long while) is to decide what it is that humans want to do. This is not a trivial semantic trick; our desires are inspired by our previous inventions, making this a circular question. When robots and automation do our most basic work, making it relatively easy for us to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, then we are free to ask, “What are humans for?” Industrialization did more than just extend the average human lifespan. It led a greater percentage of the population to decide that humans were meant to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters, fan-fiction authors, and folks with one-of-a-kind titles on their business cards. With the help of our machines, we could take up these roles—but, of course, over time the machines will do these as well. We’ll then be empowered to dream up yet more answers to the question “What should we do?” It will be many generations before a robot can answer that. This postindustrial economy will keep expanding because each person’s task (in part) will be to invent new things to do that will later become repetitive jobs for the robots. In the coming years robot-driven cars and trucks will become ubiquitous; this automation will spawn the new human occupation for former truck drivers of trip optimizer, a person who tweaks the traffic algorithms for optimal energy and time usage. Routine robosurgery will necessitate the new medical skills of keeping complex machines sterile. When automatic self-tracking of all your activities becomes the normal thing to do, a new breed of professional analysts will arise to help you make sense of the data. And of course we will need a whole army of robot nannies, dedicated to keeping your personal robots up and running. Each of these new vocations will in turn be taken over by automation later.851

Success will go to those who best optimize the process of working with bots and machines. Geographical clusters of production will matter, not for any differential in labor costs but because of the differential in human expertise. It’s human-robot symbiosis. Our human assignment will be to keep making jobs for robots—and that is a task that will never be finished. So we will always have at least that one “job.”876

Here are the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:

  1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
  2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.
  3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
  4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
  5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
  6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more!
  7. [Later.] I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now. [Repeat.]881

You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do. You might no longer think of it as a job, at least at first, because anything that resembles drudgery will be handed over to robots by the accountants. We need to let robots take over.895

Robots will do jobs we have been doing, and do them much better than we can. They will do jobs we can’t do at all. They will do jobs we never imagined even needed to be done. And they will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were. It is inevitable. Let the robots take our jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.899

The digital economy runs on this river of freely flowing copies. In fact, our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a superconductor, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. This is what it means when something goes viral.910

Physical stocks are still necessary, but they are no longer sufficient for wealth and happiness. Our attention has moved away from stocks of solid goods to flows of intangibles, like copies. We value not only the atoms in a thing, but their immaterial arrangement and design and, even more, their ability to adapt and flow in response to our needs. Formerly solid products made of steel and leather are now sold as fluid services that keep updating. Your solid car parked in a driveway has been transformed into a personal on-demand transportation service supplied by Uber, Lyft, Zip, and Sidecar—which are improving faster than automobiles are. Grocery shopping is no longer a hit-or-miss affair; now a steady flow of household replenishables streams into our homes uninterrupted. You get a better telephone every few months because a flow of new operating systems install themselves on your smartphone, adding new features and new benefits that in the past would have required new hardware. Then, when you do get new hardware, the service maintains the familiar operating system you had, flowing your personalization onto the new device. This total sequence of perpetual upgrades is continuous. It’s a dream come true for our insatiable human appetite: rivers of uninterrupted betterment. At the heart of this new regime of constant flux is ever tinier specks of computation. We are currently entering the third phase of computing, the Flows.921

The initial age of computing borrowed from the industrial age. As Marshall McLuhan observed, the first version of a new medium imitates the medium it replaces. The first commercial computers employed the metaphor of the office. Our screens had a “desktop” and “folders” and “files.” They were hierarchically ordered, like much of the industrial age that the computer was overthrowing. The second digital age overturned the office metaphor and brought us the organizing principle of the web. The basic unit was no longer files but “pages.” Pages were not organized into folders, but were arranged into a networked web. The web was a billion hyperlinked pages which contained everything, both stored information and active knowledge. The desktop interface was replaced by a “browser,” a uniform window that looked into any and all pages. This web of links was flat.931

Today the prime units are flows and streams. We constantly monitor Twitter streams and the flows of posts on our Facebook wall. We stream photos, movies, and music. News banners stream across the bottom of TVs. We subscribe to YouTube streams, called channels. And RSS feeds from blogs. We are bathed in streams of notifications and updates.938

In the industrial age, companies did their utmost to save themselves time by increasing their efficiency and productivity. That is not enough today. Now organizations need to save their customers and citizens time. They need to do their utmost to interact in real time. Real time is human time.963

Free is hard to ignore. It propels duplication at a scale that would previously have been unbelievable.984

In this new online world, anything that can be copied will be copied for free.986

In this new supersaturated digital universe of infinite free digital duplication, copies are so ubiquitous, so cheap—free, in fact—that the only things truly valuable are those that cannot be copied. Technology is telling us that copies don’t count anymore. To put it simply: When copies are superabundant, they become worthless. Instead, stuff that can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. Well, what can’t be copied? Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk. You can’t purchase trust wholesale. You can’t download trust and store it in a database or warehouse it. You can’t simply duplicate someone’s else’s trust. Trust must be earned, over time.993

Since we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege. We call that branding. Brand companies can command higher prices for similar products and services from companies without brands because they are trusted for what they promise. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy-saturated world.999

In a real sense, these uncopyable values are things that are “better than free.” Free is good, but these are better since you’ll pay for them. I call these qualities “generatives.” A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated at the time of the transaction. A generative thing cannot be copied, cloned, stored, and warehoused. A generative cannot be faked or replicated. It is generated uniquely, for that particular exchange, in real time. Generative qualities add value to free copies and therefore are something that can be sold. Here are eight generatives that are “better than free.”

IMMEDIACY Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released—or even better, produced—by its creators is a generative asset. Many people go to movie theaters to see films on the opening night, where they will pay a hefty price to see a film that later will be available for free, or almost free, via rental or download. In a very real sense, they are not paying for the movie (which is otherwise “free”); they are paying for the immediacy.1004

Personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time-consuming. Marketers call that “stickiness” because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset and will be reluctant to switch and start over. You can’t cut and paste this kind of depth.1022

When a copy of your sequence costs nothing, the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it—the manual for your genes, so to speak—will be expensive. This generative can be applied to many other complex services, such as travel and health care.1030

You get the same “free” software, but with an intangible peace of mind. You are not paying for the copy; you are paying for the authenticity.1034

ACCESSIBILITY Ownership often sucks. You have to keep your things tidy, up-to-date, and, in the case of digital material, backed up. And in this mobile world, you have to carry it along with you. Many people, myself included, will be happy to have others tend our “possessions” while we lazily subscribe to them on the cloud. I may own a book or have previously paid for music I treasure, but I’ll pay Acme Digital Warehouse to serve me what I want when and how I want it. Most of this material will be available free elsewhere, but it is just not as convenient. With a paid service I have access to free material anywhere, channeled to any of my many devices, with a super user interface. In part, this is what you get with iTunes on the cloud. You pay for conveniently accessible music you could download for free somewhere else. You are not paying for the material; you are paying for the convenience of easy accessibility, without the obligations of maintaining it.1040

There is no end of ways to counter the intangible world with greater embodiment. There will always be insanely great new display technology that consumers won’t have in their home, so they need to move their bodies somewhere else, like to a theater or auditorium.1051

This formula is quickly becoming a common one for not only musicians, but even authors. The book is free; the bodily talk is expensive. Live concert tours, live TED talks, live radio shows, pop-up food tours all speak to the power and value of a paid ephemeral embodiment of something you could download for free.

PATRONAGE Deep down, avid audiences and fans want to pay creators. Fans love to reward artists, musicians, authors, actors, and other creators with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect with people they admire. But they will pay only under four conditions that are not often met: 1) It must be extremely easy to do; 2) The amount must be reasonable; 3) There’s clear benefit to them for paying; and 4) It’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators.1055

Fans use many ways to discover worthy works out of the zillions produced. They use critics, reviewers, brands (of publishers, labels, and studios), and increasingly they rely on other fans and friends to recommend the good stuff. Increasingly they are willing to pay for guidance.1071

Amazon’s greatest asset is not its Prime delivery service but the millions of reader reviews it has accumulated over decades. Readers will pay for Amazon’s all-you-can-read ebook service, Kindle Unlimited, even though they will be able to find ebooks for free elsewhere, because Amazon’s reviews will guide them to books they want to read.1075

They may be free somewhere else, but they are essentially lost and buried. In these examples, you are not paying for the copies, you are paying for the findability.1078

Success in this new realm requires mastering the new liquidity.  • • •  Once something, like music, is digitized, it becomes a liquid that can be flexed and linked.1084

package, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, mess with it. It wasn’t only that it was monetarily free; it was freed from constraints. Now there were a thousand new ways to conjure with those notes. What counts are not the number of copies but the number of ways a copy can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, and enlivened by other media. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage a work. What counts is how well the work flows.1098

The streaming takeover “is inevitable.” With flowing streams, music goes from being a noun to a verb once again. Liquidity brings a new ease in creation. Fungible forms of music encourage amateurs to create their own song and upload it. To invent new formats. New tools, available for free, distributed online, allow music fans to remix tracks, sample sounds, study lyrics, lay down beats with synthetic instruments. Nonprofessionals start making music the same way writers craft a book—by rearranging found elements (words for writers, chords for musicians) into their own point of view. The superconductivity of digital bits serves as a lubricant to unleash music’s untapped options.1121

A renaissance of thousands of documentaries per year demands a soundtrack for each one them. Feature films consume vast quantities of original scores, including thousands of pop songs. Even YouTube creators understand the emotional uplift gained by a soundtrack for their short spots;1130

The latest fashionable media is a podcast, a sort of audible documentary. At least 27 new podcasts launch every day. No decent podcast is without a theme song and, more often, musical scoring for its long-form content. Our entire life is getting a musical soundtrack. All these venues are growth markets, expanding as rapidly as the flows of bits. Social media were once the domain of texts. The next generation of social media is conducting video and sound. Apps like WeChat, WhatsApp, Vine, Meerkat, Periscope, and many others enable you to share video and audio—in real time—with your network of friends and friends of friends. The tools for quickly making a tune, altering a song, or algorithmically generating music that you share in real time are not far away. Custom music—that is, music that users generate—will become the norm, and indeed it will become the bulk of all music created each year. As music streams, it expands. As we’ve learned from the steady democratization of other arts, soon you’ll be able to make music without being a musician. One hundred years ago, the only people technically capable of taking a photograph were a few dedicated experimenters. It was an incredibly elaborate and fussy process. It took great technical skill and greater patience before you could coax a picture worth looking at. An expert photographer might take a dozen photos per year. Today anyone with a phone—which is everyone—can instantly take a photo that is a hundred times better in most dimensions than one taken by the average professional a century ago. We are all photographers. Likewise, typography was once an arcane profession. It required many years of expertise to be able to place type on a page in a pleasing and clear way, since there was no WYSIWYG. Maybe a thousand people knew what kerning was. Today they teach kerning in grammar school, and even newbies can accomplish far better typography with digital tools than the average typesetter of old. Same for cartography. The average web hipster can do more with maps today than the best cartographers could manage in the past. So too it will be for music. With new tools accelerating the fluid flow of bits and copies, we will all become musicians. As music goes, so goes the other media, and then other industries. Movies repeated the pattern.1133

Again, the audience pyramid flipped. We are all filmmakers now.1154

These are the Four Stages of Flowing:

  1. Fixed. Rare. The starting norm is precious products that take much expertise to create. Each is an artisan work, complete and able to stand alone, sold in high-quality reproductions to compensate the creators.
  2. Free. Ubiquitous. The first disruption is promiscuous copying of the product, duplicated so relentlessly that it becomes a commodity. Cheap, perfect copies are spent freely, dispersed anywhere there is demand. This extravagant dissemination of copies shatters the established economics.
  3. Flowing. Sharing. The second disruption is an unbundling of the product into parts, each element flowing to find its own new uses and to be remixed into new bundles. The product is now a stream of services issuing from the shared cloud. It becomes a platform for wealth and innovation.
  4. Opening. Becoming. The third disruption is enabled by the previous two. Streams of powerful services and ready pieces, conveniently grabbed at little cost, enable amateurs with little expertise to create new products and brand-new categories of products. The status of creation is inverted, so that the audience is now the artist. Output, selection, and quality skyrocket.1189

These four stages of flowing apply to all media. All genres will exhibit some fluidity. Yet fixity is not over. Most of the good fixed things in our civilization (roads, skyscrapers) are not going anywhere. We will continue to manufacture analog objects (chairs, plates, shoes), but they will acquire a digital essence as well, with embedded chips. (Except for a tiny minority of high-priced handmade artifacts.) The efflorescent blossoming of liquid streams is an additive process, rather than subtractive. The old media forms endure; the new are layered on top of them. The important difference is that fixity is not the only option anymore. Good things don’t have to be static, unchanging. Or, to put it a different way, the right kind of instability can now be good. The move from stocks to flows, from fixity to fluidity, is not about leaving behind stability. It is about harnessing a wide-open frontier where so many additional options based on mutability are possible. We are exploring all the ways to make things out of ceaseless change and shape-shifting processes.1201

Many of the hundreds of thousands of documentaries already released are kept updated with material added by viewers, enthusiasts, or the director, as their stories continue. The streams of video produced and shared by my own mobile devices are born with channels so they can easily be reworked by my friends. Selecting out the background, they insert my buddies into exotic scenes and playfully manipulate the context in a very believable way. Each video posted demands a reply with another video based upon it. The natural response to receiving a clip, a song, a text—either from a friend or from a professional—is not just to consume it, but to act upon it. To add, subtract, reply, alter, bend, merge, translate, elevate to another level. To continue its flow. To maximize the flowing.1219

So much more of our routines and infrastructure remains to be liquefied, but liquefied and streamed they will be. The steady titanic tilt toward dematerialization and decentralization means that further flows are inevitable. It seems a stretch right now that the most solid and fixed apparatus in our manufactured environment would be transformed into ethereal forces, but the soft will trump the hard. Knowledge will rule atoms. Generative intangibles will rise above the free. Think of the world flowing.1227

Painting, music, architecture, dance were all important, but the heartbeat of Western culture was the turning pages of a book. By 1910 three quarters of the towns in the United States with more than 2,500 residents had a public library. America’s roots spring from documents—the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and, indirectly, the Bible. The country’s success depended on high levels of literacy, a robust free press, allegiance to the rule of law (found in books), and a common language across a continent. American prosperity and liberty grew out of a culture of reading and writing. We became People of the Book. But today more than 5 billion digital screens illuminate our lives. Digital display manufacturers will crank out 3.8 billion new additional screens per year. That’s nearly one new screen each year for every human on earth. We will start putting watchable screens on any flat surface. Words have migrated from wood pulp to pixels on computers, phones, laptops, game consoles, televisions, billboards, and tablets. Letters are no longer fixed in black ink on paper, but flitter on a glass surface in a rainbow of colors as fast as our eyes can blink. Screens fill our pockets, briefcases, dashboards, living room walls, and the sides of buildings. They sit in front of us when we work—regardless of what we do. We are now People of the Screen. This has set up the current culture clash between People of the Book and People of the Screen. The People of the Book today are the good hardworking people who make newspapers, magazines, the doctrines of law, the offices of regulation, and the rules of finance. They live by the book, by the authority derived from authors. The foundation of this culture is ultimately housed in texts. They are all on the same page, so to speak. The immense cultural power of books emanated from the machinery of reproduction. Printing presses duplicated books quickly, cheaply, and faithfully.1247

This reproductive culture has, in the last century or so, produced the greatest flowering of human achievement the world has ever seen, a magnificent golden age of creative works. Cheap physical copies have enabled millions of people to earn a living directly from the sale of their art to the audience, without the weird dynamics of having to rely only on patronage. Not only did authors and artists benefit from this model, but the audience did too. For the first time, billions of ordinary people were able to come in regular contact with a great work. In Beethoven’s day, few people ever heard one of his symphonies more than once. With the advent of cheap audio recordings, a barber in Bombay could listen to them all day long.  • • •  But today most of us have become People of the Screen. People of the Screen tend to ignore the classic logic of books or the reverence for copies; they prefer the dynamic flux of pixels. They gravitate toward movie screens, TV screens, computer screens, iPhone screens, VR goggle screens, tablet screens, and in the near future massive Day-Glo megapixel screens plastered on every surface. Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of tweets, headlines, instagrams, casual texts, and floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else; truth is not delivered by authors and authorities but is assembled in real time piece by piece by the audience themselves. People of the Screen make their own content and construct their own truth. Fixed copies don’t matter as much as flowing access. Screen culture is fast, like a 30-second movie trailer, and as liquid and open-ended as a Wikipedia page. On a screen, words move, meld into pictures, change color, and perhaps even change meaning. Sometimes there are no words at all, only pictures or diagrams or glyphs that may be deciphered into multiple meanings. This liquidity is terribly unnerving to any civilization based on text logic. In this new world, fast-moving code—as in updated versions of computer code—is more important than law, which is fixed. Code displayed on a screen is endlessly tweakable by users, while law embossed into books is not. Yet code can shape behavior as much as, if not more than, law. If you want to change how people act online, on the screen, you simply alter the algorithms that govern the place, which in effect polices the collective behavior or nudges people in preferred directions. People of the Book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems. Truth is, we are in transition, and the clash between the cultures of books and screens occurs within us as individuals as well. If you are an educated modern person, you are conflicted by these two modes. This tension is the new norm. It all started with the first screens that invaded our living rooms 50 years ago: the big, fat, warm tubes of television. These glowing altars reduced the time we spent reading to such an extent that in the following decades it seemed as if reading and writing were over. Educators, intellectuals, politicians, and parents in the last half of the last century worried deeply that the TV generation would be unable to write. Screens were blamed for an amazing list of societal ills. But of course we all kept watching. And for a while it did seem as if nobody wrote, or could write, and reading scores trended down for decades. But to everyone’s surprise, the cool, interconnected, ultrathin screens on monitors, the new TVs, and tablets at the beginning of the 21st century launched an epidemic of writing that continues to swell. The amount of time people spend reading has almost tripled since 1980. By 2015 more than 60 trillion pages have been added to the World Wide Web, and that total grows by several billion a day. Each of these pages was written by somebody. Right now ordinary citizens compose 80 million blog posts per day. Using their thumbs instead of pens, young1265

When books are deeply linked, you’ll be able to click on the title in any bibliography or any footnote and find the actual book referred to in the footnote. The books referenced in that book’s bibliography will themselves be available, and so you can hop through the library in the same way we hop through web links, traveling from footnote to footnote to footnote until you reach the bottom of things.1442

We’ll come to understand that no work, no idea stands alone, but that all good, true, and beautiful things are ecosystems of intertwined parts and related entities, past and present.1451

Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums or playlists, the universal networked library will encourage the creation of virtual “bookshelves”—a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books—that form a library shelf’s worth of specialized information. And as with music playlists, once created, these “bookshelves” or playlists for books will be published and swapped in the public commons. Indeed, some authors will begin to write books to be read as snippets or to be remixed as pages. The ability to purchase, read, and manipulate individual pages or sections is surely what will drive reference books (cookbooks, how-to manuals, travel guides) in the future. You might concoct your own “cookbook shelf” or scrapbook of Cajun recipes compiled from many different sources; it would include web pages, magazine clippings, and entire Cajun cookbooks. This is already starting to happen. The boards of the online site Pinterest allow folks to quickly create scrapbooks of quotes, images, quips, and photos. Amazon currently offers you a chance to publish your own bookshelves (“Listmanias”) as annotated lists of books you want to recommend on a particular esoteric subject. And readers are already using Google Books to round up mini libraries on a certain topic—all the books about Swedish saunas, for instance, or the best books on clocks. Once snippets, articles, and pages of books become ubiquitous, shuffleable, and transferable, users will earn prestige and perhaps income for curating an excellent collection. Libraries (as well as many individuals)1456

Second, the universal library will deepen our grasp of history, as every original document in the course of civilization is scanned and cross-linked. That includes all the yellowing newspapers, unused telephone books, dusty county files, and old ledgers now moldering in basements. More of the past will be linked to today, increasing understanding today and appreciation of the past. Third, the universal networked library of all books will cultivate a new sense of authority. If you can truly incorporate all texts—past and present in all languages—on a particular subject, then you can have a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do and don’t know. The empty white spaces of our collective ignorance are highlighted, while the golden peaks of our knowledge are drawn with completeness. This degree of authority is only rarely achieved in scholarship today, but it will become routine. Fourth and finally, the full, complete universal library of all works becomes more than just a better searchable library. It becomes a platform for cultural life, in some ways returning book knowledge to the core.1476

Every object, event, or location on earth would “know” everything that has ever been written about it in any book, in any language, at any time. From this deep structuring of knowledge comes a new culture of participation. You would be interacting—with your whole body—with the universal book.1487

Indeed, the only way for the essence of books to retain their waning authority in our culture is to wire their texts into the universal library. Most new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story. The great continent of analog books in the public domain, and the 25 million orphan works (neither in print nor in the public domain), will eventually be scanned and connected.1490

ever present screens have created an audience for very short moving pictures, as brief as three minutes, while cheap digital creation tools have empowered a new generation of filmmakers, who are rapidly filling up those screens. We are headed toward screen ubiquity. The screen demands more than our eyes.1505

They trigger interaction. Some of the newest screens (such as those on the Samsung Galaxy phone) can follow our eyes to perceive where we gaze. A screen will know what we are paying attention to and for how long. Smart software can now read our emotions as we read the screen and can alter what we see next in response to our emotions.1510

It is as if the screen displays the object’s intangible essence. As portable screens become more powerful, lighter, and larger, they will be used to view more of this inner world. Hold an electronic tablet up as you walk along a street—or wear a pair of magic spectacles or contact lenses—and it will show you an annotated overlay of the real street ahead: where the clean restrooms are, which stores sell your favorite items, where your friends are hanging out. Computer chips are becoming so small, and screens so thin and cheap, that in the next 30 years semitransparent eyeglasses will apply an informational layer to reality. If you pick up an object while peering through these spectacles, the object’s (or place’s) essential information will appear in overlay text. In this way screens will enable us to “read” everything, not just text.1530

Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important than ever. Pretend you live inside the world’s largest rental store. Why would you own anything? You can borrow whatever you need within arm’s reach. Instant borrowing gives you most of the benefits of owning and few of its disadvantages. You have no responsibility to clean, to repair, to store, to sort, to insure, to upgrade, to maintain. What if this rental store were a magical cupboard, a kind of Mary Poppins carpetbag, where an endless selection of gear was crammed into a bottomless container? All you have to do is knock on the outside and summon an item, and abracadabra—there it is. Advanced technology has enabled this magical rental store.1597

Access is so superior to ownership in many ways that it is driving the frontiers of the economy. Five deep technological trends accelerate this long-term move toward accessing and away from ownership.


The total amount of material we use per GDP dollar is going down, which means we use less material for greater value. The ratio of mass needed to generate a unit of GDP has been falling for 150 years, declining even faster in the last two decades. In 1870 it took 4 kilograms of stuff to generate one unit of the U.S.’s GDP.1617

Digital technology accelerates dematerialization by hastening the migration from products to services. The liquid nature of services means they don’t have to be bound to materials. But dematerialization is not just about digital goods. The reason even solid physical goods—like a soda can—can deliver more benefits while inhabiting less material is because their heavy atoms are substituted by weightless bits. The tangible is replaced by intangibles—intangibles like better design, innovative processes, smart chips, and eventually online connectivity—that do the work that more aluminum atoms used to do. Soft things, like intelligence, are thus embedded into hard things, like aluminum, that make hard things behave more like software. Material goods infused with bits increasingly act as if they were intangible services. Nouns morph to verbs. Hardware behaves like software. In Silicon Valley they say it like this: “Software eats everything.” The decreasing mass1620

Products encourage ownership, but services discourage ownership because the kind of exclusivity, control, and responsibility that comes with ownership privileges are missing from services. The switch from “ownership that you purchase” to “access that you subscribe to” overturns many conventions. Ownership is casual, fickle. If something better comes along, grab it. A subscription, on the other hand, gushes a never-ending stream of updates, issues, and versions that force a constant interaction between the producer and the consumer. It is not a onetime event; it’s an ongoing relationship.1639

Access amplifies the interactions we have with all parts of a service. The first stand-alone product to be “servicized” was software. Today, selling software as service (SaS) instead of product has become the default mode for almost all software. As an example of SaS, Adobe no longer sells its venerable Photoshop and design tools as discrete products with dated versions, 7.0 or whatever. Instead you subscribe to Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere, etc., or the entire suite of services, and its stream of updates. You sign up and your computer will operate the latest best versions as long as you pay the monthly subscription. This new model entails reorientation by customers comfortable owning something forever.1652

Food as service (FaS). Each has its own approach to giving you a subscription to food, instead of purchases. For example, in one scheme you might not buy specific food products; instead, you get access to the benefits of food you need or want—say, certain levels and qualities of protein, nutrition, cuisine, flavors.1660

Other possible new service realms: Furniture as service; Health as service; Shelter as service; Vacation as service; School as service. Of course, in all these you still pay; the difference is the deeper relationship that services encourage and require between the customer and the provider.

Real-Time On Demand Access is also a way to deliver new things in close to real time. Unless something runs in real time, it does not count. As convenient as taxis are, they are often not real time enough. You usually wait too long for one, including the ones you call. And the cumbersome payment procedure at the end is a hassle. Oh, and they should be cheaper.1662

One reason so much money is flowing into the service frontier is that there are so many more ways to be a service than to be a product. The number of different ways to recast transportation as a service is almost unlimited. Uber is merely one variation. There are dozens more already established, and many more possible. The general approach for entrepreneurs is to unbundle the benefits of transportation (or any X) into separate constituent goods and then recombine them in new ways. Take transportation as an example. How do you get from point A to point B? Today you can do it in one of eight ways with a vehicle: 1. Buy a car, drive yourself (the default today). 2. Hire a company to drive you to your destination (taxi). 3. Rent a company-owned car, drive yourself (Hertz rental). 4. Hire a peer to drive you to your destination (Uber). 5. Rent a car from a peer, drive yourself (RelayRides). 6. Hire a company to drive you with shared passengers along a fixed route (bus). 7. Hire a peer to drive you with shared passengers to your destination (Lyft Line). 8. Hire a peer to drive you with shared passengers going to a fixed destination (BlaBlaCar). There are variations upon the variations. Hire the service Shuddle to pick up someone else, like a child at school; some call it an Uber for kids. Sidecar is like Uber, except it runs a reverse auction. You set the price you are willing to pay and let drivers bid to pick you up. There are dozens of emerging companies (like SherpaShare) aimed at serving the drivers instead of riders, helping them manage more than one system and optimizing their routes. These startups try to exploit inefficiencies in novel ways. They take assets that are unused part-time (such as an empty bedroom, a parked car, unused office space) and match them to people eagerly waiting for them right this second. Employing a distributed network of freelance providers, they can approximate near real-time delivery. Now repeat these same experimental business models in other sectors. Delivery: Let a network of freelancers deliver packages to homes (Uber for FedEx). Design: Let a crowd of designers submit designs, just pay the winner (CrowdSpring). Health care: Coordinate sharing insulin pumps. Real estate: Rent your garage as storage space, or an unused cubicle as office space for a startup (WeWork).1684

The remixing of benefits will continue to flourish and expand. Our appetite for the instant is insatiable. The cost of real-time engagement requires massive coordination and degrees of collaboration that were unthinkable a few years ago. Now that most people are equipped with a supercomputer in their pocket, entirely new economic forces are being unleashed. If smartly connected, a crowd of amateurs can be as good as the average solo professional. If smartly connected, the benefits of existing products can be unbundled and remixed in unexpected and delightful ways. If smartly connected, products melt into services that can be accessed continuously. If smartly connected, accessing is the default. Accessing is not very different from renting. In a rent relationship the renter enjoys many of the benefits of ownership, but without the need for an expensive capital purchase or upkeep. Of course, renters are disadvantaged as well because they may not gain all the benefits of traditional ownership, such as rights of modification, long-term access, or gains in value. The invention of renting was not far behind the invention of property,1707

The downside to the traditional rental business is the “rival” nature of physical goods. Rival means that there is a zero-sum game; only one rival prevails. If I am renting your boat, no one else can. If I rent a bag to you, I cannot rent the same bag to another. In order to grow a rental business of physical things, the owner has to keep buying more boats or bags. But, of course, intangible goods and services don’t work this way. They are “nonrival,” which means you can rent the same movie to as many people who want to rent it this hour. Sharing intangibles scales magnificently. This ability to share on a large scale without diminishing the satisfaction of the individual renter is transformative. The total cost of use drops precipitously (shared by millions instead of one). Suddenly, consumer ownership is not so important. Why own when you get the same real-time utility from renting, leasing, licensing, sharing? For better or worse, our lives are accelerating, and the only speed fast enough is instant. The speed of electrons will be the speed of the future. Deliberate vacations from this speed will remain a choice, but on average communication technology is biased toward moving everything to on demand. And on demand is biased toward access over ownership.1723

For transactions that require a high degree of trust between strangers, such as real estate escrows and mortgage contracts, this validation was previously provided by a professional broker. But instead of paying a traditional title company a lot of money to verify a complex transaction such as a house sale, an online peer-to-peer blockchain system can execute the exchange for much less cost, or maybe for free. Some blockchain enthusiasts propose creating tools that perform a complicated cascade of transactions that depend on verification (like an import/export deal) using only decentralized automated blockchain technology, thereby disrupting many industries that rely on brokers. Whether Bitcoin itself succeeds, its blockchain innovation, which can generate extremely high levels of trust among strangers, will further decentralize institutions and industries. An important aspect of the blockchain is that it is a public commons. No one really owns it because, well, everyone owns it. As a creation becomes digital, it tends to become shared; as it becomes shared, it also becomes ownerless. When everyone “owns” it, nobody owns it. That is often what we mean by public property or the commons. I use roads that I don’t own. I have immediate access to 99 percent of the roads and highways of the world (with a few exceptions) because they are a public commons.1770

The roads of the world serve me as if I owned them. Even better than if I owned them, since I am not in charge of maintaining them. The bulk of public infrastructure offers the same “better than owning” benefits. The decentralized web/internet is now the central public commons. The good of the web serves me as if I owned it, yet I need to do very little to maintain it. I can summon it anytime, with the snap of a finger. I enjoy the full benefits of its amazing work—answering questions like a genius, navigating like a wizard, entertaining like a pro—without the burdens of ownership, simply by accessing it. (I pay its taxes with my subscriptions for internet access.) The more our society decentralizes, the more important accessing becomes.1780

A platform is a foundation created by a firm that lets other firms build products and services upon it. It is neither market nor firm, but something new. A platform, like a department store, offers stuff it did not create. One of the first widely successful platforms was Microsoft’s operating system (OS). Anyone with ambition could build and sell a software program that ran on the OS that Microsoft owned. Many did. Some, like the first spreadsheet, Lotus 1–2–3, prospered tremendously and became mini platforms themselves, birthing plug-ins and other third-party derivatives for their product. Levels of highly interdependent products and services form an “ecosystem” that rests upon the platform. “Ecosystem” is a good description because, just as in a forest, the success of one species (product) depends on the success of others.1790

Used-book vendors compete with one another and with the publishers. The platform’s job is to make sure it makes money (and adds value!) whether the parts cooperate or compete. Which Amazon does well.1815

At almost every level of a platform, sharing is the default—even if it is just the rules of competition. Your success hinges on the success of others. Maintaining the idea of ownership within a platform becomes problematic, because it rests on notions of “private property”; but neither “private” nor “property” has great meaning in an ecosystem. As more is shared, less will act like property. It is not a coincidence that less privacy (constant sharing of intimate lives) and more piracy (disregard of intellectual property) are both breeding on platforms. However, the move from ownership to access has a price. Part of what you own with ownership is the right—and ability—to modify or control the use of your property. That right of modification is sorely missing in many of today’s popular digital platforms. Their standard terms of service forbid it. You are legally restricted as to what you can do with the stuff you access versus what you buy.1816

warranties.) But the right and ability to modify and control are present in open source platforms and tools such as the Linux OS or the popular Arduino hardware platform, which is part of their great attraction. The ability and right to improve, personalize, or appropriate what is shared will be a key question in the next iteration of platforms. Dematerialization and decentralization and massive communication all lead to more platforms. Platforms are factories for services; services favor access over ownership.


The movies, music, books, and games that you access all live on clouds. A cloud is a colony of millions of computers that are braided together seamlessly to act as a single large computer. The bulk of what you do on the web and phone today is done on cloud computing.1824

Suppose suddenly an asteroid smashed one tenth of the machines that made up the cloud. You might not notice any interruption in the movie because the movie file did not reside in any particular machine but was distributed in a redundant pattern across many processors in such a way that the cloud can reconfigure itself if any of those units fail. It’s almost like organic healing. The web is hyperlinked documents; the cloud is hyperlinked data. Ultimately the chief reason to put things onto the cloud is to share their data deeply. Woven together, the bits are made much smarter and more powerful than they could possibly be alone. There is no single architecture for clouds, so their traits are still rapidly evolving. But in general they are huge. They are so large that the substrate of one cloud can encompass multiple football field–size warehouses full of computers located in scores of cities thousands of miles apart. Clouds are also elastic, meaning they can be enlarged or shrunk almost in real time by adding or dropping computers to their networkAnd because of their inherent redundant and distributed nature, clouds are among the most reliable machines in existence. They can provide the famous five nines (99.999 percent) of near perfect service performance. A central advantage of a cloud is that the bigger it gets, the smaller and thinner our devices can be. The cloud does all the work, while the device we hold is just the window into the cloud’s work.1832

We keep coming back to clouds because they are more reliable than we are. They are certainly more reliable than other kinds of machines. My very stable Mac freezes or needs to be rebooted once a month. But Google’s cloud platform was down only 14 minutes in 2014, a near insignificant outage for the immense amount of traffic served. The cloud is the Backup. Our life’s backup. All business and much of society today run on computers. Clouds offer computation with astounding reliability, fast speed, expandable depth, and no burdens of maintenance for users. Anyone who owns a computer recognizes those burdens: They take up space, need constant expert attention, and go obsolete instantly. Who would want to own their computer? The answer increasingly is no one. No more than you want to own an electric station, rather than buy electricity from the grid. Clouds enable organizations to access the benefits of computers without the hassle of possession. Expandable cloud computing at discount prices has made it a hundred times easier for a young technology company to start up. Instead of building their own complex computing infrastructure, they subscribe to a cloud’s infrastructure. In industry terms, this is infrastructure as service. Computers as service instead of computers as product: access instead of ownership. Gaining cheap access to the best infrastructure by operating on the cloud is a chief reason so many young companies have exploded out of Silicon Valley in the last decade. As they grow fast, they access more of what they don’t own. Scaling up with success is easy. The cloud companies welcome this growth and dependence, because the more that people use the cloud and share in accessing their services, the smarter and more powerful their service becomes. There are practical limits to how gigantic one company’s cloud can get, so the next step in the rise of clouds over the coming decades will be toward merging the clouds into one intercloud. Just as the internet is the network of networks, the intercloud is the cloud of clouds. Slowly but surely Amazon’s cloud and Google’s cloud and Facebook’s cloud and all the other enterprise clouds are intertwining into one massive cloud that acts as a single cloud—The Cloud—to the average user or company. A counterforce resisting this merger is that an intercloud requires commercial clouds to share their data (a cloud is a network of linked data), and right now data tends to be hoarded like gold. Data hoards are seen as a competitive advantage, and sharing data freely is hampered by laws, so it will be many years (decades?) before companies learn how to share their data creatively, productively, and responsibly. There is one final step in the inexorable march toward decentralized access. At the same time we are moving to an intercloud we will also move toward one that is fully decentralized and peer to peer. While the enormous clouds of Amazon, Facebook, and Google are distributed, they are not decentralized. The machines are run by enormous companies, not by a funky network of computers run by your funky peers. But there are ways to make clouds that run on decentralized hardware. We know a decentralized cloud can work, because one did during the student protests in Hong Kong in 2014. To escape the obsessive surveillance the Chinese government pours on its citizens’ communications, the Hong Kong students devised a way to communicate without sending their messages to a central cell phone tower or through the company servers of Weibo (the Chinese Twitter) or WeChat (their Facebook) or email. Instead they loaded a tiny app onto their phones called FireChat. Two FireChat-enabled phones could speak to each other directly, via wifi radio, without jumping up to a cell tower. More important, either of the two phones could forward a message to a third FireChat-enabled phone. Keep adding FireChat’d phones and you soon have a full network of phones without towers. Messages that are not meant for one phone are relayed to another phone until they reach their intended...1871

Do you own your own thoughts, or are you merely accessing them? All these questions apply not only to clouds and meshes but to all decentralized systems.  • • •  In the coming 30 years the tendency toward the dematerialized, the decentralized, the simultaneous, the platform enabled, and the cloud will continue unabated. As long as the costs of communications and computation drop due to advances in technology, these trends are inevitable. They are the result of networks of communication expanding till they are global and ubiquitous, and as the networks deepen they gradually displace matter with intelligence. This grand shift will be true no matter where in the world (whether the United States, China, or Timbuktu) they take place. The underlying mathematics and physics remain. As we increase dematerialization, decentralization, simultaneity, platforms, and the cloud—as we increase all those at once, access will continue to displace ownership. For most things in daily life, accessing will trump owning.1913  It is the farmer who needs a barn for his accumulation. The digital native is free to race ahead and explore the unknown. Accessing rather than owning keeps me agile and fresh, ready for whatever is next.1955

Wikis are a set of documents that are collaboratively produced; their text can easily be created, added, edited, or altered by anyone, and by everyone. Different wiki engines operate on different platforms and OSs with various formatting abilities. Ward Cunningham, who invented the first collaborative web page in 1994, tracks nearly 150 wiki engines today, each powering myriad sites. Widespread adoption of the share-friendly copyright license known as Creative Commons encourages people to legally allow their own images, text, or music to be used and improved by others without the need for additional permission. In other words,

Sharing and sampling content is the new default. There were more than one billion instances of Creative Commons permissions in use in 2015. The rise of ubiquitous file sharing sites such as Tor, where one can find a copy of almost anything that can be copied, is another step toward collaboration since it makes it very easy to begin your creation with something already created. Collaborative commenting sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest, and Tumblr enable hundreds of millions of ordinary folks to find photos, images, news items, and ideas drawn from professional and friends’ sources, and then collectively rank them, rate them, share them, forward them, annotate them, and curate them into streams or collections. These sites act as collaborative filters, promoting the best stuff at the moment. Nearly every day another startup proudly heralds a new way to harness community action. These developments suggest a steady move toward a sort of digital “social-ism” uniquely tuned for a networked world.1965   However, unlike those older strains of red-flag socialism, this new digital socialism runs over a borderless internet, via network communications, generating intangible services throughout a tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It is decentralization extreme. Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing picks and shovels, we share scripts and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless meritocracies where the only thing that matters is getting things done. Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of free government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free commercial goods and services.1986

When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that new socialism. What they have in common is the verb “to share.” In fact, some futurists have called this economic aspect of the new socialism the “sharing economy” because the primary currency in this realm is sharing.  • • •  In the late 1990s, activist, provocateur, and aging hippy John Perry Barlow began calling this drift, somewhat tongue in cheek, “dot-communism.” He defined dot-communism as a “workforce composed entirely of free agents,” a decentralized gift or barter economy without money where there is no ownership of property and where technological architecture defines the political space.1998

In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, media theorist Clay Shirky suggests a useful hierarchy for sorting through these new social arrangements, ranked by the increasing degree of coordination employed. Groups of people start off simply sharing with a minimum of coordination, and then progress to cooperation, then to collaboration, and finally to collectivism. At each step of this socialism, the amount of additional coordination required enlarges. A survey of the online landscape reveals ample evidence of this phenomenon.2010

Sharing is the mildest form of digital socialism, but this verb serves as the foundation for all the higher levels of communal engagement. It is the elemental ingredient of the entire network world.

  1. Cooperation When individuals work together toward a large-scale goal, it produces results that emerge at the group level. Not only have amateurs shared billions of photos on Flickr and Tumblr, but they have tagged them with categories, labels, and keywords. Others in the community cull the pictures into sets and boards.2020 That means I can make a presentation, a report, a scrapbook, a website much better because I am not working alone. Thousands of aggregator sites employ a similar social dynamic for threefold benefit. First, social-facing technology aids a site’s users directly by letting them individually tag, bookmark, rank, and archive a found item for their own use. Community members can manage and curate their own collections easier.2026

In a curious way, this proposition exceeds the socialist promise of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” because it betters what you contribute and delivers more than you need.2036 (if coordinated well enough!)

That is the whole point of social institutions: The sum outperforms the parts. Traditional socialism ramped up this dynamic via the nation-state. Now digital sharing is decoupled from government and operates at an international scale.

  1. Collaboration Organized collaboration can produce results beyond the achievements of ad hoc cooperation. Just look at any of hundreds of open source software projects, such as the Linux operating system, which underpins most web servers and most smartphones. In these endeavors, finely tuned communal tools generate high-quality products from the coordinated work of thousands or tens of thousands of members. In contrast to the previous category of casual cooperation, collaboration on large, complex projects tends to bring the participants only indirect benefits, since each member of the group interacts with only a small part of the end product. An enthusiast may spend months writing code for a subroutine when the program’s full utility is several years away. In fact, the work-reward ratio is so out of kilter from a free-market perspective—the workers do immense amounts of high-market-value work without being paid—that these collaborative efforts make no sense within capitalism. Adding to the economic dissonance, we’ve become accustomed to enjoying the products of these collaborations free of charge. Half of all web pages in the world today are hosted on more than 35 million servers running free Apache software, which is open source, community created. A free clearinghouse called 3D Warehouse offers several million complex 3-D models of any form you can image (a boot to a bridge), created and freely swapped by very skilled enthusiasts. Nearly 1 million community-designed Arduinos and 6 million Raspberry Pi computers have been built by schools and hobbyists. Their designs are encouraged to be copied freely and used as the basis for new products. Instead of money, the peer producers who create these products and services gain credit, status, reputation, enjoyment, satisfaction, and experience. Of course, there’s nothing particularly new about collaboration per se. But the new tools of online collaboration support a communal style of production that can shun capitalistic investors and keep ownership in the hands of the producers, who are often the consumers as well.
  2. Collectivism Most people in the West, including myself, were indoctrinated with the notion that extending the power of individuals necessarily diminishes the power of the state, and vice versa. In practice, though, most polities socialize some resources and individualize others. Most free-market national economies have socialized education and policing, while even the most extremely socialized societies today allow some private property. The mix varies around the world. Rather than viewing technological socialism as one side of a zero-sum trade-off between free-market individualism and centralized authority, technological sharing can be seen as a new political operating system that elevates both the individual and the group at once. The largely unarticulated but intuitively understood goal of sharing technology is this: to maximize both the autonomy of the individual and the power of people working together.2041

Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, who has probably thought more about the politics of networks than anyone else. “I see the emergence of social production and peer production as an alternative to both state-based and market-based closed, proprietary systems,” he writes, noting that these activities “can enhance creativity, productivity, and freedom.”2067

Black Duck Open Hub, which tracks the open source industry, lists roughly 650,000 people working on more than half a million projects. That total is three times the size of the General Motors workforce. That is an awful lot of people working for free, even if they’re not full-time. Imagine if all the employees of GM weren’t paid, yet continued to produce automobiles! So far, the biggest online collaboration efforts are open source projects, and the largest of them, such as Apache, manage several hundred contributors—about the size of a village. One study estimates that 60,000 person-years of work have poured into the release of Fedora Linux 9, so we have proof that self-assembly and the dynamics of sharing can govern a project on the scale of a town. Of course, the total census of participants in online collective work is far greater. Reddit, the collaborative filtering site, has 170 million unique visitors per month and 10,000 daily active communities. YouTube claims 1 billion monthly users; they are the workforce that produces the videos that now compete with TV. Nearly 25 million registered users have contributed to Wikipedia; 130,000 of them are designated active. More than 300 million active users have posted on Instagram, and more than 700 million groups participate in Facebook Groups each month.2077

A billion people spend a lot of their day creating content for free. They report on events around them, summarize stories, add opinions, create graphics, make up jokes, post cool photos, and craft videos. They are “paid” in the value of the communication and relations that emerge from 1.4 billion connected verifiable individuals. They are paid by being allowed to stay on the commune.2091

The most common motivation for working without pay (according to a survey of 2,784 open source developers) was “to learn and develop new skills.” One academic put it this way (paraphrasing): “The major reason for working on free stuff is to improve my own damn software.” Basically, overt politics is not practical enough. The internet is less a creation dictated by economics than one dictated by sharing gifts. However, citizens may not be immune to the politics of a rising tide of sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism. The more we benefit from such collaboration, the more open we become to socialized institutions in government. The coercive, soul-smashing system that controls North Korea is dead (outside of North Korea); the future is a hybrid that takes cues from both Wikipedia and the moderate socialism of, say, Sweden. There will be a severe backlash against this drift from the usual suspects, but increased sharing is inevitable. There is an honest argument over what to call it, but the technologies of sharing have only begun. On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10. There is a whole list of subjects that experts once believed we modern humans would not share—our finances, our health challenges, our sex lives, our innermost fears—but it turns out that with the right technology and the right benefits in the right conditions, we’ll share everything. How close to a noncapitalistic, open source, peer-production society can this movement take us? Every time that question has been asked, the answer has been: closer than we thought. Consider Craigslist. Just classified ads, right? Craigslist is far more than that. It amplified the handy community swap board until it reached a regional audience, then enhanced the ads with pictures. It let the customers do all the work of inputting their own ads and, more important, kept the ads in real time with real-time updates, and to top it off it made them free. National classifieds for free! How could debt-laden corporate newspapers compete with that? Operating without state funding or control, connecting citizens directly to citizens, globally, daily, this mostly free marketplace achieved social good at an efficiency (at its peak it had only 30 employees) that would stagger any government or traditional corporation. Sure, peer-to-peer classified undermines the business model of newspapers, but at the same time it makes an indisputable case that the sharing model is a viable alternative to both profit-seeking corporations and tax-supported civic institutions.2096

PatientsLikeMe, where patients pool results of treatments to better their own care, proves that collective action can trump both doctors and privacy scares. The increasingly common habit of sharing what you’re thinking (Twitter), what you’re reading (StumbleUpon), your finances (Motley Fool Caps), your everything (Facebook) is becoming a foundation of our culture. Doing it while collaboratively building encyclopedias, news agencies, video archives, and software in groups that span continents, with people you don’t know and whose class is irrelevant—that makes political socialism seem like the logical next step. A similar thing happened with free markets over the past century. Every day someone asked: What can markets do better? We took a long list of problems that seemed to require rational planning or paternal government and instead applied marketplace logic. For instance, governments traditionally managed communications, particularly scarce radio airways. But auctioning off the communication spectrum in a marketplace radically increased the optimization of bandwidth and accelerated innovation and new businesses. Instead of a government monopoly distributing mail, let market players like DHL, FedEx, and UPS try it as well. In many cases, a modified market solution worked significantly better. Much of the prosperity in recent decades was gained by unleashing market forces on social problems. Now we’re trying the same trick with collaborative social technology: applying digital socialism to a growing list of desires—and occasionally to problems that the free market couldn’t solve—to see if it works. So far, the results have been startling. We’ve had success in using collaborative technology in bringing health care to the poorest, developing free college textbooks, and funding drugs for uncommon diseases. At nearly every turn, the power of sharing, cooperation, collaboration, openness, free pricing, and transparency has proven to be more practical than we capitalists thought possible. Each time we try it, we find that the power of the sharing is bigger than we imagined.2115

The bottom alone is not enough for what we really want. We need a bit of top-down as well. Every predominantly bottom-up organization that lasts for more than a few years does so because it becomes a hybrid of bottom up plus some top down. I came to that conclusion through personal experience. I was a co–founding editor of Wired magazine. Editors perform a top-down function—we select, prune, solicit, shape, and guide the results of writers… Rheingold believed that Wired would get further faster by unleashing people with strong voices, lots of passion, and the willingness to write without any editors to thwart them. Today we’d call those contributors “bloggers.” Or tweeters. In this sense Rheingold was right. The entire content that fuels Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media sites is created by users without editors. A billion amateur citizens unleash libraries of text every second. In fact, the average person online today writes more words in a year than many professional writers of the past. This torrent is unedited, unmanaged, completely bottom up. And the attention given to this immense corpus of prosumer content is significant—it was sold to advertisers for $24 billion in 2015. I was on the other side of this revolt. My counterargument at the time was that the work of most unedited amateurs was simply not that interesting or consistently reliable.2152

The need for some top-down selection would only increase in value as the amount of user-generated content expanded. Over time, the companies that served user-generated content would have to start to layer bits of editing, selection, and curation to their ocean of material in order to maintain quality and attention to it. There had to be something else beside the pure anarchy of the bottom. This is true for other types of editors as well. Editors are the middle people—or what are called “curators” today—the professionals between a creator and the audience.2181

Fast Company signed up 2,000 blogging readers to report articles sans editors, but closed the experiment after a year and now relies again on readers to suggest ideas for editors to assign. This hybrid of user-generated and editor-enhanced is quite common.2192

Wikipedia’s open-to-anyone process contains an elite in the back room. The more articles someone edits, the more likely their edits will endure and not be undone, which means that over time veteran editors find it easier to make edits that stick, which means that the process favors those few editors who devote lots of time over many years. These persistent old hands act as a type of management, supplying a thin layer of editorial judgment and continuity to this open ad hocracy. In fact, this relatively small group of self-appointed editors is why Wikipedia continues to work and grow into its third decade. When a community cooperates to write an encyclopedia, as it does in Wikipedia, no one is held responsible if it fails to reach consensus on an article. That gap is simply an imperfection that may or may not get fixed in time. These failures don’t endanger the enterprise as a whole. The aim of a collective, on the other hand, is to engineer a system where self-directed peers take responsibility for critical processes and where difficult decisions, such as sorting out priorities, are decided by all participants. Throughout history, countless small-scale collectivist groups have tried this decentralized operating mode in which the executive function is not held at the top. The results have not been encouraging; very few communes have lasted longer than a few years. Indeed, a close examination of the governing kernel of, say, Wikipedia, Linux, or OpenOffice shows that these efforts are a bit further from the collectivist nirvana than appears from the outside. While millions of writers contribute to Wikipedia, a smaller number of editors (around 1,500) are responsible for the majority of the editing. Ditto for collectives that write code. A vast army of contributions is managed by a much smaller group of coordinators. As Mitch Kapor, founding chair of the Mozilla open source code factory, observed, “Inside every working anarchy, there’s an old-boy network.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some types of collectives benefit from a small degree of hierarchy while others are hurt by it. Platforms like the internet, Facebook, or democracy are intended to serve as an arena for producing goods and delivering services. These infrastructural courtyards benefit from being as nonhierarchical as possible, minimizing barriers to entry and distributing rights and responsibilities equally. When powerful actors dominate in these systems, the entire fabric suffers. On the other hand, organizations built to create products rather than platforms often need strong leaders and hierarchies arranged around timescales: Lower-level work focuses on hourly needs; the next level on jobs that need to be done today. Higher levels focus on weekly or monthly chores, and levels above (often in the CEO suite) need to look out ahead at the next five years. The dream of many companies is to graduate from making products to creating a platform. But when they do succeed (like Facebook), they are often not ready for the required transformation in their role; they have to act more like governments than companies in keeping opportunities “flat” and equitable, and hierarchy to a minimum. In the past, constructing an organization that exploited hierarchy yet maximized collectivism was nearly impossible. The costs of managing so many transactions was too dear. Now digital networking provides the necessary peer-to-peer communication cheap. The net enables a product-focused organization to function collectively by keeping its hierarchy from fully taking over. For instance, the organization behind MySQL, an open source database, is not without some hierarchy, but it is far more collectivist than, say, the giant database corporation Oracle. Likewise, Wikipedia is not exactly a bastion of equality, but it is vastly more collectivist than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The new collectives are hybrid organizations, but leaning far more to the nonhierarchical side than most traditional enterprises. It’s taken a while but we’ve learned that while top…2196

Given enough time, decentralized connected dumb things can become smarter than we think. Second, even though a purely decentralized power won’t take us all the way, it is almost always the best way to start. It’s fast, cheap, and out of control. The barriers to start a new crowd-powered service are low and getting lower. A hive mind scales up wonderfully smoothly. That is why there were 9,000 startups in 2015 trying to exploit the sharing power of decentralized peer-to-peer networks.2246

We live in a golden age now. The volume of creative work in the next decade will dwarf the volume of the last 50 years. More artists, authors, and musicians are working than ever before, and they are creating significantly more books, songs, films, documentaries, photographs, artworks, operas, and albums every year. Books have never been cheaper, and more available, than today. Ditto for music, movies, games, and every kind of creative content that can be digitally copied. The volume and variety of creative works available have skyrocketed. More and more of civilization’s past works—in all languages—are no longer hidden in rare-book rooms or locked up in archives, but are available a click away no matter where you live. The technologies of recommendation and search have made it super easy to locate the most obscure work. If you want 6,000-year-old Babylonian chants accompanied by the lyre, there they are. At the same time, digital creation tools have become so ubiquitous that it requires very few resources, or special skills, to produce a book, or a song, or a game, or even a video. Just to prove a point, recently an ad agency shot a very slick TV commercial using smartphones. Legendary painter David Hockney created a popular set of paintings using an iPad. Famous musicians use off-the-shelf hundred-dollar keyboards to record hit songs. More than a dozen unknown authors together have sold millions of self-published ebooks, using nothing more than a dirt-cheap laptop. Speedy global interconnection has produced the largest mass audience yet.2252

The digital age is the age of non-bestsellers—the underappreciated, the forgotten. Because of sharing technologies, the most obscure interest is no longer obscure; it is one click away. The fast-flowing penetration of the internet into all households, and recently into all pockets via a phone, has put an end to the domination of the mass audience. Most of the time, for most creations, it’s a world of niche fulfillment.2266

By far the most potent future role for crowdsharing is in fan base equity. Rather than invest into a product, supporters invest into a company. The idea is to allow fans of a company to purchase shares in the company. This is exactly what you do when you buy shares of stock on the stock market. You are part of a crowdsourced ownership. Each of your shares is some tiny fraction of the whole enterprise, and the collected money raised by public shares is used to grow the business. Ideally, the company is raising money from its own customers, although in reality big pension and hedge funds are the bulk buyers. Heavy regulation and intense government oversight of public companies offer some guarantee to the average stock buyer, making it so anyone with a bank account can buy stock. But risky startups, solo creators, crazy artists, or a duo in their garage would not withstand the kind of paperwork and layers of financial bureaucracy ordinarily applied to public companies. Every year a precious few well-funded companies will attempt an initial public offering (IPO), but only after highly paid lawyers and accountants scour the business in an expensive due diligence scrub. An open peer-to-peer scheme that enabled anyone to offer to the public ownership shares in their company (with some regulation) would revolutionize business. Just as we have seen tens of thousands of new products that would not have existed except by crowdfunding techniques, the new methods of equity sharing would unleash tens of thousands of innovative businesses that could not be born otherwise. The sharing economy would now include ownership sharing. The advantages are obvious. If you have an idea, you can seek investment from anyone else who sees the same potential as you do. You don’t need the permission of bankers, or the rich. If you work hard and succeed, your backers will prosper with you.2297

The disadvantages are obvious as well. Without some kind of vetting, policing, and enforcement, peer-to-peer investing would be a magnet for huskers and scams.2312

The dangers of equity crowdsharing can be minimized with technical innovations such as insurance pools, escrow accounts, and other types of technologically induced trust. Two early attempts at equity crowdfunding in the U.S., SeedInvest and FundersClub, still rely on rich “qualified investors” and are awaiting a change in U.S. law that would legalize equity crowdfunding for ordinary citizens in early 2016. Why stop there? Who would have believed that poor farmers could secure $100 loans shared from perfect strangers on the other side of the planet—and pay them back? That is what Kiva does with peer-to-peer lending. Several decades ago international banks discovered they had better repayment rates when they lent small amounts to the poor than when they lent big amounts to rich state governments. It was safer to lend money to the peasants in Bolivia than to the government of Bolivia. This microfinancing of a few hundred dollars applied many tens of thousands of times would also jump-start a developing economy from the bottom. Loan a poor woman $95 to buy supplies to launch a street food cart and the benefits of her stable income would ripple up through her children, the local economy, and quickly build a base for more complex startups. It was the most efficient development strategy invented yet. Kiva took the next step in sharing and turned microfinancing into peer-to-peer lending by enabling anyone, anywhere to make a microfinance loan.2315

Since Kiva’s launch in 2005, over 2 million people have lent more than $725 million in microfinance loans via its sharing platform. The payback rate is about 99 percent. That is a strong encouragement to lend again. If that works in developing countries with Kiva, why not install peer-to-peer lending in developed countries? Two web-based companies, Prosper and Lending Club, do that. They match up ordinary middle-class citizen borrowers with ordinary citizen lenders willing to loan their scheme at a decent interest rate. As of 2015, these two largest peer-to-peer lending companies have facilitated more than 200,000 loans worth more than $10 billion.2327

Quirky. Anyone could submit online an idea for a great new GE product. Once a week, the GE staff voted on the best idea that week and would set to work making it real. If an idea became a product, it would earn money for the idea maker. To date GE has launched over 400 new products from this crowdsourced method. One example is the Egg Minder, an egg holder2333

Netflix announced an award of $1 million to the programmers who could invent an algorithm that recommended movies 10 percent better than the algorithm they had. Forty thousand groups submitted very good solutions that improved the performance, but only one team achieved the goal and won the prize. The others had worked for free. Sites such as 99Designs, TopCoder, or Threadless will run a contest for you. Say you need a logo. You offer a fee for the best design. The higher your fee, the more designers will participate. Out of the hundred design sketches submitted, you pick the one you like best and pay its designer. But the open platform means that everyone’s work is on view, so each contestant is building upon the creativity of others and trying to outperform them. From the client’s point of view, the crowd has generated a design that is probably way better than the one they could have got from just one designer in that price category. Can a crowd make a car? Yep. Local Motors, based in Phoenix, employs an open source method to design and manufacture low-volume customized performance (fast) cars. A community of 150,000 car fanatics submitted plans for each of the thousands of parts needed for a rally car. Some were new off-the-shelf parts hijacked from other existing cars, some were custom-designed parts made in several microfactories around the U.S., and some were parts designed to be 3-D printed in any shop. The newest car from Local Motors is a fully 3-D-printed electric car, also designed and manufactured by the community.2339

Our group is collectively owned and managed not by investors, nor by stockholders, but by 1,200 engineers. I earn money for my engineering tweaks. I recently designed a way to improve the efficiency of the flywheel for a regenerative brake on an electric car. If my design is used in the final manufacturing, I get a payment. In fact, anywhere my design is used, even if it is copied for a different car or another purpose, payments still flow back to me automatically. The better the car sells, the higher my micropayments. I’m happy if my work goes viral. The more it is shared, the better. It’s the same way photography now works. When I post a photo onto the net, my credentials are encrypted inside the photo image so that the web tracks it and the account of anyone who reposts the photos will pay me a very miniscule micropayment. No matter how many times the picture may be recopied, the credit comes back to me. Compared with last century, it’s really easy to make, say, an instructional video now because you can assemble the available parts (images, scenes, even layouts) from other excellent creators, and the micropayments for their work automatically flow back to them as a default. The electric car we are making will be crowdsourced, but unlike decades earlier, every engineer who contributes to the car, no matter how small her contribution, gets paid proportionally.2362

Try to give my favorite co-ops a lot of time not because they pay more, but because I really enjoy working with the best folks—even though we’ve never met in real life. It is actually hard sometimes to get your work accepted into a high-quality co-op. Your previous contributions—all trackable on the web, of course—have to be really top-notch. They prefer active agents who are contributing to several projects over the years, with multiple streams of automatic payments, as a sign you work well in this sharing economy. When I am not contributing, I play in a maxed-out virtual world. This world is entirely built by the users—and controlled by them too.2373

The game world’s policies and budget are decided by electronic votes, line by line, facilitated with lots of explaining, tutorials, and even AI. Now over 250 million people want to know why they can’t vote on their national budgets that way too. In a weirdly recursive way, people create teams and co-ops within the Greater World to make stuff in the real world. They find that the tools for collaboration improve quicker in the virtual spaces. I’m contributing to a hackathon that is engineering a collaboratively designed and crowdfunded2388

Just about every high-tech co-op is contributing resources, even man-hours, because they long ago realized the best and newest tools are invented during massively collaborative endeavors like these. For decades we have been sharing our outputs—our stream of photos, video clips, and well-crafted tweets. In essence, we have been sharing our successes. But only in the last decade did we realize that we learn faster and do better work when we share our failures as well. So in all the collabs I work with, we keep and share all the email, all the chat logs, all correspondence, all intermediate versions, all drafts of everything we do. The entire history is open. We share the process, not just the end product. All the half-baked ideas, dead ends, flops, and redos are actually valuable for both myself and for others hoping to do better. With the entire process out in the open it is harder to fool yourself and easier to see what went right, if it did. Even science has picked up on this idea. When an experiment does not work, scientists are required to share their negative results. I have learned that in collaborative work when you share earlier in the process, the learning and successes come earlier as well. These days I live constantly connected. The bulk of what I share, and what is shared with me, is incremental—constant microupdates, tiny improved versions, minor tweaks—but those steady steps forward feed me. There is no turning the sharing off for2393


There has never been a better time to be a reader, a watcher, a listener, or a participant in human expression. An exhilarating avalanche of new stuff is created every year.2405

There are three times as many people alive today as when I was born (1952). Another billion are due in the next 10 years. An increasing proportion of those extra 5 billion to 6 billion people since my birth have been liberated by the surplus and leisure of modern development to generate new ideas, create new art, make new things. It is 10 times easier today to make a simple video than 10 years ago. It is a hundred times easier to create a small mechanical part and make it real than a century ago. It is a thousand times easier today to write and publish a book than a thousand years ago.2420

The vastness of the Library of Everything quickly overwhelms the very narrow ruts of our own consuming habits. We’ll need help to navigate through its wilds. Life is short, and there are too many books to read. Someone, or something, has to choose, or whisper in our ear to help us decide. We need a way to triage. Our only choice is to get assistance in making choices. We employ all manner of filtering to winnow the bewildering spread of options. Many of these filters are traditional and still serve well: We filter by gatekeepers: Authorities, parents, priests, and teachers shield the bad and selectively pass on “the good stuff.” We filter by intermediates: Sky2428

We filter by curators: Retail stores don’t carry everything, museums don’t show everything, public libraries don’t buy every book. All these curators select their wares and act as filters. We filter by brands: Faced with a shelf of similar goods, the first-time buyer retreats to a familiar brand because it is a low-effort way to reduce the risk of the purchase. Brands filter through the clutter. We filter by government: Taboos are prohibited. Hate speech or criticism of leaders or of religion is removed. Nationalistic matters are promoted. We filter by our cultural environment: Children are fed different messages, different content, different choices depending on the expectations of the schools, family, and society around them. We filter by our friends: Peers have great sway over our choices. We are very likely to choose what our friends choose. We filter by ourselves: We make choices based on our own preferences, by our own judgment. Traditionally this is the rarest filter. None of these methods disappear in the rising superabundance. But to deal with the escalation of options in the coming decades, we’ll invent many more types of filtering. What if you lived in a world where every great movie, book, and song ever produced was at your fingertips as if “for free,” and your elaborate system of filters had weeded out the crap, the trash, and anything that would remotely bore you. Forget about all the critically acclaimed creations that mean nothing to you personally. Focus instead on just the things that would truly excite you. Your only choices would be the absolute cream of the cream, the things your best friends would recommend, including a few “random” choices to keep you surprised.2437

First I’d like to be delivered more of what I know I like. This personal filter already exists. It’s called a recommendation engine. It is in wide use at Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, LinkedIn, Spotify, Beats, and Pandora, among other aggregators. Twitter uses a recommendation system to suggest who I should follow based on whom I already follow. Pandora uses a similar system to recommend what new music I’ll like based on what I already like. Over half of the connections made on LinkedIn arise from their follower recommender. Amazon’s recommendation engine is responsible for the well-known banner that “others who like this item also liked this next item.” Netflix uses the same to recommend movies for me. Clever algorithms churn through a massive history of everyone’s behavior in order to closely predict my own behavior. Their guess is partly based on my own past behavior, so Amazon’s banner should really say, “Based on your own history and the history of others similar to you, you should like this.” The suggestions are highly tuned to what I have bought and even thought about buying before (they track how long I dwell on a page deliberating, even if I don’t choose it). Computing the similarities among a billion past purchases enables their predictions to be remarkably prescient. These recommendation filters are one of my chief discovery mechanisms. I find them far more reliable, on average, than recommendations from experts or friends. In fact, so many people find these filtered recommendations useful that these kinds of “more like this” offers are responsible for a third of Amazon sales—a difference amounting to about $30 billion in 2014. They are so valuable to Netflix that it has 300 people working on its recommendation system, with a budget of $150 million. There are of course no humans involved in2463

As they mature, filtering systems will be extended to other decentralized systems beyond media, to services like Uber and Airbnb. Your personal preferences in hotel style, status, and service can easily be ported to another system in order to increase your satisfaction when you are matched to a room in Venice. Heavily cognified, incredibly smart filters can be applied to any realm with a lot of choices—which will be more and more realms. Anywhere we want personalization, filtering will follow.2519

Ubiquitous tracking, interacting, and filtering means that we can cheaply assemble a multidimensional profile of ourselves, which can guide any custom services we desire. Here is a picture of where this force is taking us. My day in the near future will entail routines like this: I have a pill-making machine in my kitchen, a bit smaller than a toaster. It stores dozens of tiny bottles inside, each containing a prescribed medicine or supplement in powdered form. Every day the machine mixes the right doses of all the powders and stuffs them all into a single personalized pill (or two), which I take. During the day my biological vitals are tracked with wearable sensors so that the effect of the medicine is measured hourly and then sent to the cloud for analysis. The next day the dosage of the medicines is adjusted based on the past 24-hour results and a new personalized pill produced. Repeat every day thereafter. This appliance, manufactured in the millions, produces mass personalized medicine.2530

Over years I have trained an in-depth profile of my behavior, which I can apply to anything I desire. My profile, like my avatar, is managed by Universal You. It knows that I like to book inexpensive hostels when I travel on vacation, but with a private bath, maximum bandwidth, and always in the oldest part of the town, except if it is near a bus station. It works with an AI to match, schedule, and reserve the best rates. It is more than a mere stored profile; rather it is an ongoing filter that is constantly adapting to wherever I have already gone, what kind of snapshots and tweets I made about past visits, and it weighs my new interests in reading and movies since books and movies are often a source for travel desires. It pays a lot of attention to the travels of my best friends and their friends, and from that large pool of data often suggests specific restaurants and hostels to visit. I generally am delighted by its recommendations. Because my friends let Universal You track their shopping, eating out, club attendance, movie streaming, news screening, exercise routines, and weekend excursions, it can make very detailed recommendations for me—with minimal effort on their part. When I wake in the morning, Universal filters through my update stream to deliver the most vital news of the type I like in the morning. It filters based on the kinds of things I usually forward to others, or bookmark, or reply to. In my cupboard I find a new kind of cereal with saturated nutrition that my friends are trying this week, so Universal ordered it for me yesterday. It’s not bad. My car service notices where the traffic jams are this morning, so it schedules my car later than normal and it will try an unconventional route to the place I’ll work today, based on several colleagues’ commutes earlier. I never know for sure where my office will be since our startup meets in whatever coworking space is available that day. My personal device turns the space’s screens into my screen. My work during the day entails tweaking several AIs that match doctoring and health styles with clients. My job is to help the AIs understand some of the outlier cases (such as folks with faith-healing tendencies) in order to increase the effectiveness of the AIs’ diagnoses and recommendations.2544

My mix is so popular that I’m earning some money from Universal—well, at least enough to pay for all my subscriptions.  • • •  We are still at the early stages in how and what we filter. These powerful computational technologies can be—and will be—applied to the internet of everything. The most trivial product or service could be personalized if we wanted it (but many times we won’t). In the next 30 years the entire cloud will be filtered, elevating the degree of personalization. Yet every filter throws something good away. Filtering is a type of censoring, and vice versa. Governments can implement nationwide filters to remove unwanted political ideas and restrict speech.2564

Each day wider filters are needed to access this abundance at human scale. There is no retreat from more filtering. The inadequacies of a filter cannot be remedied by eliminating filters. The inadequacies of a filter can be remedied only by applying countervailing filters upon it. From the human point of view, a filter focuses content. But seen in reverse, from the content point of view, a filter focuses human attention. The more content expands, the more focused that attention needs to become.2574

Yet for being so precious, our attention is relatively inexpensive. It is cheap, in part, because we have to give it away each day. We can’t save it up or hoard it. We have to spend it second by second, in real time.2584

When I adjusted for inflation and translated into 2015 dollars, the average cost to consume one hour of media in 1995, 2010, and 2015 is respectively $3.08, $2.69, and $3.37. That means that the value of our attention has been remarkably stable over 20 years. It seems we have some intuitive sense of what a media experience “should” cost, and we don’t stray much from that. It also means that companies making money from our attention (such as many high-profile tech companies) are earning only an average of $3 per hour of attention—if they include high-quality content. In the coming two decades the challenge and opportunity is to harness filtering technologies to cultivate higher quality attention at scale. Today, the bulk of the internet economy is fueled by trillions of hours of low-grade commodity attention. A single hour by itself is not worth much, but en masse it can move mountains. Commodity attention is like a wind or an ocean tide: a diffuse force that must be captured with large instruments.2610

The brilliance behind Google, Facebook, and other internet platforms’ immense prosperity is a massive infrastructure that filters this commodity attention. Platforms use serious computational power to match the expanding universe of advertisers to the expanding universe of consumers. Their AIs seek the optimal ad at the optimal time in the optimal place and the optimal frequency with the optimal way to respond. While this is sometimes termed personalized advertising, it is in fact far more complex than just targeting ads to individuals. It represents an ecosystem of filterings, which have consequences beyond just advertising.2618

There are websites today that feature only movie trailers or great commercials, but they don’t earn anything from the sources for hosting them. Soon enough they will. This arrangement completely reverses the power of the established ad industry. Like Uber and other decentralized systems, it takes what was once a highly refined job performed by a few professionals and spreads it across a peer-to-peer network of amateurs.2691

The success of this system would only prosper in addition to, and layered on top of, the traditional advertising modes. The tide of decentralization floods every corner. If amateurs can place ads, why can’t the customers and fans create the ads themselves? Technology may be able to support a peer-to-peer ad creation network.2705

Our lives are already significantly more complex than even five years ago. We need to pay attention to far more sources in order to do our jobs, to learn, to parent, or even to be entertained. The number of factors and possibilities we have to attend to rises each year almost exponentially. Thus our seemingly permanently distracted state and our endless flitting from one thing to another is not a sign of disaster, but is a necessary adaptation to this current environment. Google is not making us dumber. Rather we need to web surf to be agile, to remain alert to the next new thing. Our brains were not evolved to deal with zillions. This realm is beyond our natural capabilities, and so we have to rely on our machines to interface with it. We need a real-time system of filters upon filters in order to operate in the explosion of options we have created.  • • •  A major accelerant in this explosion of superabundance—the superabundance that demands constant increases in filtering—is the compounding cheapness of stuff. In general, on average, over time technology tends toward the free. That tends to make things abundant. At first it may be hard to believe that technology wants to be free. But it’s true about most things we make. Over time, if a technology persists long enough, its costs begin to approach (but never reach) zero. In the goodness of time any particular technological function will act as if it were free. This slide toward the free seems to be true for basic things like foodstuffs and materials (often called commodities), and complicated stuff like appliances, as well as services and intangibles. The costs of all these (per fixed unit) has been dropping over time, particularly since the industrial revolution. According to a 2002 paper published by the International Monetary Fund, “There has been a downward trend in real commodity prices of about 1 percent per year over the last 140 years.” For a century and a half prices have been headed toward zero. This is not just about computer chips and high-tech gear. Just about everything we make, in every industry, is headed in the same economic direction, getting cheaper every day. Let’s take just one example: the dropping cost of copper. Plotted over the long term (since 1800), the graph of its price drifts downward. While it trends toward zero (despite ups and downs), the price will never reach its limit of the absolutely free. Instead it steadily creeps closer and closer to the ideal limit, in an infinite series of narrowing gaps. This pattern of paralleling the limit but never crossing it is called approaching the asymptote. The price here is not zero, but effectively zero. In the vernacular it is known as “too cheap to meter”—too close to zero to even keep track of. That leaves the big question in an age of cheap plentitude: What is really valuable? Paradoxically, our attention to commodities is not worth much. Our monkey mind is cheaply hijacked. The remaining scarcity in an abundant society is the type of attention that is not derived or focused on commodities. The only things that are increasing in cost while everything else heads to zero are human experiences—which cannot be copied. Everything else becomes commoditized and filterable. The value of experience is rising. Luxury entertainment is increasing 6.5 percent annually. Spending at restaurants and bars increased 9 percent in 2015 alone. The price of the average concert ticket has increased by nearly 400 percent from 1981 to 2012. Ditto for the price of health care in the United States. It rose 400 percent from 1982 to 2014. The average U.S. rate for babysitting is $15 per hour, twice the minimum wage. In big U.S. cities it is not unusual for parents2765

Personal coaches dispensing intensely personal attention for a very bodily experience are among the fastest growing occupations. In hospice care, the cost of drugs and treatments is in decline, but the cost of home visits—experiential—is rising. The cost of weddings has no limit. These are not commodities. They are experiences. We give them our precious, scarce, fully unalloyed attention. To the creators of these experiences, our attention is worth a lot. Not coincidentally, humans excel at creating and consuming experiences.2792

experiences. That’s where we’ll spend our money (because they won’t be free) and that’s where we’ll make our money. We’ll use technology to produce commodities, and we’ll make experiences in order to avoid becoming a commodity ourselves. The funny thing about a whole class of technology that enhances experience and personalization is that it puts great pressure on us to know who we are.2797

Chief among the new things we will make are new ways to filter and personalize, to make us more like ourselves.


Paul Romer, an economist at New York University who specializes in the theory of economic growth, says real sustainable economic growth does not stem from new resources but from existing resources that are rearranged to make them more valuable. Growth comes from remixing. Brian Arthur, an economist at the Santa Fe Institute who specializes in the dynamics of technological growth, says that all new technologies derive from a combination of existing technologies. Modern technologies are combinations of earlier primitive technologies that have been rearranged and remixed. Since one can combine hundreds of simpler technologies with hundreds of thousands of more complex technologies, there is an unlimited number of possible new technologies—but they are all remixes. What is true for economic and technological growth is also true for digital growth. We are in a period of productive remixing.2810

In fact, the habits of the mashup are borrowed from textual literacy. You cut and paste words on a page. You quote verbatim from an expert. You paraphrase a lovely expression. You add a layer of detail found elsewhere. You borrow the structure from one work to use as your own. You move frames around as if they were phrases. Now you will perform all these literary actions on moving images, in a new visual language.2889

every single frame in a big-budget Hollywood action film today has been built up with so many layers of additional details that it should be thought of as a moving painting rather than as a moving photograph. In the great hive mind of image creation, something similar is already happening with still photographs.2903

With powerful search and specification tools, high-resolution clips of any bridge in the world can be circulated into the common visual dictionary for reuse. Out of these ready-made “phrases” a film can be assembled, mashed up from readily available clips or virtual sets. Media theorist Lev Manovich calls this “database cinema.” The databases of component images form a whole new grammar for moving images. After all, this is how authors work. We2913

The joy is recombining them. Indeed, it is a rare author who is forced to invent new words. Even the greatest writers do their magic primarily by remixing formerly used, commonly shared ones. What we do now with words, we’ll soon do with images. For directors who speak this new cinematographic language, even the most photorealistic scenes are tweaked, remade, and written over frame by frame. Filmmaking is thus liberated from the stranglehold of photography. Gone is the frustrating method of trying to capture reality with one or two takes of expensive film and then creating your fantasy from whatever you get. Here reality, or fantasy, is built up one pixel at a time as an author would build a novel one word at a time. Photography exalts the world as it is, whereas this new screen mode, like writing and painting, is engineered to explore the world as it might be.2917

content. Imagine a video with citations. These days, of course, we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorize using a selected word or phrase for later sorting. All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists. These tools, more than just reading, are the foundations of literacy. If text literacy meant being able to parse and manipulate texts, then the new media fluency means being able to parse and manipulate moving images with the same ease.2932

is there a way to reduce the contents of a movie into imagery that could be grasped quickly, as we might see in a table of contents for a book?2953

Expert software can be used to identify the key frames in a film in order to maximize the effectiveness of the summary. The holy grail of visuality is findability—the ability to search the library of all movies the same way Google can search the web, and find a particular focus deep within. You want to be able to type key terms, or simply say, “bicycle plus dog,” and then retrieve scenes in any film featuring a dog and a bicycle. In an instant you could locate the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the witchy Miss Gulch rides off with Toto. Even better, you want to be able to ask Google to find all the other scenes in all movies similar to that scene. That ability is almost here. Google’s cloud AI is gaining visual intelligence2958

The most complex pieces of consumer software in existence, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, employ what is called nondestructive editing, which means you can rewind to any particular previous point you want at any time and restart from there, no matter how many changes you’ve made. The genius of Wikipedia is that it also employs nondestructive editing—all previous versions of an article are kept forever, so any reader can in fact rewind the changes back in time. This “redo” function encourages creativity. Immersive environments and virtual realities in the future will inevitably be able to scroll back to earlier states. In fact, anything digital will have undo and rewindability as well as remixing. Going forward, we are likely to get impatient with experiences that don’t have undo buttons, such as eating a meal. We can’t really replay the taste and smells of a meal.3012

Remixing—the rearrangement and reuse of existing pieces—plays havoc with traditional notions of property and ownership. If a melody is a piece of property you own, like your house, then my right to use it without permission or compensation is very limited. But digital bits are notoriously nontangible and nonrival, as explained earlier. Bits are closer to ideas than to real estate. As far back as 1813, Thomas Jefferson understood that ideas were not really property, or if they were property they differed from real estate. He wrote, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.3031

For the most part our legal system still runs on agrarian principles, where property is real. It has not caught up to the digital era. Not for lack of trying, but because it is difficult to sort out how ownership works in a realm where ownership is less important.3038

Legal uncertainty about Google’s reuse of snippets from the books it scanned was a major reason it closed down its ambitious book scanning program (although the court belatedly ruled in Google’s favor in late 2015).3046

As the economists Romer and Arthur remind us, recombination is really the only source of innovation—and wealth. I suggest we follow the question, “Has it been transformed by the borrower?” Did the remixing, the mashup, the sampling, the appropriation, the borrowing—did it transform the original rather than just copy it? Did Andy Warhol transform the Campbell’s soup can? If yes, then the derivative is not really a “copy”; it’s been transformed, mutated, improved, evolved.3057

Recently researchers at MIT have taught the eyes in our machines to detect human emotions. As we watch the screen, the screen is watching us, where we look, and how we react. Rosalind Picard and Rana el Kaliouby at the MIT Media Lab have developed software so attuned to subtle human emotions that they claim it can detect if someone is depressed. It can discern about two dozen different emotions. I had a chance to try a beta version of this “affective technology,” as Picard calls it, on Picard’s own laptop. The tiny eye in the lid of her laptop peering at me could correctly determine if I was perplexed or engaged with a difficult text. It could tell if I was distracted while viewing a long video. Since this perception is in real time, the smart software can adapt it to what I’m viewing. Say I am reading a book and my frown shows I’ve stumbled on a certain word; the text could expand a definition. Or if it realizes I am rereading the same passage, it could supply an annotation for that passage. Similarly, if it knows I am bored by a scene in a video, it could jump ahead or speed up the action. We are equipping our devices with senses—eyes, ears, motion—so that we can interact with them. They will not only know we are there, they will know who is there and whether that person is in a good mood. Of course, marketers would love to get hold of our quantified emotions, but this knowledge will serve us directly as well, enabling our devices to respond to us “with sensitivity” as we hope a good friend might.3209

Is there a way to use our whole bodies to overthrow the tyranny of the keyboard? One answer first premiered in the 2002 movie Minority Report. The director, Steven Spielberg, was eager to convey a plausible scenario for the year 2050, and so he convened a group of technologists and futurists to brainstorm the features of everyday life in 50 years. I was part of that invited group, and our job was to describe a future bedroom, or what music would sound like, and especially how you would work on a computer in 2050. There was general consensus that we’d use our whole bodies and all our senses to communicate with our machines. We’d add Africa by standing instead of sitting. We think different on our feet. Maybe we’d add some Italy by talking to machines with our hands. One of our group, John Underkoffler, from the MIT Media Lab, was way ahead in this scenario and was developing a working prototype using hand motions to control data visualizations. Underkoffler’s system was woven into the film. The Tom Cruise character stands, raises his hands outfitted with a VR-like glove, and shuffles blocks of police surveillance data, as if conducting music.3228

“Daddy, broken.” Yes, if something is not interactive, it is broken. The dumbest objects we can imagine today can be vastly improved by outfitting them with sensors and making them interactive.3258

The more interactive it is, the more it should sound and feel beautiful.3266

One young guy who’s been flying radio control model airplanes since he was a boy said that being able to immerse himself into the drone and fly from inside was the most sensual experience of his life. He said there was almost nothing more pleasurable than actually, really free flying. There was no virtuality. The flying experience was real.3315

Most of the action in open-ended games like Red Dead Redemption, especially the interactions of supporting characters, is already animated by AI.3359

Qunatified self.

You might go through your day racking up points for brushing your teeth properly, walking 10,000 steps, or driving safely, since these will all be tracked. Instead of getting A-pluses on daily quizzes, you level up. You get points for picking up litter or recycling. Ordinary life, not just virtual worlds, can be gameified.3371

If you track yourself long enough, with a wide variety of metrics, then you can establish your behavior outside (or before) the experiment, which effectively functions as the control for comparison.3540

Our brains don’t do statistics well. Math is not our natural language. Even extremely visual plots and numerical graphs demand superconcentration. In the long term, the quantification in the quantified self will become invisible. Self-tracking will go far beyond numbers.3542

Udo Wachter, an IT manager in Germany, took the guts of a small digital compass and soldered it into a leather belt. He added 13 miniature piezoelectric vibrators, like the ones that vibrate your smartphone, and buried them along the length of the belt. Finally he hacked the electronic compass so that instead of displaying north on a circular screen, it vibrated different parts of the belt when it was clasped into a circle. The section of the circle “facing” north would always vibrate. When Udo put the belt on, he could feel northness on his waist. Within a week of always wearing the north belt, Udo had an unerring sensation of “north.” It was unconscious. He could point in the direction without thinking. He just knew. After several weeks he acquired an additional heightened sense of location, of where he was in a city, as if he could feel a map. Here the quantification from digital tracking was subsumed into a wholly new bodily sensation. In the long term this is the destiny of many of the constant streams of data flowing from our bodily sensors. They won’t be numbers; they will be new senses.3545

More than one startup in Silicon Valley is developing a noninvasive, prickless blood monitor to analyze your blood factors daily. You’ll eventually wear these. By taking this information and feeding it back not in numbers but in a form we can feel, such as a vibration on our wrist or a squeeze on our hip, the device will equip us with a new sense about our bodies that we didn’t evolve but desperately need.3560

As Gelernter told a Sun computer representative, “When I acquire a new memory of (let’s say) talking to Melissa on a sunny afternoon outside the Red Parrot—I don’t have to give this memory a name, or stuff it in a directory. I can use anything in the memory as a retrieval key. I shouldn’t have to name electronic documents either, or put them in directories. I can shuffle other streams into mine—to the extent I have permission to use other people’s streams. My own personal stream, my electronic life story, can have other streams shuffled into it—streams belonging to groups or organizations I’m part of. And eventually I’ll have, for example, newspaper and magazine streams shuffled into my stream also.”3585

Typical users, Narrative has found, employ this photo diary while they attend conferences, or go on vacation, or want to record an experience. Recalling a conference is ideal. The continuous camera captures the many new people you meet. Better than a business card, you can much more easily recall them years later, and what they talked about, by browsing your lifestream. The photo lifestream is a strong prompt for vacations and family events. For instance, I recently used the Narrative during my nephew’s wedding. It includes not only the iconic moments shared by everyone, but captured the conversations I had with people I had not talked to before. This version of Narrative does not record audio, but the next version will. In his research Bell discovered that the most informative media to capture is audio, prompted and indexed by photos. Bell told me that if he could have only one, he’d rather have an audio log of his day than a visual log.3635  An interactive, extended memory of people you met, conversations you had, places you visited, and events you participated in. This memory would be searchable, retrievable, and shareable. A complete passive archive of everything that you have ever produced, wrote, or said. Deep comparative analysis of your activities could assist your productivity and creativity. A way of organizing, shaping, and “reading” your own life.3647

Making sense of the data is an immense, time-consuming problem. You have to be highly numerate, technically agile, and supremely motivated to extract meaning from the river of data you generate. That is why self-tracking is still a minority sport. However, cheap artificial intelligence will overcome much of this. The AI in research labs is already powerful enough to sift through billions of records and surface important, meaningful patterns. As just one example, the same AI at Google that can already describe what is going on in a random photo could (when it is cheap enough) digest the images from my Narrative shirt cam so that I can simply ask Narrative in plain English to find me the guy who was3666

Or I could ask it to determine the kind of rooms that tend to raise my heart rate. Was it the color, the temperature, the height of the ceilings? Although it seems like wizardry now, this will be considered a very mechanical request in a decade, not very different from asking Google to find something—which3672

Few laws hold corporations back from integrating as much data as they can; therefore companies have become the proxy data gatherers for governments. Data about customers is the new gold in business, so one thing is certain: Companies (and indirectly governments) will collect more of it.3741

information is growing at 66 percent per year.3774

doubling every 18 months, which is the rate of Moore’s Law. Five years ago humanity stored several hundred exabytes of information. That is the equivalent of each person on the planet having 80 Library of Alexandrias. Today we average 320 libraries each.3777

Information is expanding at the rate of a nuclear explosion, but unlike a real atomic explosion, which lasts only seconds, this information explosion is perpetual, a nuclear blast lasting many decades. In our everyday lives we generate far more information that we don’t yet capture and record. Despite the explosion in tracking and storage, most of our day-to-day life is not digitized.3782

The more data we capture, the more data we generate upon it. This metadata is growing even faster than the underlying information and is almost unlimited in its scale.3791

If we could personify bits, we’d say: Bits want to move. Bits want to be linked to other bits. Bits want to be reckoned in real time. Bits want to be duplicated, replicated, copied. Bits want to be meta.3796

construct a mutual, transparent kind of “coveillance” that involves watching the watchers?3806

privacy can be gained only by trust, and trust requires persistent identity. In the end, the more trust the better, and the more responsibility the better. Like all trace elements, anonymity should never be eliminated completely, but it should be kept as close to zero as possible.3874

Large quantities of something can transform the nature of those somethings. More is different. Computer scientist J. Storrs Hall writes: “If there is enough of something, it is possible, indeed not unusual, for it to have properties not exhibited at all in small, isolated examples. There is no case in our experience where a difference of a factor of a trillion doesn’t make a qualitative, as opposed to merely a quantitative, difference. A trillion is essentially the difference in weight between a dust mite, too small to see and too light to feel, and an elephant. It’s the difference between $50 and a year’s economic output for the entire human race. It’s the difference between the thickness of a business card and the distance from here to the moon.”3883

It has always been clear that collectives amplify power—that is what cities and civilizations are—but what’s been the big surprise for me is how minimal the tools and oversight that are needed. The bureaucracy of Wikipedia is relatively so small as to be invisible, although it has grown over its first decade. Yet the greatest surprise brought by Wikipedia is that we still don’t know how far this power can go. We haven’t seen the limits of wiki-ized intelligence. Can it make textbooks, music, and movies? What about law and political governance?3948

The success of Wikipedia led me toward a new appreciation of social power. I am now much more interested in both the power of the collective and the new obligations stemming from individuals toward the collective. In addition to expanding civil rights, I want to expand civil duties. I am convinced that the full impact of Wikipedia is still subterranean and that its mind-changing force is working subconsciously on the global millennial generation, providing them with an existent proof of a beneficial hive mind, and an appreciation for believing in the impossible. More important, Wikipedia has taught me to believe in the impossible more often. In the past several decades I’ve had to accept other ideas that I formerly thought were impossibilities but that later turned out to be good practical ideas. For instance, I had my doubts about the online flea market called eBay when I first encountered it in 1997. You want me to transfer thousands of dollars to a distant stranger trying to sell me a used car I’ve never seen? Everything I had been taught about human nature suggested this could not work. Yet today, strangers selling automobiles is the major profit center for the very successful eBay corporation. Twenty years ago I might have been able to believe that in 2016 we’d have maps for the entire world on our personal handheld devices. But I could not have been convinced we’d have them with street views of the buildings for many cities, or apps that showed the locations of public toilets, and that it would give us spoken directions for walking or public transit, and that we’d have all this mapping and more “for free.” It seemed starkly impossible back then. And this free abundance still seems hard to believe in theory. Yet here it is on hundreds of millions of phones. These supposed impossibilities keep happening with increased frequency. Everyone “knew” that people don’t work for free, and if they did, they could not make something useful without a boss. But today entire sections of our economy run on software instruments created by volunteers working without pay or bosses. Everyone knew humans were innately private beings, yet the impossibility of total open round-the-clock sharing still occurred. Everyone knew that humans are basically lazy, and they would rather watch than create, and they would never get off their sofas to create their own TV. It would be impossible that millions of amateurs would produce billions of hours of video, or that anyone would watch any of it. Like Wikipedia, YouTube is theoretically impossible. But here again this impossibility is real in practice. This list goes on, old impossibilities appearing as new possibilities daily. But why now? What is happening to disrupt the ancient impossible/possible boundary? As far as I can tell, the impossible things happening now are in every case due to the emergence of a new level of organization that did not exist before. These incredible eruptions are the result of large-scale collaboration, and massive real-time social interacting, which in turn are enabled by omnipresent instant connection between billions of people at a planetary scale. Just as fleshy tissue yields a new, higher level of organization for a bunch of individual cells, these new social structures yield new tissue for individual humans. Tissue can do things that cells can’t. The collectivist organizations of Wikipedia, Linux, Facebook, Uber, the web—even AI—can do things that industrialized humans could not. This is the first time on this planet that we’ve tied a billion people together in immediate syncopation, just as Facebook has done. From this new societal organization, new behaviors emerge that were impossible at the lower level.3962

The “revert log” button on Wikipedia, which made it easier to restore a vandalized passage than to vandalize it, unleashed a new higher organization of trust, emphasizing one facet of human behavior not enabled at a large scale before.3999

We have just begun to fiddle with social communications. Hyperlinks, wifi, and GPS location services are really types of relationships enabled by technology, and this class of innovations is just beginning. The majority of the most amazing communication inventions that are possible have not been invented yet. We are also just in the infancy of being able to invent institutions at a truly global scale. When we weave ourselves together into a global real-time society, former impossibilities will really start to erupt into reality. It is not necessary that we invent some kind of autonomous global consciousness. It is only necessary that we connect everyone to everyone else—and to everything else—all the time and create new things together. Hundreds of miracles that seem impossible today will be possible with this shared human connectivity.4000

Ironically, in an age of instant global connection, my certainty about anything has decreased. Rather than receiving truth from an authority, I am reduced to assembling my own certainty from the liquid stream of facts flowing through the web. Truth, with a capital T, becomes truths, plural. I have to sort the truths not just about things I care about, but about anything I touch, including areas about which I can’t possibly have any direct knowledge. That means that in general I have to constantly question what I think I know. We might consider this state perfect for the advancement of science, but it also means that I am more likely to have my mind changed for incorrect reasons. While hooked into the network of networks I feel like I am a network myself, trying to achieve reliability from unreliable parts. And in my quest to assemble truths from half-truths, nontruths, and some noble truths scattered in the flux, I find my mind attracted to fluid ways of thinking (scenarios, provisional belief, subjective hunches) and toward fluid media like mashups, twitterese, and search. But as I flow through this slippery web of ideas, it often feels like a waking dream. We don’t really know what dreams are for, only that they satisfy some fundamental need of consciousness.4078

Jeff Hammerbacher, a former Facebook engineer, famously complained that the “best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” This waking dream is viewed by some as an addictive squandering. On the contrary, I cherish a good wasting of time as a necessary precondition for creativity. More important, I believe the conflation of play and work, of thinking hard and thinking playfully, is one of the greatest things this new invention has done. Isn’t the whole idea that in a highly evolved advanced society work is over? I’ve noticed a different approach to my thinking now that the hive mind has spread it extremely wide and loose. My thinking is more active, less contemplative. Rather than begin a question or hunch by ruminating aimlessly in my mind, nourished only by my ignorance, I start doing things. I immediately go. I go looking, searching, asking, questioning, reacting, leaping in, constructing notes, bookmarks, a trail—I start off making something mine. I don’t wait. Don’t have to wait. I act on ideas first now instead of thinking on them.4096

have? Picture the thousands of millions of people online at this very minute. To my eye they are not wasting time with silly associative links, but are engaged in a more productive way of thinking—getting instant answers, researching, responding, daydreaming, browsing, being confronted with something very different, writing down their own thoughts, posting their opinions, even if small. Compare that to the equivalent of hundreds of millions of people 50 years ago watching TV or reading a newspaper in a big chair. This new mode of being—surfing the waves, diving down, rushing up, flitting from bit to bit, tweeting and twittering, ceaselessly dipping into newness with ease, daydreaming, questioning each and every fact—is not a bug. It is a feature. It is a proper response to the ocean of data, news, and facts flooding us. We need to be fluid and agile, flowing from idea to idea, because that fluidity reflects the turbulent informational environment surrounding us. This mode is neither a lazy failure nor an indulgent luxury. It is a necessity in order to thrive. To steer a kayak on white-water rapids you need to be paddling at least as fast as the water runs, and to hope to navigate the exabytes of information, change, disruption coming at us, you need to be flowing as fast as the frontier is flowing. But don’t confuse this flux for the shallows. Fluidity and interactivity also allow us to instantly divert more attention to works that are far more complex, bigger, and more complicated than ever before. Technologies that provided audiences with the ability to interact with stories and news—to time shift, play later, rewind, probe, link, save, clip, cut and paste—enabled long forms as well as short forms. Film directors started creating motion pictures that were not a series of sitcoms, but a massive sustained narrative that took years to tell. These vast epics, like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, Downton Abbey, and The Wire, had multiple interweaving plotlines, multiple protagonists, and an incredible depth of characters, and these sophisticated works demanded sustained attention that was not only beyond previous TV and 90-minute movies, but would have shocked Dickens and other novelists of yore. Dickens would have marveled back then: “You mean the audience could follow all that, and then want more? Over how many years?” I would never have believed myself capable of enjoying such complicated stories, or caring about them enough to put in the time. My attention has grown. In a similar way the depth, complexity, and demands of video games can equal the demands of marathon movies or any great book. Just to become proficient in some games takes 50 hours. But the most important way these new technologies are changing how we think is that they have become one thing.4107

But in reality you are spending 10 hours a day paying attention to one intangible thing. This one machine, this one huge platform, this gigantic masterpiece is disguised as a trillion loosely connected pieces. The unity is easy to miss.4129

The computer manufacturer Cisco estimates that there will be 50 billion devices on the internet by 2020, in addition to tens of billions of screens. The electronics industry expects a billion wearable devices in five years, tracking our activities, feeding data into the stream. We can expect another 13 billion appliances, like the Nest thermostat, animating our smarthomes. There will be 3 billion devices built into connected cars. And 100 billion dumb RFID chips embedded into goods on the shelves of Walmart. This is the internet of things, the emerging dreamland of everything we manufacture that is the new platform for the improbable. It is built with data. Knowledge, which is related, but not identical, to information, is exploding at the same rate as information, doubling every two years. The number of scientific articles published each year has been accelerating even faster than this for decades. Over the last century the annual number of patent applications worldwide has risen in an exponential curve. We know vastly more about the universe than we did a century ago. This new knowledge about the physical laws of the universe has been put to practical use in such consumer goods as GPS and iPods, with a steady increase in our own lifespans. Telescopes, microscopes, fluoroscopes, oscilloscopes allowed us to see in new ways, and when we looked with new tools, we suddenly gained many new answers. Yet the paradox of science is that every answer breeds at least two new questions. More tools, more answers, ever more questions. Telescopes, radioscopes, cyclotrons, atom smashers expanded not only what we knew, but birthed new riddles and expanded what we didn’t know. Previous discoveries helped us to recently realize that 96 percent of all matter and energy in our universe is outside of our vision. The universe is not made of the atoms and heat we discovered last century; instead it is primarily composed of two unknown entities we label “dark”: dark energy and dark matter. “Dark” is a euphemism for ignorance. We really have no idea what the bulk of the universe is made of. We find a similar proportion of ignorance if we probe deeply into the cell, or the brain. We don’t know nothin’ relative to what could be known. Our inventions allow us to spy into our ignorance. If knowledge is growing exponentially because of scientific tools, then we should be quickly running out of puzzles. But instead we keep discovering greater unknowns. Thus, even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially faster. And as mathematicians will tell you, the widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially. In other words, science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge. We have no reason to expect this to reverse in the future. The more disruptive a technology or tool is, the more disruptive the questions it will breed. We can expect future technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, and quantum computing (to name a few on the near horizon) to unleash a barrage of new huge questions—questions we could have never thought to ask before. In fact, it’s a safe bet that we have not asked our biggest questions yet.  • • •  Every year humans ask the internet 2 trillion questions, and every year the search engines give back 2 trillion answers. Most of those answers are pretty good. Many times the answers are amazing. And they are free! In the time before instant free internet search, the majority of the 2 trillion questions could not have been answered for any reasonable cost. Of course, while the answers may be free to users, they do cost the search companies like Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Baidu something to create. In 2007, I calculated the cost to Google to answer one query to be approximately 0.3 cents, which has probably decreased a bit since then. By my calculations Google earns about 27 cents per search/answer…4134

Economist Michael Cox asked his students how much they would accept to give up the internet entirely and reported they would not give up the internet for a million dollars. And this was before smartphones became the norm.4189

Ironically, the best questions are not questions that lead to answers, because answers are on their way to becoming cheap and plentiful. A good question is worth a million good answers. A good question is like the one Albert Einstein asked himself as a small boy—“What would you see if you were traveling on a beam of light?” That question launched the theory of relativity, E=MC2, and the atomic age. A good question is not concerned with a correct answer. A good question cannot be answered immediately. A good question challenges existing answers. A good question is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked. A good question creates new territory of thinking. A good question reframes its own answers. A good question is the seed of innovation in science, technology, art, politics, and business. A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario. A good question skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious. A good question cannot be predicted. A good question will be the sign of an educated mind. A good question is one that generates many other good questions. A good question may be the last job a machine will learn to do. A good question is what humans are for.  • • •  What is it that we are making with our question-and-answer machine? Our society is moving away from the rigid order of hierarchy toward the fluidity of decentralization. It is moving from nouns to verbs, from tangible products to intangible becomings. From fixed media to messy remixed media. From stores to flows. And the value engine is moving from the certainties of answers to the uncertainties of questions. Facts, order, and answers will always be needed and useful. They are not going away, and in fact, like microbial life and concrete materials, facts will continue to underpin the bulk of our civilization. But the most precious aspects, the most dynamic, most valuable, and most productive facets of our lives and new technology will lie in the frontiers, in the edges where uncertainty, chaos, fluidity, and questions dwell. The technologies of generating answers will continue to be essential, so much that answers will become omnipresent, instant, reliable, and just about free. But the technologies that help generate questions will be valued more. Question makers will be seen, properly, as the engines that generate the new fields, new industries, new brands, new possibilities, new continents that our restless species can explore. Questioning is simply more powerful than answering.4212

This very large thing provides a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall, planetary scope) and a new mind for an old species. It is the Beginning.4246

This embryonic very large thing has been running continuously for at least 30 years. I am aware of no other machine—of any type—that has run that long with zero downtime. While portions of it will probably spin down temporarily one day due to power outages or cascading infections, the entire thing is unlikely to go quiet in the coming decades. It has been and will likely remain the most reliable artifact we have. This picture of an emerging superorganism reminds some scientists of the concept of “the singularity.” A “singularity” is a term borrowed from physics to describe a frontier beyond which nothing can be known. There are two versions in pop culture: a hard singularity and a soft singularity. The hard version is a future brought about by the triumph of a superintelligence. When we create an AI that is capable of making an intelligence smarter than itself, it can in theory make generations of ever smarter AIs. In effect, AI would bootstrap itself in an infinite accelerating cascade so that each smarter generation is completed faster than the previous generation until AIs very suddenly get so smart that they solve all existing problems4301

A soft singularity is more likely. In this future scenario AIs don’t get so smart that they enslave us (like evil versions of smart humans); rather AI and robots and filtering and tracking and all the technologies I outline in this book converge—humans plus machines—and together we move to a complex interdependence. At this level many phenomenon occur at scales greater than our current lives, and greater than we can perceive—which is the mark of a singularity. It’s a new regime wherein our creations makes us better humans, but also one where we can’t live without what we’ve made. If we have been living in rigid ice, this is liquid—a new phase state. This phase change has already begun. We are marching inexorably toward firmly connecting all humans and all machines into a global matrix. This matrix is not an artifact, but a process. Our new supernetwork is a standing wave of change that steadily spills forward new arrangements of our needs and desires.4311

How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today by John Thackara

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communities the world over are growing a replacement economy from the ground up.93

For most of the people I write about in this book, the changes they are making are driven by necessity; they are not a lifestyle choice. Few of them are fighting directly for political power, or standing for election. They cluster, instead, under the umbrella of a social and solidarity economy. Different groups and movements have names like Transition Towns, Shareable, Peer to Peer, Degrowth, or Buen Vivir. Their number includes FabLabs, hacker spaces, and the maker movement. Some have taken over neglected buildings – from castles and car parks, to ports, piers, hospitals, and former military sites. There are campaigning organizations, too – for slow food, the rights of nature, and seed saving – not to mention bioregionalism, and commoning. And our number is growing. Up to 12 per cent of economically active citizens in Sweden, Belgium, France, Holland, and Italy work in some kind of social enterprise – and that’s in addition to the vast amounts of unpaid work already being done in the household and caring economy. Although these projects are wondrously diverse they are all, for the Spanish writer Amador Fernández-Savater, ‘message-bearers of a new story of the world’.3 A green thread runs through this story: a growing recognition that our lives are codependent with the plants, animals, air, water, and soils that surround us. The philosopher Joanna Macy describes the appearance of this new story as the ‘Great Turning’ – a profound shift in our perception of who we are, and a reawakening to the fact that we are not separate from the Earth as a complex of living systems.4 From sub-microscopic viruses, to the vast subsoil networks that support trees, this new story goes, the entire Earth is animated by complex interactions between its life forms, rocks, atmosphere, and water. Explained in this way – by science, as much as by philosophy – the Earth no longer looks like a repository of inert resources. On the contrary: healthy soils, living systems, and the ways we can help them regenerate supply the ‘why’ of economic activity that’s missing from the mainstream story. The one kind of growth that makes sense, in this new story, is the regeneration of life on Earth. The notion of a living economy can sound poetic, but vague.99

The account given by Macy – of a quietly unfolding transformation – is consistent with the way scientists, too, explain how complex systems change. By their account, a variety of changes, interventions, and disruptions accumulate across time until the system reaches a tipping point: then, at a moment that cannot be predicted, a small release of energy triggers a much larger release, or phase shift, and the system as a whole transforms. Sustainability, in other words, is not something to be engineered, or demanded from politicians; it’s a condition that emerges through incremental as well as abrupt change at many different scales. ‘All the great transformations have been unthinkable until they actually came to pass,’ confirms the French philosopher Edgar Morin. ‘The fact that a belief system is deeply rooted does not mean it cannot change.’5118

a New Yorker or Londoner today ‘needs’ about sixty times more energy and resources per person than a hunter-gatherer. To put it another way: American citizens today use more energy and physical resources in a month than our great-grandparents used during their whole lifetime.133

we’ve burned our way through the easy-to-access fuels and extracting energy gets harder and more expensive every year. To make matters worse, the man-made world has become so much more complicated – think of all those computer networks, aviation systems, and fancy hospitals – that it now takes far more energy just to keep ‘the system’ going than would have been needed, just a generation ago, to deliver a simple but effective product or service to you and me.150

Most of the energy solutions being trumpeted today, Hall continued – from tar sands in Alberta to solar arrays in Spain – fall well below the 15:1 threshold below which the investment never pays for itself.161

it takes astronomical amounts of fossil-fuel energy, and money, to deploy ‘green’ energy systems – 200 km (125 miles) of copper in one wind turbine, to give just one example. There would be far fewer wind turbines, for example, if they had to be manufactured, installed, and maintained using wind energy. Retrofitting energy systems on a large enough scale to run today’s industrial society would require vast investment of materials, money, and organizational effort that, in today’s deflationary global crisis, will not be available. Gail Tverberg, an actuary and blogger, puts it bluntly: ‘Quite apart from the math, or the thermodynamics, or the simple logic, a lack of cash flow for investment in infrastructure will eventually bring the system down.’8171

Although bankers describe their core business as ‘lending’ money, it should really be described as creating money. When you or I borrow money from a bank, and the bank tells you it is ‘transferring’ funds into your account, that money is not taken out of a vault, nor even sent down a wire from somewhere else. It is newly created, there and then. Only a small fraction of the money they create is backed up by assets – such as the deeds to a house, or a bar of gold – lodged safely in their vaults. For the most part, they just make the loan at will. And it gets curiouser. Even though you and I now have new money to spend, these loans are recorded on the banks’ balance sheets as assets. The rationale seems to be that the interest on the loan that you and I will pay to the bank represents a steady flow of profit to them. And because many bankers are paid by commissions on new loans issued, there’s a built-in incentive to lend as much as possible. When an economy is growing, this peculiar dynamic does not much matter: as people buy more goods, often using credit from the bank, and as businesses take out loans to increase their production of goods, then interest on existing loans is repaid. But when economic growth stalls – for example, because there is less cheap energy to power growth – new money stops entering the system and a destructive feedback loop kicks in. Interest on existing loans is not paid; defaults multiply; jobs are lost; people spend less money; businesses take out fewer loans; less new money enters the economy – and the crisis of debt intensifies.191

As professors Murphy and Hall explained above, money gets work done in the real world. When a system must grow in order to survive, but the work it enables is destructive, the consequences are catastrophic.213

The committed and gifted people I met in Sweden — along with sustainability teams in hundreds of the world’s major companies – are confronted by an awful dilemma: however hard they work, however many leaks they plug in production cycles, the net negative impact of their firm’s activities on the world’s living systems will be greater in the years ahead than it is today. And all because of compound growth. It doesn’t matter how many brands proclaim that their products are verified, accredited, or certified as being sustainable; so long as growth remains a company’s prime directive, any promise to leave the world ‘as unspoilt as possible’ will remain an empty one. If a lack of data were the main problem, help would be at hand. Following a large international effort, a set of accounting tools known as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) puts a price on the services provided to industry by nature; and many governments and companies have signed up to its framework.11 Unfortunately, TEEB has only made things worse. The theory was that knowing the value of ecosystems would cause companies to look after them better – but TEEB’s numbers, acting like blood in the water, have also attracted the attention of predatory investors. Living systems – watersheds, minerals, food, and land – are now being converted into ‘financialized’ assets which, having been rendered abstract, have become new tokens for speculation.12 By design, these financial products contain powerful incentives for their owners to ‘sweat’ the underlying assets at an accelerating rate. This commodification of nature has spawned a related but no less baleful phenomenon called ‘biodiversity offsetting’. This is the idea that the destruction of an ecosystem by mining, greenfield development, or a large infrastructure project can be ‘offset’ by the creation of a new patch of nature somewhere else.13 This scheme is great for the companies digging the mines or pouring the concrete; it also creates new work for an army of intermediaries; but the result on the ground is an acceleration of environmental destruction. Nature is unique and complex. Some ecosystems take hundreds of years to reach their current state. The promise that the habitat can be recreated at will is another false one.14227

WEF is not alone in its sombre outlook. What its Global Risks does for the economy, Global Trends 2030 does for geopolitics and security.16 The latter report, published by the US National Intelligence Council, warns that ‘we are at a critical juncture in human history…natural disasters might cause governments to collapse’. Climate scientists and ecologists reinforce these warnings. The Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), for example, has delineated nine ‘planetary boundaries’ – the limits, for essential planetary living systems, beyond which we must not go.17 The SRC’s map is alarming enough – we are already beyond the red line on three of its nine systems – but it only plots the known risks.252

a transformational change, in one or more natural or man-made systems, that could be sudden, non-linear, and catastrophic. As complex systems researcher Noah Raford explains it, too much interconnectivity makes systems vulnerable to ‘phase transition’ – a word that sounds more benign than it probably is. When a system reaches a critical state, Raford explains, ‘even a tiny change can lead to massive fluctuation and collapse’.18 We know these events can happen, but we don’t know when; they cannot be predicted.259

The trouble is that a lot of people perceive resilience – dynamic or otherwise – to be a new variety of risk management that affords them the opportunity to carry on with business as usual. ‘We can’t avoid shocks in an increasingly complex world,’ said one commentator, ‘we can only build better shock absorbers.’ This metaphor would just about work if the world around us were indeed a tarmac road disfigured by potholes – but it’s not. Those ‘bumps’ we’re driving over are better understood as the bodies, metaphorical or otherwise, of living systems.274

his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn introduced the term ‘paradigm shift’ to describe the ways that scientific worldviews periodically undergo radical change in what appears at the time to be a sudden leap.25 These ‘sudden’ paradigm shifts in worldview follow years, sometimes decades, in which scientists have encountered anomalies that don’t fit in with the dominant paradigm.285

the chapters that follow I propose that a new story is indeed emerging. This new story describes an economy based on social energy, using 5 per cent of today’s resources, that is not only feasible but will leave the world a better place. This story is not about an imagined future utopia; it’s based on actions being taken today that are enabling this new narrative to emerge. According to the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU), the heavyweight scientific body that advises the German Federal Government on ‘Earth System Megatrends’, a ‘global transformation of values’ along these lines has already begun.26 This post-materialist thinking is not limited to rich-world greens. In South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, India, and China, the WGBU found, a significant majority ‘supports ambitious climate protection measures’ and would ‘welcome a new economic system’ to achieve that.27 Although the values described by the WGBU are ‘latent’ – and numerous laws, and institutional inertia, remain an obstacle – its conclusion is that political and social change on the ground is real, and growing.291

If, in an age of networks, even the smallest actions can contribute to transformation of the system as a whole, then our passionate but puny efforts so far may not have been in vain. It’s like the picture in a jigsaw puzzle that slowly emerges as we add each piece.304

chemical communication between plants stimulates their defence against parasites; plants that are not under attack themselves have shown an increased resistance to insects attacking other plants a good distance away. The mycologist Paul Stamets, who describes these networks as ‘nature’s internet’, speculates that fungi may participate in some form of planetary interspecies communication in which we, too, may one day learn to take part.3 Left to itself, this immense but invisible network is not only self-sustaining, it also determines the metabolic health of all terrestrial ecosystems, including our own. Ninety-nine per cent of all food comes from our soils.322

The truer story is that industrial agriculture is an extractive industry: it mines the soils for nutrients that are not replaced. We’ve ruined an area the size of India since the Second World War7 and, right now, we’re losing 3.4 tons of healthy soil a year for every person on the planet.8 When the first Norwegians came to Goodhue County, Minnesota, the black topsoil was 2 m (7 ft) deep in some places; now, it is only 30–90 cm (1–3 ft) deep.9 In the UK, scientists have warned that Britain has only 100 harvests left in its farm soil as a result of intense over-farming.10343

HEALING THE SOIL What will it take to heal the soil? On its own, soil formation is an extremely slow process – sometimes taking thousands of years – but a growing band of visionaries have discovered that the process can be speeded up dramatically if the right approach is followed. One such pioneer, the Australian soil scientist Dr Christine Jones, has demonstrated that new topsoil will form rapidly, and naturally, with the right combination of biomass and turnover of plant roots. In what she calls her ‘Rules of the Kitchen’, Jones lists six essential ingredients for soil formation: minerals; air; water; living things in the soil – such as plants and animals, and their by-products; living things on the soil, ditto; and what she describes as ‘intermittent and patchy disturbance regimes’.350

‘In order for new soil to form, it must be living,’ Jones explains; ‘life in the soil provides the structure for more life, and the formation of more soil. That’s why healthy groundcover, high root biomass, and high levels of associated microbial activity, are fundamental to building new topsoil.’ Farmers using cover crops as green manure can produce 1 cm (½ in.) of topsoil in three to four years. Even better: when the value of the crops used in this approach is factored in, the net cost of restoring soil is negative.11 These principles have been shown to work on a large scale in a project in Zimbabwe called Operation Hope.12 More than 2,600 hectares (6,500 acres) of parched and degraded grasslands have been transformed into lush pastures replete with ponds and flowing streams – even during periods of drought. Surprisingly, this was accomplished through a dramatic increase in the number of herd animals on the land. Behind Operation Hope is an approach called holistic management, applied to rangeland practice, that has been developed over fifty years by Allan Savory, a former wildlife biologist, farmer, and politician. Savory’s method is based on a singular insight: grasses can’t graze themselves. Before man came along, herbivores co-evolved with perennial grasses. When a large herd moved around freely – accompanied, that is, only by pack-hunting predators – they dunged and urinated with very high concentration on the grass. No animals like to feed on their own faeces, so they had to move off of their own faeces within one to three days and they could not return until the dung had weathered and was clean again. Moving across the land in large herds, the herbivores trample and compact soils while also fertilizing the soil with concentrated levels of nutrient-rich animal wastes. This approach aligns itself with nature in a comprehensive way; it increases plant growth and also re-establishes livelihoods through additional livestock, while increasing wildlife populations through holistic management. Grasses depend on herbivores to help them with their decay process. When large herbivores such as kudu and Cape buffalo disappear, grasses begin to decay far more slowly through oxidation. When millions of tons of vegetation are left standing, dying upright, light cannot reach growth buds; the next year, the entire plant dies. The death of grass leads to bare ground, and the desert spreads. Savory was not alone in understanding the importance of compacting on the health of vegetation. In the early 1970s, agricultural institutes in Texas and Arizona designed machines to simulate the physical effects of once prevalent vast herbivore herds such as the millions of bison that roamed North America. Machines with names like the Dixon Imprinter were used on thousands of acres of the western US to break soil crusts and cause indentations and irregularities, while laying down plant material as soil-covering litter vital to soil health. Imprinting, as the technique is called, is still practised; agriculture labs in various countries have developed rollers that imitate the hoofprints of passing buffalo and trample green manures and old stalks into the ground.13 Trouble is, these approaches do not heal the soil. Their machines are too heavy. Although a big buffalo weighed about a metric ton (2,200 lbs), the monster tractors used in mega-agriculture can weigh 45 metric tons (over 100,000 lbs). Machines this large do terrible damage to the soil underground in a single pass. For Allan Savory, the hooves, mouths, and digestive systems of real animals do this same task more effectively. The process consumes no fossil fuels, and can be repeated continuously at no cost. Large herbivores break soil crusts, but without damaging the subsoil, and the broken crust allows soil to absorb water and to breathe; this enables more plants to germinate and establish. The effect is more pronounced when animals are concentrated in large herds – which is how they behave when under threat from pack-hunting predators. Operation Hope therefore…356

Savory’s use of increased livestock to reverse desertification is a profound challenge to mainstream approaches to land use and agricultural development. For although the Green Revolution increased global food production tremendously, its reliance on fertilizers, intense watering, and heavy machinery degraded its ecological base, and its associated social systems, in the process. In the pursuit of efficiency and increased output, so-called production agriculture relied on massive inputs of petrochemicals and herbicides, focused on just one crop at a time, and confined large numbers of animal into grim ‘feedlots’. The good news, according to Savory, is that this damage can all be reversed by what he calls a ‘Brown Revolution’ based on the regeneration of covered, organically rich, biologically thriving soil, and brought to fruition via millions of human beings returning to the land and the production of food. ‘Viewed holistically biodiversity loss, desertification, and climate change, are not three issues, they are one,’ Savory says. ‘Without reversing desertification, climate change cannot adequately be addressed.’ The more humid and biologically productive regions of the world need to develop agricultural models based on small, biodiverse farms that imitate the natural, multi-tiered vegetation structures of those environments. This is where most of tomorrow’s grain, fruits, nuts, and vegetables will be produced, as well as most of the dairy products, and some of the meat. Savory’s approach has big social benefits, too. Globally, small-scale livestock production employs 1.3 billion people and sustains livelihoods for about 900 million of the world’s poorest people – many of them women. They will have a vital role to play in the restoration of degraded soils.403

At Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia, James W. Drescher is the latest custodian of an experiment called ‘enrichment forestry’ that has been in progress for four generations – just a blink of the eye in the life of a forest. ‘Windhorse is on the leading edge of something very old,’ says Drescher; ‘wealth, from the forest’s point of view, is biological material.’ Because a healthy forest is rich in biodiversity and heavy with stored carbon, the key to its long-term health is the retention of wealth after it has been created. Conserving that wealth, Drescher has learned, is dependent on the very slow decomposition of huge volumes of dead wood. Dead wood is the life of the forest, Drescher explains; almost half the animals in an old-growth forest live in or on or from it. Foresters who act as land stewards, rather than like factory managers, are therefore selective in deciding which trees to harvest and remove. Most dead trees, or trees that have fallen naturally, are left where they are. By harvesting only the slowest-growing trees in a stand, the forest’s overall vitality is increased. In a similar spirit, the tallest trees are never cut; this increases canopy height. Species of tree that are under-represented in a particular stand are left alone to conserve species diversity. Pathways in the forest are lined with sawdust and bark, not with concrete; animals and plants travel and disperse along these corridors of connectivity. Remarkably, this ‘forest health first’ approach is economically viable – more so, in fact, than the clear-cutting approach of mainstream commercial forestry. If a 40-hectare (100-acre) lot in the Acadian Forest had been clear-cut in 1840, and again in 1890, 1940, and 1990, Drescher explains, the total harvest would have been much lower than the wood harvested by the annual selection methods; and, of course, there would be no standing merchantable timber at all today. In today’s culture of short-term profits, the wisdom and skills needed to maximize the yield from a forest over a period of a century or more are rare. But looking forwards, the Windhorse Farm experiment is proof that it’s possible to make a living in ways that respect, and not harm, other life forms that are also trying to make a living there. The forest itself – not the timber that’s sold – is the primary product. In that sense Windhorse forestry is a set of principles rather than a model to be replicated at will. It’s a practice that demands diligent study, keen observation, insightful analysis, and resourceful generosity. Drescher describes as ‘deep stillness’ the everyday practice in which foresters, woodlot owners, and other workers simply hang out in the forest a lot more: studying, observing, reflecting, working, and, as Drescher puts it, ‘investing lots of time doing as close to nothing as possible’.14 If holistic rangeland management and do-little forestry sound fringe – well, they are, for now. But in a growing number of real-world contexts, the respectful interdependence of people and living systems is coming back to life.426

At the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, Per Olsson and his colleagues are amassing a growing number of stories in which groups of interested parties inhabit their land in healthy ways.15 Olsson describes these examples as ‘social-ecological systems’ in which often diverse communities are finding ways to share rights, responsibilities, and power in ways that put the interests of the land and its soils first.450

What’s emerging now is an approach to the governance of cities and their region, based on place, that enables the regeneration of soils, watersheds, and biodiversity. A bioregion is literally and etymologically a ‘life-place’, in Robert Thayer’s words, that is definable by natural rather than political or economic boundaries. Its geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological qualities – its metabolism – are complex, and unique.16 A bioregional approach reimagines the man-made world as being one element among a complex of interacting, codependent ecologies: energy, water, food, production, information. It attends to flows, biocorridors, and interactions. It thinks about metabolic cycles and the ‘capillarity’ of the metropolis wherein rivers and biocorridors are given pride of place.17 A growing worldwide movement is looking at cities through this fresh lens – but the lens is not a rose-tinted one. Modern bioregionalism does not seek a return to pristine nature or an unspoiled ‘before’ – as if ecological change could be reversed. The sense, instead, is our wellbeing is intimately connected to the vitality of living systems; we should make them – and the interactions between them – the focus of our efforts. Bioregions are not a form of wildlife park; they embrace the urban landscape itself as an ecology with the potential to support us.461

in Turkey, hundreds of teachers across the country are being certified as ecoliteracy instructors in a programme that spans subjects from soil erosion to ethical forestry. Their classroom is an arboretum.20482

In Scotland, where a Centre for Stewardship has been established on the Falkland Estate, Ninian Stewart is convinced that the time is ripe for a new model of stewardship that, in his words, ‘draws from the past and seizes our day to leave a sustainable legacy for the future’. Stewart’s approach widens what he calls the ‘circle of consideration’ further into the future and away from self-interest than is typical in today’s stewardship regimes. We need, he says, to ‘restrain our present-day kings from headlong exploitation, depletion and destruction of our social and biological capital’.23 ‘The world is calling out for more responsible long-term thinking,’ Stewart told me when we corresponded; ‘in an age when speed, profit-taking and consumption are undermining the sustainability of the world as we know it, we would be wise to adopt more of the mindfulness, longterm ethical investment and care for the wider community that are the hallmarks of stewardship.’497

By putting the health of the land, and the people who live on it, at the centre of the story, a bioregion frames the next economy, not the dying one we have now.506

Because its core value is stewardship, not perpetual growth, a bioregion turns the global system on its head. Rather than drive the land endlessly to yield more food or fibre per acre, production is determined by the health and carrying capacity of the land through time – a factor which is constantly monitored. Decisions are made by the people who work the land, and know it best. Prices are based on yields the land can bear, and on revenues that assure security to the farmer. ‘Growth’ is measured in terms of land, soil, and water getting healthier, and communities more resilient.507

A bioregion cannot be divided neatly into the planning categories of a city: Centre, Periphery, Rural; Work, Rest, Play. Bioregions are a mosaic of both natural and human-modified ecosystems that change constantly as ecological, historical, economic, and cultural processes interact.24 Their size can vary enormously, too – from hundreds to tens of thousands of square kilometres. No rule books exist for the governance of a bioregion: each community has to write its own.25 The tools for bioregional governance are in development. Colleges across the north-western United States have developed a Curriculum for the Bioregion that transforms the ways in which tomorrow’s professionals will approach place-based development. The curriculum, which is taught by experts from across the Puget Sound and Cascadia bioregions, is divided into such topics as Ecosystem Health; Water and Watersheds; Sense of Place; Biodiversity; Food Systems and Agriculture; Ethics and Values; Cultures and Religions; Cycles and Systems; and Civic Engagement.26 A treasure trove of completed projects is further evidence that these are not just academic subjects. Multidisciplinary teams have evaluated water-quality data as indicators of the health of an ecosystem; mapped stream channels in a local watershed; learned about the geology, hydrology, soils, and slope stability of a local town; analysed the environmental costs of metal mining; studied how indigenous peoples used to inhabit their region – and discussed how best to integrate this wisdom into new models of development. The thinking behind bioregions, if not yet the name, is now shaping top-down policy, too. More than fifty governments and major institutions – from the African Wildlife Foundation, to the World Bank – have committed to pursue a so-called ‘whole landscape approach’ in their approaches to sustainable development.27516

Systems thinking, I concluded, becomes truly transformational when combined with systems feeling – which is something we all crave. ‘We yearn for connection with one another, and with the soul,’ writes Alastair McIntosh, ‘but we forget that, like the earthworm, we too are an organism of the soil. We too need grounding.’28545

we’ve built dams – 48,000 large ones, and counting1 – that displace whole populations and disrupt the hydrogeological balance of watersheds, estuaries, and lagoons. Our extractive use of water on an industrial scale has accelerated climate change, too. When water is moved from where nature put it, in watersheds and aquifers, rivers no longer reach the ocean, aquifers run dry, and deserts expand. And when vegetation is removed from the land, so, too, is the green biomass that once absorbed the rain; cloud vapours blow away and deserts replace living ecosystems.555

Imagine emptying 500 1-litre (34-fl oz) bottles of water into a huge pot and carrying it 50 miles (80 km) – every day of the year. Does moving all that water around sound hard? It is hard – but that’s how much water is moved every day for a US citizen, and how far, once her share of the agriculture, manufacturing, car washes, window cleaning, laundries, ornamental ponds, health clubs, swimming pools, and golf courses are added together. A vacationer at a tropical resort uses as much water in one day as local people do in 100. It takes 2,700 litres (700 US gallons) of water to grow the cotton used in my T-shirt; 10 litres (2½ gallons) to manufacture one sheet of office paper;2 1,500 litres (400 gallons) to grow enough biofuels to move one car 10 km (6 miles); 140 litres (37 gallons) to grow enough beans for a cup of coffee; 1,455 litres (384 gallons) to make a pizza margherita;3 and 4 litres (1 gallon) to produce one single almond in California’s Central Valley – and, as I’ll explain in Chapter 5, 85 per cent of those almonds are exported to China and India.563

The Romans were the first to design rapid-transit water conveyance systems, integrated into the built environment, that kept land relatively dry, provided a supply of drinkable water, and carried away human waste for disposal. Over centuries, these hard solutions – sewers, drains, treatment plants, and the like – have steadily disappeared from sight under growing areas of what ecologists today call Impervious Surface Area (ISA) – all those roads, car parks, airports, buildings, driveways, and sidewalks. China has more ISA in total than any other country, but US citizens have the highest amount per person: 297 square m (3,200 square ft).582

This total matters less than its location: most ISA occurs in primary drainage basins where its greatest man-made impact on watersheds has occurred.587

In India, they say that rivers are the birthplace of civilization – and civilization the graveyard for rivers.588

after a thousand years of civil and water engineering efforts to obliterate them, we are now discovering that ponds and vegetation, natural stream courses, buffers, and floodplains are as a sign of urban health.594

One pioneering non-profit, the Watershed Management Group (WMG), started as a tiny seedling of an idea in the minds of five students graduating from the University of Arizona’s Watershed Management programme.8 They noticed that much of the focus of environmental programmes was directed at rural areas, protected parks, and wilderness areas – but not at the city streets where they all lived. The urban landscape became their focus. Through its co-op programme, WMG helps homeowners harvest rainwater on their own properties at minimal cost. The way it works is that a homeowner joins the co-op, volunteers time on other water-harvesting projects, and accrues a set number of hours. When enough hours have accumulated, the volunteer gets to host a workshop at his or her own house and reap the benefits of the team’s labour. Between six and fifteen people are involved in a typical workshop, including at least one expert staff member. WMG now has twelve demonstration sites across Arizona where citizens can see water-harvesting practices in real-life contexts. The group has also developed its own training scheme: its Water Harvesting Design Certificate covers green infrastructure, advanced cistern applications, advanced greywater applications, and small-scale erosion control and riverbank restoration. With its emphasis on integrated and sustainable design, a growing number of architects, landscapers, planners, entrepreneurs, and community organizers have acquired this know-how to retrofit residential and commercial sites.609

They use the visible result of their initial action to start conversations – ‘Look how clean our street could be!’ – and ask people who are part of the problem (which is pretty much everyone) to imagine themselves as co-owners of a clean street, not a filthy one. Ugly Indians don’t blame their fellow citizens, or politicians, or ‘the system’. They act first, and then they talk. They make it ‘our’ problem, not ‘your’ problem. This combination of social skills with systems thinking is remarkable. The Ugly Indian movement has spread to a dozen Indian cities, and a similar project has started in Karachi.629

In China, for example, plants are being used to clean up watersheds polluted by China’s heavy industry. Professor Peter Saunders describes clusters of such plants as a waterway’s ‘green liver’.16 Many of the pesticides, solvents, dyes, and other by-products emitted by agriculture and industry are eventually transported to natural vegetation and cultivated crops; if people eat the plants, these toxins can accumulate in their organs with dire effects on health. But plants can also metabolize harmful substances, in a process called rhizofiltration, and in China alone more than 400 species have been identified as having potential for soil and water remediation.663

In Kunming, in south-west China, water hyacinths are the favoured plant for this task. In their voracious quest for nutrients, water hyacinths absorb a good amount of the nitrogen and phosphorus found in domestic sewage; these wastes accumulate in the plant’s roots, which then become valuable compost or organic fertilizer. Because water hyacinths thrive on sewage, they have exciting promise as a natural water-purification system at a fraction of the cost of a conventional sewage treatment facility. In Uzbekistan, the favoured plant for water treatment is liquorice.17 In the country’s north-west, hundreds of farming communities were forced in recent times to abandon 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land degraded by over-irrigation in the Aral Sea Basin. (As you will read in Chapter 6, this ecocidal practice was carried out to produce the cotton in my two-wash-two-wear T-shirt.) The same farmers have now started to cultivate wild liquorice on salt-ridden soils near drainage canals. The tops of the shrubs, established either from roots or seed, are cut for livestock fodder; by the third year, some farmers dig up the roots to export for profit to Japan, South Korea, and the Ukraine. Extract from liquorice roots is used in medicines, candy, food, alcohol, and even cosmetics. As explained by soil scientist Andrew Noble, the key is the deep-rooted nature of liquorice; its ability to lower the water table prevents salt from rising to the surface of the soil. In effect, salt collected in the soil is gradually flushed out, enabling the land to be irrigated again for new crops.669

remarkable programme called Articulação no Semiárido Brasileiro (ASA), 22 million people – in a region as big as Texas and California combined – are being helped to harvest the 750 mm (29½ in.) of rain that fall on this vast semi-arid region each year.19 The idea is to store water for the nearly eight months of the dry season, make optimum use of the limited supply available, and prevent evaporation. Hundreds of community and religious institutions, cooperatives, churches, NGOs, and rural worker federations have helped local residents build 350,000 household water tanks and 9,000 irrigation tanks since 1999; the target is one million cisterns by 2020.20 ASA is another example of a social and ecological approach in which artefacts are constructed by a process designed to help communities adapt to challenging climate conditions, while respecting the bioregion’s ecosystems and traditional cultures. The way the project is governed is as important as the design of the cisterns: groups of installation projects are implemented by ‘micro-regional management units’, which bring together several municipalities selected by public process.692

21 In Hawaii, where populations of rare tropical fish were threatened by overfishing by the aquarium industry, a ‘lost fish coalition’ was able to designate over 30 per cent of coastal waters as off limits to aquarium collection. The success of this against-the-odds agreement was attributed by Silverman to the traditional ahupua’a system of land division and community responsibility – an ancient custom that has proved far more appropriate for modern times than anyone would have imagined in advance. It seems to work because resources are divided into smaller areas among local people who know the region and have a stake in working together. This kind of integrated approach, which improves the governance of land, water, forests, and grasslands, is called ‘Multi-Actor Ecosystem Participation’.22 HANDS-ON WATER STEWARDSHIP In drought-affected parts of Andra Pradesh, in India, a proliferation of illegal boreholes threatened the long-term viability of aquifers across the whole region. When regulations imposed from afar proved ineffective, smallholder farmers in more than 600 villages learned how to manage local watersheds as a common resource. Some 20,000 farmers now double as barefoot water technicians in a social practice described by resilience researchers as Participatory Groundwater Management (PGM).23 The PGM approach is based on small ‘hydrological units’ – a unit being a cluster of micro-watersheds. Hydrological data is collected for each hydrological unit – daily rainfall, water levels, borewell discharge, and daily stream flows. Being on the spot, smallholders are well placed to use this data to improve their understanding of how well groundwater resources are recharging at a local scale. In addition to on-the-spot measurements, farmers have also started to use GPS to collect data remotely from wells, rain gauge stations, and artificial groundwater recharge structures. The information is shared communally; rain gauge stations display the amount of rainfall received on a day-to-day basis. These display boards act as village discussion points on issues such as drought, floods, water levels, and agriculture practices. Trusted and independent information is a key to the success of PGM. Before the new system was introduced, farmers had to rely on data provided by so-called ‘input dealers’ – fertilizer, seed, and pesticide companies; these sources tended to downplay the huge wealth of grounded knowledge. Community-based institutions occupy a central position in this smallholder-centred approach. In Farmer Water Schools, for example, farmers and scientists explore different management options on an equal basis. Data analysis is continuous, multi-dimensional, and multi-scalar. For each hydrological unit a so-called ‘base document’ serves as a reference point for farmers and support agencies as they plan future activities. Water resources are described at an ecosystem level: climate, rainfall, drainage, groundwater, land use, and so on. The document also records soil conservation activities, the range of crops being used, which livestock are being reared, their yields and net returns, and so on.703

graduate landscape and architecture students from TU Graz and the University of Wuppertal, led by Professor Klaus K. Loenhart. Their contribution to Aquilon has been to develop a series of social-ecological scenarios for the watershed as a whole. These include novel forms of agriculture, sustainable forestry, land-based municipal sewage treatment, rainwater harvesting — even the settlement of beavers as ecologically valuable animals.733

The TU Graz project has two phases. The first is an investigation and mapping of the region’s biodiversity, cultural practices, and patterns of local production; this creates an initial schematic of the various economic flows and ecosystems. The second phase involves looking for ways in which these different resources could be developed, and complement each other, in a future metropolitan regional system. The guiding principle here is that natural processes and human activity, connected by enabling technologies, will interact in ways that regenerate and reconnect, rather than extract and degrade.736

These projects do not portend a U-turn back to premodern ways; new technologies and materials are an important part of the picture. But the main difference between this new course and the hard approach to infrastructure it replaces is that the health of living systems is the main inspiration behind the actions these people are taking.749

By 2020, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, two-thirds of all the workers of the world will be employed in the informal economy. In his book Stealth of Nations, the American writer Robert Neuwirth describes in vivid detail how this shadow economy is reshaping our cities as the formal economy stagnates.8 The shadow system is most dramatically visible in places most of us never see: in the vast open markets underneath the Superhighway between Shenzhen and Guangzhou; in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina; among the derelict remains of a once popular resort on the fringes of Buenos Aires; in a former container depot outside Odessa; on no-man’s-land along the former Iron Curtain. In each of these areas informal markets occupy a shifting mosaic of small locations. For Helge Mooshammer, who is also researching the phenomenon, these informal zones mark a radical shift in urban organization – ‘from geographically fixed territories to a networked ecology of filters and channels’.9872

the industrial system that keeps cities fed consumes ten times more energy running itself than it delivers as nutrition that you and I can eat. These food systems are only viable when fossil fuels are abundant. In a visceral response to this fragility, informal food and water systems are sprouting up everywhere, too.883

few cities have already adapted their approach to planning to accommodate these developments. In the US, the city of Portland commissioned a report called The Diggable City to determine which of its properties might be suitable as community gardens or other kinds of agricultural uses.10 Having identified 289 locations, the report yielded an action plan for the modification of land tenure, access to water, level grade, site security, and other considerations. Chicago set up a project called NeighborSpace to serve as a land management intermediary between the city and community groups seeking to develop projects on vacant public land.11 Social practices are a key part of this urban transformation. Urban farming is as much about the design of ways to share and collaborate, as it is about what to put in the beds. New services, policies, and infrastructures are needed to support food co-ops, collective kitchens and dining rooms, community gardens, cooperative distribution platforms, seed banks, hothouses, nurseries, and other enhancements of community food systems.890

Because the cost of rebuilding an asphalt road has more than doubled over the past ten years (largely because asphalt cement is a petroleum-based material) some US counties are opting to pay about $2,600 per 1.6 km (1 mile) annually to maintain depaved roads as against about $75,000 per 1.6 km (1 mile) to reconstruct them using asphalt.16922

Fits van Dongen, state architect of The Netherlands, the answer is: none. Van Dongen stunned his colleagues and the construction world in 2013 when he called for an end to all new building. ‘We have half a million square metres of office and industrial space, and 30,000 homes standing empty,’ explained van Dongen, before proposing that soft green infrastructures, such as spaces for urban agriculture, were a better priority.19 The940

A Deconstruction Curriculum in the US trains people to be ‘green workforce ready’. Eight-week decon courses may be taken in Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Spirit Lake, and Cedar Rapids.24 In Savannah, Georgia, building materials reclaimed from a public housing demolition project are being diverted to a Girl Scouts eco-camp, public school playgrounds, and community gardens.25 In the UK, more than 60,000 people have joined a decon resource hub called Bricks and Bread that opened in 2009. Its founder, Trudy Thompson, went on to create a social franchise model to replicate its systems and know-how; more than 300 franchisees are now using her innovative methods.26 For its part, the UK’s Asset Transfer Unit helps communities take over underused land or buildings – and do so legitimately.27967

The lesson of the decon boom is that rewilding cities is not much about the creation of wide open spaces; it’s more about patchworks, mosaics, and archipelagos. When parks were built in past centuries they were called the ‘green lungs’ of towns. Decades of oil-fuelled overdevelopment has put an end to those expansive days – but a new generation of ‘greening designers’ have abundant man-made assets to work with. There are parks, cemeteries, watercourses, avenues, gardens, and yards to adapt. There are roadside verges, green roofs, and facades to plant. Sports fields, vacant lots, abandoned sites, and landfills can be repurposed. There are large and growing numbers of abandoned buildings and ruins, empty malls, and disused airports to modify – not to mention the abandoned aircraft that, before too long, will be parked there. In Vienna, a design firm called Biotope City develops ‘micro green spaces’ to transform neighbourhoods. In the densely developed Haslingergasse district, for example, the group covered the walls, balconies, and ledges of 150 social housing blocks with greenery.28 Thanks to the participation of local schoolchildren, nesting boxes for birds and insects were also added. A similar patchwork approach is emerging in the Jæren region of Norway whose landscape has been battered by the footprint of the oil economy. Undeterred, the architect Knut Erik Dahl teaches young designers to look for and appreciate the tiniest examples of biological life: solitary plants, rare lichen, and insects in among the people, goods, and buildings. Students make large-scale maps of each location on paper, by hand. It’s low-cost, hands-on work. They call it ‘dirty sustainability’.29976

In France, several cities are working to establish ‘ecoquartiers’, or eco-neighbourhoods, in otherwise gritty urban contexts. The idea is to ‘seed’ functions such as rainwater capture, or Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), in the hope that they will propagate and spread without ongoing support from city authorities – or budgets.997

economist’ Teodor Shanin, who reckons that the informal economy supports three-quarters of the world’s population, reminds us that 80 per cent of all farms in the world – 445 million of them – occupy 2 hectares (5 acres) or less – many in or near cities. From Lima in Peru, to Kinshasha in Zaire, a lot of expertise has accumulated on how to manage the complex social-ecological networks of urban and suburban agriculture. The main lesson: necessity, more than aesthetic reverie, is the mother of urban transformation. Does city-grown food make a meaningful difference? A recent US study suggests that it does – or at least can. Researchers explored what it would take for Cleveland – a Rust Belt city with lots of potential green space – to feed itself. The results were startling: in one scenario, the use of 80 per cent of every vacant lot generated 22–48 per cent of the city’s fruits and vegetables, 25 per cent of its poultry and eggs, and 100 per cent of its honey. If commercial and industrial roofs were added to the equation, the city could provide up to 100 per cent of its needed fresh produce, 94 per cent of its poultry and eggs – and 100 per cent of its honey.33 Growing food is one thing; storing it is another. Awareness of energy descent is reviving interest in the ways we preserved food in the past. For thousands of years, people in different cultures have preserved foods and vegetables using lacto-fermentation; in this fossil-fuel-free process, lactic acid acts as a natural preservative to inhibit putrefying bacteria. What began as a foodie fad is fast becoming mainstream as more people seek out practical ways to conserve food without resort to refrigeration or chemicals.1003

A pioneer in urban forestry projects, and of novel forms of social organization to create them, is Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973. TreePeople’s Citizen Forester programme organizes volunteer tree plantings and tree care events along city streets and in neighbourhoods throughout Los Angeles County. TreePeople has also distributed thousands of fruit trees to low-income communities; these become functioning community forests – in backyards, on school campuses, and in community gardens. Planting trees is just one aspect of the group’s work. For at least five years after a tree is planted, its progress is monitored by Tree Care Coordinators who organize tree care events as needed; this dramatically increases the chance of the tree’s survival to maturity.41 Lipkis’s pioneering work depaved the way for the creation, in 2005, of a Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition. This platform brings together city planners, educators, landscape architects, non-profit leaders, scientists, arborists, foresters, nurserymen and women, and many other professionals who care for, monitor, and advocate for trees and our urban forests as a whole.42 The American Forestry Service then established an Urban and Community Forestry website whose pages are filled with happy-making stories. A manual filled with best-practice case studies has been distributed to more than a thousand planning agencies.43 In Europe, a Forum on Urban Forestry collates discussions on how best to manage old urban forests, parks, and cemeteries. The island state of Singapore plans to transform itself from a ‘garden city’ to a ‘city in a garden’ by reforesting the entire city state. Tai Lee Siang, president of the Singapore Green Building Council, laments the fact that town planners, when they start drawing, almost inevitably draw the roads first. Siang plans to reverse that sequence. Quoting a NASA estimate that there are about 57 trees to each person on Earth, he announces a new target for Singapore: a ratio of 100:1.1043

As people get reacquainted with real physical work in our cities, we are learning a special respect for solutions evolved by nature over the last 3.8 billion years. As Janine Benyus reminds us, other life forms than our own are able, expertly, to move water, capture the Sun’s energy, provide shelter, store food, recycle nutrients, share resources, build communities, control population, and manage ecosystems – all without human intervention. We’ve exhausted ourselves trying to control our environment using fossil-fuel force – only to be reminded that ecosystems can manage this effortlessly on their own. This prompts an interesting question:1060

among 20,000 species of edible plants in the world that we know about, fewer than 20 species now provide 90 per cent of our food. Some cityscapes, in contrast, are far more diverse. Urban biologist Claudia Biemans, a local naturalist and edible plants researcher in The Hague, has identified about 300 different species in 1 square km (1⁄3 square mile) of her city; this compares to 50 different species found in the same area of managed countryside nearby. ‘Bees know this very well, and are more to be found in cities these days,’ she points out. On walks called ‘Stalking the Wild’, Biemans guides people to ecological niches in the city where plants don’t just survive, but thrive.44 Much of this urban nature is edible. Herbal fruits, leaves, and edible flowers grow on walls and roadsides, between paving stones, and in other untended spaces. Lynn Shore in Amsterdam, trading as Urban Herbology, is among a growing band of urban foragers who help citizens find herbs, use them in cooking, and learn about medicinal preparations. Shore’s activities include seed and plant swaps, urban herb walks, and ‘gatherings for urban herbies’. In Los Angeles, a so-called ‘rock star of foraging’ called Pascal Baudar has turned his passion into a thriving business; Angelinos pay $100 a session each to join his ‘Gourmet Foraging Sunset Experiences’ on which they learn about the culinary uses of weeds found in the local landscape. Baudar’s wild food classes sell out weeks ahead.451069

a free mobile phone app called Boskoi to map the edible landscape; in an activity called ‘augmented foraging’ they share the location of wild food in public space.1081

cities support about 20 per cent of the world’s bird species and 5 per cent of its plants,47 a growing number of city fathers now realize that their cities are dynamic nodes of biological activity in their own right, and that ecosystems in ‘their’ bioregions are a source of value.48 In the UK, brownfield sites contain more rare insects than do ancient woodlands and chalk downlands.49 And the US Forest Service, once sceptical that anything urban could be wild, now supports a growing urban forest programme.50 In China, too, 600 million volunteers planted 64 billion trees in 2012.51 Urban ecology and urban wildlife programmes are proliferating on university campuses.52 Boasting that ‘my city has more wildlife1085

Manhattan was once home to twenty-one native species of orchids assumed to be extinct due to the replacement of woodland by open urban spaces.53 Or are they really extinct? Their seeds may still be there. The notion that older ecologies lie beneath our cities, waiting to self-resurrect, has long fascinated artists – and now scientists, too. Paleobotanists have discovered that 1 square m (10 square ft) of urban soil can contain tens of thousands of seeds that persist in a state of suspended animation, waiting to be woken from their slumber. In his essay ‘City of Seeds’, the writer Daniel Mason reflects that a two-and-a-half centuries old tradition of urban botany has yielded a startling insight: the flora of the city ‘is essentially a flora of the city’s destruction’.54 Unlike the managed green of parks and gardens, which only grow in pockets of protected isolation, the wild plants of a city need ‘the cracks, the pavement split, the palace abandoned’. Beyond the managed gardens and the wild invaders of our roads. Mason concludes, is ‘a hidden, potential flora, an idea of a forest, not in competition with the city but existing alongside it, patiently, waiting to become manifest’.1098

Shambala, a summer festival in England. On the wall is the street plan of what looks like a mid-sized town. Fifteen thousand people have indeed filled a vast field with tents, yurts, sound stages, composting toilets, drinking water tanks, hot tubs, food vans, charging stations, yoga enclosures, a barber shop, a meadow filled with aromatherapists, vending machines in a caravan, and pagan circles around wood-burning stoves. Surrounding Shambala’s central core is a densely packed suburbia of tents; in these the sleeping area per person – a couple of square metres – is similar to the space available to billions of people in the world’s other favelas. Most of Shambala’s prosperous urban tribe will return to a world of concrete and media when the festivities end – but, for two-thirds of the world’s population, nomadism and contingency are now everyday conditions of life. Most of the world’s 800 million urban farmers, for example, grow food because they need to eat1116

In megacities across the Global South, informal settlements are also filled with the pop-up retail, food trucks, street traders, guerrilla gardening, and informal parks, that – at Shambala – are celebrated as fashionable novelties. In the world’s refugee camps and post-disaster settlements, too, a dynamic variety of social micro-economies enables people to share energy, materials, time, skill, software, space, or food. These activities depend more on social energy, and trust, than on fixed assets and real estate. There’s an emphasis on collaboration and sharing, on person-to-person interactions, on the adaptation and reuse of materials and buildings. These resource-light ways to meet daily life needs are usually described as poverty, or a lack of development. But in thirty-five years as a guest in what used to be called the ‘developing’ world, I’ve realized that people who are poor in material terms are highly accomplished at the creation of value in ways that do not destroy natural and human assets.1124

DIY-urbanism, in other words, is second nature for people who cannot depend on the high-entropy support systems of the industrial world. This is not to trivialize the extreme challenges faced by poor people on a daily basis; but, to the extent that a regenerative economy is based on local production, human labour, and natural energy, the poor people of the world are further along the learning curve than the rest of us.1131

What the Earth needs, and what the Real Estate Industrial Complex needs, are two different things. The world is overbuilt. As our measure of economic progress shifts to health of the soils, and biodiversity, the practical focus of our efforts is shifting to a city’s inhabitants – including non-human ones – and to ways of improving habitat for them all. The writer Thomas Berry described as the ecozoic this ‘reintegration of human endeavours into a larger ecological consciousness’. It’s the right way to think about, and act, in our cities.1135

agriculture and food now account for nearly 30 per cent of goods transported on Europe’s roads; in the UK, 25 per cent of car journeys are to get food. We increasingly eat food while moving, too: 70 per cent of fast-food sales in the US are at the drive-through window. Faster, fatter, fatal. If food sounds bad, it probably is bad – but it’s the silent and unseen costs of industrial food that do the most damage. Poor diet and physical inactivity account for 35 per cent and rising of avoidable causes of deaths in the US,1 but the food-driven obesity pandemic is not confined to the North. In New Delhi, a third of school-age children are obese – mainly because the sugar content of their diet has risen 40 per cent during the last half-century, and its fat content by 20 per cent. That’s ‘development’ for1148

processed food does not just clog our own arteries, it clogs our cities, too: fat deposits poured into drains by fast-food outlets are blocking sewers in cities across the United States.21156

The refrigerated cold chain, Twilley explains, is a key enabler of so-called ‘production agriculture’, with the grim consequences for poor farmers and ecosystem that we hear about every day. Noise also means wasted energy, which is why an American farm in the early 1800s would have been a much quieter place than that pavement in London. Back then, the balance between calories expended in food production and calories that we ended up eating, was about even: 1:1. Under today’s system, that ratio is more like 12:1.1164

Hunger is a distribution problem – not scarcity of food, nor surplus of people.1185

the world’s family farmers who, after all, produce 80 per cent of the world’s food on just 24 per cent of the world’s farmland.7 According to one respected non-profit, Grain, if the yields achieved by Kenya’s small farmers were matched by the country’s large-scale operations, the country’s agricultural output would double; in Central America, the region’s food production would triple; and if Russia’s big farms were as productive as its small ones, output would increase by a factor of six.8 For Olivier de Schutter, Special Reporter on food for the United Nations, the eradication of hunger and malnutrition is an achievable goal if we help small-scale food grow in ways that leave the land healthy, and sell most of the produce locally without having to be dependent on large buyers.91186

Turning the tide will be tough; the share of productive land held by small-scale farmers is shrinking fast. From Kenya and Brazil to Ethiopia and Spain, rural people are being displaced, threatened, beaten, and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land for large-scale production. In the last fifty years, Grain reports, a staggering 140 million hectares (346 million acres) – the size of almost all India’s farmland – have been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed, and sugar cane. Experts predict that the global area planted with oil palm will double in the next decade, and the soya bean area will grow by a third, if the productivist system remains unchecked. These crops don’t even feed people; they feed our cars with agrofuels. Finance, not a lack of production, is another major cause of food insecurity: in a Western food shop, for every $10 that you or I spend at the checkout, only 60 cents end up with the farmer. The remaining $9.40 – the ‘added value’ – represents turnover and profit for the industries involved. After that noisy truck in Carlisle first started me writing about food, the horror stories quickly piled up. I discovered that China exports billions of pounds of tomato pulp – to Italy;10 that Europe exports planeloads of frozen chicken to chicken-filled Africa;11 that a single ‘cut and kill’ meat factory may now process ten thousand factory-reared pigs in just one day;12 and that Coca Cola and Pepsi spend more on advertising in a year than the entire budget of the World Health Organization. But bad news stories on their own are dispiriting. Noise is a symptom, not the cause, of our food worries. So, too, is obesity. A shed filled with five-weeks-of-living-hell chickens is a symptom, too. To1194

The Food Commons, the building is on their shortlist for a hub and retail store that will make fresh food available to some of Fresno’s 500,000 poorest citizens.13 Within a few years they plan to open a retail hub in each of the city’s food deserts – and this will be the first.1214

This is where The Food Commons comes in. Their approach marks a radical shift from a narrow focus on the production of food on its own, towards a whole-system approach in which the interests of farm communities and local people, the land, watersheds, and biodiversity are all considered together. The Food Commons is conceived as a kind of connective tissue that links together food-producing land, ideally held in common by community trusts; support infrastructure – such as distribution and retail centres; and support services, whether legal, financial, communications, or organizational. Its co-founder, Larry Yee, describes The Food Commons as ‘a whole new cloth’. Each Food Commons consists of three components. The first is a non-profit Food Commons Trust that will acquire and steward food-growing assets such as land and physical infrastructure. These commonly held assets will be leased to participating small farms and businesses at affordable rates; and because these assets are held in perpetual trust, they will benefit everyone. A second component, a Food Commons Fund, is a community-owned financial entity that will provide affordable capital and financial services to all parties in the regional food system; this will ease the cash flow problems that cripple so many small farmers. Each region will also contain, thirdly, a Food Commons Community Corporation, a locally owned and cooperatively run hub that will connect myriad small enterprises: farms, food processors, distributors, and retailers. Support services provided at each hub will include administration, marketing, scientific knowledge about sustainable agriculture, technical assistance, and specialized vocational training. Fresno, where I visited, is the first working implementation of The Food Commons; it already has the active support of the city’s business, academic, and social justice communities.19 Two other prototype Food Commons are in development in Atlanta and New Zealand. Once these initial proof-of-concept prototypes are up and running, Larry Yee is confident the model can be adapted in many places around the world. ‘The biggest constraint right now is investment money,’ Larry told me, ‘but we know the money is out there.’ For now, his priority is to recruit local and regional banks that are already active in the agricultural credit and mortgage business; he’s telling them one regional Food Commons can be started for US$100–150 million.1261

as a global average, 25 to 30 per cent of all city dwellers grow food in cities today.20 In Havana, Cuba, 12 per cent of urban land is dedicated to agriculture; 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of Jakarta, in Indonesia, are used to grow food; and Shanghai is not far behind: more than 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of that super-modern city are used to grow vegetables. These examples are in ‘developing’ countries, it’s true – but the North is catching up. In Cleveland, Ohio, for example, two university researchers set out to determine if their city of 400,000 hungry souls could feasibly achieve self-reliance in the provision of several key foods. In a street-by-street survey, the researchers first identified more than 18,000 vacant lots that could potentially be put to work and then, with a focus on foods suited to urban production (vegetables, fruits, chickens, and honey), they calculated likely yields. Their conclusion: if three-quarters of Cleveland’s currently available vacant land were to be utilized – together with a modest number of industrial and commercial rooftops – then the city could provide nearly all the vegetables it needs, more than 90 per cent of poultry and eggs, and all of its honey.211286

These positive results in Cleveland were confirmed by a project in England that I was involved with. In Middlesbrough – like Cleveland, a rust-belt city intent on self-renewal – I commissioned a large urban agriculture project as part of a social innovation biennial called Designs of the Time. As with Cleveland, we first identified locations for productive growing across town, and then helped community groups, volunteer organizations, school students, public health workers, and even preschoolers to grow food on these sites. Locations ranged from school playgrounds and hospital car parks, to seedbeds outside a hairdresser, the lawn outside an art gallery, and a university campus. It took little encouragement to persuade more than one thousand people in sixty community groups to take part. As their different crops ripened – butternut squash, tomatoes, and other produce – our urban farmers took them to meal assembly centres, in different locations, where they learned how to cook what they had grown. The project culminated in a celebratory ‘Meal for Middlesbrough’ in the city centre; seven thousand people came to lunch.221297

Running through the stories in this chapter is a green thread: the efforts of people in diverse contexts to reconnect to their food – where it is grown, by whom, and under what conditions. These practical, local, and human-scaled activities are the seedlings of an alternative to an industrial food system that, as an extractive industry, is as cruel to people as it is to animals, and the land. The right approach is well enough understood: plough the soil as little as possible; keep the soil covered; increase biodiversity. These are more than instructions – they are values. The new food systems are as much social as they are technical experiments; they’re happening wherever people organize together in new ways – not just to grow or obtain food, but also how to live on and steward the land. Community land trusts, for example, are a welcome innovation in the legal basis of social farming. The Food Commons in Fresno has just such a plan; so, too, does the Fordhall Community Land Initiative,43 in England, where one small farm now has eight thousand landlords. This commons-based approach to food is about cooperation, sharing, and stewardship.1441

Connect the people who make things, here, I pleaded, with people who need clothes and would love to have a direct relationship with the person who makes them.1470

I learned from Kate Fletcher’s landmark study, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, that it took 2,700 litres (700 US gallons) of fresh water to make my cotton T-shirt – and much of that water ends up saturated with pesticides; a quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops.2 It’s partly down to me that 85 per cent of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan has disappeared – because its water is used to grow cotton in a desert. Transport costs are also a big issue – the average T-shirt travels the equivalent distance of once round the globe during its production – so now we have to worry about fabric miles as well as food miles. Buckets of hazardous sludge are generated during the coating process used for the metal buttons on my jeans. White is energy-intensive because of all the bleaching. I’ll use six times more energy washing my favourite shirt than was needed to make it. Nearly all the textiles in my life will end up in landfill – garments, household textiles, carpets, the lot. Being clean, and wearing white to prove it, has weakened my immune system.1472

Over 90 per cent of resources entering the system of discount stores like Primark are discarded as waste within three months. Even if firms like Primark were to use only bamboo and soya bean fibres, grow 100 per cent organically, and produce only locally, their T-shirts would still not be sustainable because of what happens when we get a garment home. The average piece of clothing is washed and dried twenty times in its life: 82 per cent of its lifetime energy use, and over half the solid waste, emissions to air, and water effluents it generates, occur during laundering.1486

Another surprise: natural textiles can be more harmful than synthetic ones. Although polyester fibre, to take one example, is made from non-renewable petroleum and requires large energy inputs to produce, it is not so environmentally damaging when its whole life cycle is calculated – from sourcing the raw materials, through the use phase, to the disposal phase. Polyester has lower energy impacts than cotton during the washing and cleaning phase, for example; it is also completely recyclable at the end of its life.1497

it takes 16,600 litres (4,385 gallons) of water to produce 1 kg (2¼ lbs) of leather.1511

Tanning also has one of the highest levels of toxic intensity, per unit of output, of any industrial process.5 During the different procedures used for hide preparation, tanning, and finishing, at least 300 kg (660 lbs) of chemicals are added per ton of hides. The huge discharges of air, liquid, and solid waste pollution generated by tanning contain chromium, copper, cadmium, and other toxic by-products. Effluents released on the land, or dumped into the surface water, are associated with skin blisters, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and liver diseases among workers and their families living near tanneries.61512

For thousands of years before the oil age, textiles were carefully looked after; the repair, alteration, and maintenance of clothes was a normal part of daily life. Can we not combine the beauty of that culture with peer-to-peer production?1542

A solution is not hard to describe. If one of the big fashion conglomerates, such as Kering, were so minded, it would require its managers to optimize a different kind of margin: instead of the margin being between two abstract numbers – cost and sale – the company would measure the difference between the health of the land before and after each turn of the business cycle. Operating at a bioregional scale, such a big group could surely find ways for the lands where its materials originate to be put in some kind of trust, of the kind pioneered by The Food Commons in the USA; this trust would lease the land to small herders subject to various mutually agreed conditions. Each bioregion would be governed collaboratively to the same end: the regeneration of its living systems. Kering would still get its materials, but its products would have a higher value. By helping its customers feel connected with everyone involved in an item’s making, and the unique skills and resources of a particular bioregion, the group’s brands would transcend the impersonal and anonymous transactions associated with the industrial model.1631

Until now, their attention has not extended to the social and ecological health of the bioregions their materials come from. The next step, surely, is for the global ecosystem of sustainable fashion pioneers to put the health of the land, and the people who live on it, at the centre of their story. Alternatives to the global commodity food and fibre systems are now emerging in myriad diverse experiments. Ranging from farmers using non-genetically modified cottonseed, to artisan makers who access markets and coordinate supply webs using web-based platforms, these are the harbinger of a ‘leave things better’ and regenerative economy. As Lynda Grose describes it, these experiments turn the global system on its head.1642

Rather than constantly driving the land to yield more fibre per acre, production is determined by the land’s health and carrying capacity, which is constantly monitored. Decisions are made by the people who work the land and know it best. Fibre prices are based on yields the land can bear, and on revenues that assure security for the farmer. ‘Growth’ is measured in terms of land, soil, and water getting healthier, and communities more resilient. ‘The commons approach provides a way out of the polarized squabbling between companies and activists,’ says Grose. ‘It removes the need for complex – and for the most part misleading – accreditation and labelling systems.’ Social patterns of organization coevolve with this diversification of material flows. Some regions form cooperatives, others farmer/worker-owned entities; some function as food-and-fibre commons. These community forms of social solidarity pave the way for new terrains for fashion practice. And citizens, instead of being treated as passive consumers whose task is to speed the flow of materials through the fashion system, are recast as collaborators.1648

At the scale of a fibreshed, textile production can, for the first time, be monitored against the health of soils and watersheds. Regional-scale production cannot supply as many cheap clothes as the global system does – but is an ultra-cheap T-shirt a more important ‘need’ than keeping the land healthy? I don’t think so. Besides, for the many millions of people already active in maker networks like Ravelry, a regional fashion ecosystem, and knowing everyone involved in a garment’s making, can transcend the impersonal and anonymous transactions associated with the industrial model. Keeping our stuff alive means keeping the land alive.1672

Considering that 40 per cent of the time we spend travelling, across all cultures, is spent walking or waiting, the conclusion was stark: that the car is complicit in a wildly inequitable use of space.31697

The response of the Istanbul team was an online loyalty platform called Park. This would harness the power of social networks to increase the use of shared transport. Reduce the presence of parked private cars, their thinking went, and space would be freed up for shared social and cultural activities. The US design team proposed to bundle all systems of transport into a highly technical, optimized, and continually flowing main artery for mobility.1700

In the event, the jury selected Höweler + Yoon Architecture’s Shareway as its overall winner because its concept of ‘opportunity without ownership’ involved both social as well as technical innovation at a system-wide level.51708

The entries in the Audi Award, I concluded, were constrained by two questionable assumptions: first, that mobility is a universal need; and second, that mobility is a technical problem amenable to being solved by engineering means. The proposition that mobility is a fundamental human need sounds uncontroversial, but think of it this way: one could also say that locusts have a universal need for lunch. Which they do. But when locusts fulfil all their needs, the land is stripped bare – and the locusts, having eaten their last lunch, expire. The consensus in archaeology and anthropology is that mobility, far from being an innate feature of human behaviour, is determined by the needs of communities at a particular place and time.6 Individuals, households, and larger groups move around a lot – or not – depending on patterns of land tenure and their access to land, the capacity of the commons to support them (or not), and other socio-economic factors. Mobility, in other words, is a second-order ‘need’. We move as much as we have to in order to obtain food, shelter, security, and the opportunity to connect and transact with each other.7 The more those amenities are present in our immediate surroundings, the less we tend to move. This is why economic localization and sustainability are subtexts of the same story.1714

This story is a challenge for promoters of ‘smart cities’ and ‘intelligent transportation systems’. Excited by the potential of cars to communicate with us and with each other in amazing new ways, they cite experiments such as Google’s auto-piloted cars, or ‘smart’ sensor-encrusted roadways, as evidence that coordinated communication will soon make car blight a thing of the past. But these promises will end in costly disappointment as long as cars, and their owners, think only about themselves – and by themselves. More data for its own sake will not make a city ‘smart’ if all that computational power is misdirected. On the contrary, it’s likely that high-tech complexification will make things worse. Throughout history, each new transport revolution has proved far more expensive to maintain and operate than was anticipated – and the ‘smart’ schemes being floated now will not be an exception to that rule.1726

John Whitelegg, a transport ecologist, worked out that in Switzerland the land allocation for road transport is 113 square m (1,200 square ft) per person – and for all other living purposes, such as houses, gardens, and yards, it’s 20–25 square m (215–270 square ft) per person.1734

To a car company, replacing the chrome wing mirror on an SUV with one made of carbon fibre is a step towards sustainable transportation. To a radical ecologist, all motorized movement is unsustainable. So when is transportation sustainable, and when is it not? Chris Bradshaw, a transport economist, wants planners and designers to respect what he calls ‘the scalar hierarchy’.11 This is when trips taken most frequently are short enough to be made by walking (even if pulling a small cart), while the next more frequent trips require a bike or bus, and so on. If one adheres to this, Bradshaw points out, then there are so few trips to be made by car that owning one is foolish. This lesson seems to have sunk into young people in a big way. In the USA, new car purchases by 18- to 34-year-olds fell 30 per cent between 2007 and 2012.121745

My take has that ‘high-speed railways, yes or no?’ is a second-order question. First-order questions concern the kind of society Norway – or California, or India – aspires to become in the decades ahead. In the case of HSTs, three first-order questions therefore stand out in particular: do the true system-wide costs of an HST network justify the investment? Is it sustainable to spend energy on the compression of space and time? And is it really just empty space out there?1767

When researchers at Martin Luther University studied the construction, use, and disposal of Germany’s high-speed rail infrastructure, they found that 48 kg (105 lbs) of solid primary resources is needed for one passenger to travel 100 km (62 miles). A1782

an HST system is more than the sum of its tracks. Among the other resource-intensive system footprints that necessarily accompany an HST line are: Space: land is a finite resource, but we consume it as if it were limitless – especially for mobility. Space has to be consumed in large quantities to provide the infrastructure for high-speed travel – just as it does for new motorways and airports. Energy supply: even if high-speed travel were not a climate change or social problem, high-entropy transport systems depend on finite energy sources. Whether oil and gas are at a peak, or on a plateau, can be debated – but they are finite and no commercially viable renewable alternative offers the same volume and performance. How resilient is that? First mile/last mile: before a passenger boards a train, she has to get to the station using other means of transportation – the so-called first-mile element. And HST stations are rarely the end-point of her trip; more infrastructure is needed to complete the ‘last mile’. Station and parking infrastructure: many HST stations are multi-modal hubs entailing complex and energy-intensive walkways, doors, escalators, lifts and the like to connect with local public transport and parking lots. HST terminals and stations also contain shopping malls, restaurants, and other service centres not linked with the core service of transporting passengers. Security costs: enormous and growing material and human resources must be deployed to reduce the vulnerabilities of these complex systems to malfunctioning or attack.1794

SPACE-TIME COMPRESSION Although time savings provide the principal economic justification for HST schemes, the expansion of these networks does not, in the long run, give us more free time. On the contrary: we spend the same amount of time travelling today as we did fifty years ago – but we use that time to travel longer distances. The fundamental problem with the HST is not that it burns too much of the wrong kind of fuel. The problem – as with the interstate highway systems that came before – is that it perpetuates patterns of land use, transport intensity, and the separation of functions in space and time that render the whole way we live unsupportable. Something similar has happened in Norway before. When oil was first discovered in 1969, it spawned a generation of sprawling developments. The suburbanization of Jæren swallowed numberless small rural conglomerations. ‘Oilville’ now stretches more or less continuously from Stavanger in the north to Egersund in the south. Are there new ways to think about the space-time geography of countries with lots of space? Might we reimagine wide spaces and long distances as assets rather than as obstacles to be overcome? Space, like oil, is a finite resource. Worldwide, space is at a premium. If a country such as Norway has lots of space, doesn’t this make it rich? Why try to compress this valuable national resource? Why try to make it smaller? Maximum dispersal is the settlement pattern of the natural state of nature. As Stone Age economist Marshall Sahlins has pointed out, dispersal is the best protector of persons and possessions in terms of minimizing conflict over resources, goods, and women.17 In Oslo, we discussed whether to think of Norway as a mosaic of semi-autonomous zones. Could so-called peripheral cities be reconceived as new centres in their own right? By re-examining what makes the regions of Norway distinctive, could new forms of value be discovered as the basis for establishing settlements?1809

an International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems published a framework for the valuation of undeveloped land, woodland, rivers, and marshes. Researchers had concluded that the global economy was losing more money from the disappearance of forests alone – US$2–5 trillion per year – than through the banking crisis. (The figure came from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.) That study, and others like it, placed a question mark on the assumption that the world is full of empty space that we should aspire to fill, at will, with things like HSTs. As we learn that ‘empty space’ is not empty, it follows that many supposedly clean transport or energy systems are not inherently clean at all – but only somewhat less dirty than the fossil-fuelled systems they are purported to replace.1826

In parallel with this enquiry in Norway, then learned some enlightened cities, such as Toronto, have already started to put the interests of these natural assets ahead of traditional planning priorities such as transportation infrastructures. For Toronto, the practical way to reorder priorities is to put foodsheds and watersheds at the top of the agenda – a focus in design terms on ‘reactivating the existing’ – adapting and enhancing what is already there rather than continuing to accelerate capital and resource intensity. One of the Norwegian team’s researchers, Alex Walls, calls this approach ‘dirty’ sustainability – giving priority to low-cost, hands-on solutions rather than high-tech ones. I asked, a bit earlier, which country – Norway or India – has the most advanced and resilient infrastructure. As you may have guessed, my conclusion is that high-speed, high-entropy transportation systems take a country back to the past. They are not the way of the future. This is not to deny that there are many ways in which use of existing infrastructure, such as India’s amazing train network – or, for that matter, the trip from Oslo to Stavanger – can be enhanced. But, looking elsewhere, I discovered that truly transformational changes in transport ecologies are already emerging. In India, showing the way to other cities, Chennai has embarked on a major programme to pedestrianize its roads; 60 per cent of the city’s transport budget will be dedicated to non-motorized transport. Its municipal corporation, the oldest in India, is creating a network of footpaths, cycle tracks, and greenways to encourage residents to walk or cycle and to ease the passage of human-powered transport like cycle rickshaws and pushcarts. Critically, the new policy prohibits the construction of flyovers that could prevent parallel pedestrian infrastructure from meeting the right standards. It’s a major shift in emphasis; big Indian cities typically allocate about 2 per cent of their budget to non-motorized transport.211843

WILL IT MAKE ME SWEAT? At a workshop in Delhi, during the UnBox Festival, I posed the following question to a group of twenty design, transport, and city development professionals: what new products, services, or ingredients are needed to help a cycle commerce ecosystem flourish in India’s cities, towns, and villages?22 The answer was: a lot – and it’s not just about the bikes. We discussed the need for an online catalogue of products and business models to aid decision support. We learned that micro-finance for independent vendors should be a priority. Traffic architectures, hygiene regulations, and the disinterest of municipal authorities were an obstacle. Opposition from place-based retailers was also an issue. Topography and climate could not be ignored. As the to-do list grew, the scale of the challenge seemed ever more daunting – but a strange thing has happened. The obstacles we identified in Delhi seem less daunting today than they did a short while ago. In China, ‘battery-bikes’ are outselling cars by four to one. Their sudden popularity has confounded planners who thought China was set to become the next automobile powerhouse. In Europe, too, e-bike sales are escalating. Sales have been growing by 50 per cent a year since 2008, with forecasts of at least three million sales in 2015.23 Is this the start of a system-wide phase shift in transportation? I have the strong impression that a cloud of discrete but related developments is converging. In the background, a combination of energy costs and economic insecurity adds urgency to the need for change. At street level, myriad innovations in hardware, systems, and business models are giving us the component parts of the ecosystem we yearned for in Delhi. A profound transformation to the mobility profile of modern cities no longer feels like a dream.1858

CALORIE-COUNTING CITIES A small project in Vienna confirmed my intuition that something big is afoot. I heard by chance about a piece of software that answers the question: will riding my bike from point A to point G make me sweat? A small firm called Komobile has developed a decision-support tool that will calculate the amount of nutritional energy the human body will need for a prospective trip by regular bike or e-bike. Its project is part of a broader drive in Austria to promote e-bikes as ‘range-extenders’ to conventional bikes and increase two-wheeled commuting. The idea is to combine information about the mass of the vehicle – including its cargo and the mass of the rider – with data about the inclines, detours, and headwinds that increase the rider’s body energy consumption. With this information to hand, riders can determine in advance whether the external energy provided by the electric motor on a pedelec is needed. The topographical data needed already exists in many digital maps. As one of Komobile’s designers, Martin Niegl, explained it to me, isohypses are points of equal altitude that, when joined together, become the wavy black lines on maps we use when walking across country. Transport planners also use isochrones to denote lines of equal travel time. Komobile’s innovation is to add isoenergetes – lines that plot units of equal energy consumption into a geographical information system (GIS) for metropolitan Vienna. The idea is to inform a rider how much effort will be needed to climb steep hills in the western part of the city, for example. For an unassisted cargo bike, this is crucial information. Komobile then discovered a missing piece of information – headwind speeds, which on a heavy bike can be just as taxing as inclines. In Vienna, Komobile located a source of real-time wind speeds in the city’s meteorological office, only to learn that such measurement devices are located 10 m (33 ft) above the road surface. To be accurate, real-time wind speeds at surface level are needed. Adding a platform that can collect windspeed data in real-time from small devices around the city has been added to the to-do list.1874

MASS TRANSIT Komobile’s next task is to persuade city managers to embrace calorie-planning with the same confidence that they now plan time and space. Lightening up the movement of cargo around cities is the ideal place to start. Enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands:24 of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than 10 per cent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck, and 40 per cent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 per cent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike. Germany’s Institute of Transport Research is even more ambitious: it reckons 85 per cent of all deliveries in a city like Berlin could be made by e-bike. Its finding was based on the experimental deployment of a so-called ‘Bentobox’ approach in which additional city hubs were able to coordinate distribution of goods. Cargo bikes need not be limited to lightweight packages. As the Belgian journalist Kris De Decker has discovered, fast two-wheeled cargo cycles have a load capacity of up to 180 kg (396 lbs); slower vehicles with three or four wheels can easily take 250 kg (550 lbs). Using a tandem configuration and/ or electric power assistance can raise the load capacity even further, to about half a ton. As Ivan Illich pointed out in Energy and Equity in 1973, the metabolic efficiency of a human on a bicycle is remarkably good. Measured in terms of calories expended by the traveller, the conventional bicycle is by far the most efficient means of human locomotion. To travel 1 km (½ mile) by bike requires approximately 5–15 watt-hours (w-h) of energy; the same distance requires 15–20 w-h by foot, 30–40 w-h by train, and over 400 w-h in a car with one occupant. According to ExtraEnergy’s tests over several years, an average pedelec uses an average of 1 kilowatt-hour (kW-h) per 100 km (62 miles) in electricity. A car with an internal combustion engine uses fifty times more – at least 50 kW-h per 100 km (62 miles). Translated into money, the difference is astonishing. It costs less than 1 US cent per 1.6 km (1 mile) to ride an electric bike or scooter. A car, by comparison, costs fifty times more – 54 cents per 1.6 km (1 mile) according to the American Automobile Association once licence costs, insurance, registration, maintenance, and other costs are factored in. Kris De Decker reckons that, once all system costs are included, a cargo cycle can be up to 98 per cent cheaper per 1 km (½ mile) than four-wheeled motorized alternatives. Some e-bikers reckon that electric bikes can have a smaller environmental footprint even than pedal-only bicycles when the energy costs of the food needed to power the rider are added. If the rider eats a typical Western diet, about ten times more primary energy goes into the production of her food than is absorbed by the body when the food is eaten. Our metabolisms convert food energy into work with a conversion efficiency of about 25 per cent. The net result? For every unit of human energy used to pedal a bike, about forty times as much was expended upstream. Even including the energy needed to manufacture and recycle the batteries, e-bikes can end up consuming from two to ten times less fossil fuel energy than their human-powered equivalents. THEY MAY BE CHEAP – BUT ARE THEY CLEAN? Even if e-bikes are fifty times more efficient than a car per kilometre travelled, is the energy used to power an e-bike clean? Critics argue that if hundreds of millions of pedelecs were to be charged from the grid, the result will be more emissions because such a large proportion of the energy comes originally from dirty power stations. Policymakers in Austria are addressing this very real difficulty, too. They are deploying fiscal measures that incentivize pedelec users to use only renewable energy. In 2011, for example, a national subsidy for the purchase of company…1890

CARING: FROM CURE TO CARE, FROM ME TO WE I was emboldened, upon arriving at the Mayo Clinic’s Centre for Innovation, to learn from the conference host that ‘people with deep domain knowledge do not make the best innovators’. I concluded that I was therefore well qualified to warn one of the top academic medical centres in the world, each of whose 60,000 staff knows more about medicine than I do, about the risk of catabolic collapse in the US health system – and what to do about it. My core proposition at the Mayo event was that peak oil, and peak fat, are transforming the logic that currently shapes the global biomedical system. Firstly, because the energy transition that’s upon us will render one of the world’s most energy-intensive systems unsustainable. And second, because until the medical system addresses the causes of illness with the same brilliance with which it addresses the effects, the population will continue to get sicker. The main Mayo Clinic building is a vast silver facility that shouts two things: authority and energy intensity. If one Googles ‘health’ and ‘energy efficiency’, most results are about hospital buildings and attempts to render them ‘greener’. But hospital buildings are just one element within a vast distributed system that is both materially heavy and energy-guzzlingly complex. At a practical level, most of the consumables within any hospital are oil-based – from analgesics and antihistamines, through heart valves, implants, and prosthetics, to ambulances and helicopters. But energy that you can measure, such as that used by buildings and suppositories, is only one part of the picture; the total energy demand of any business operation, including health ones, is four or five times more than is ever measured. A recent UK study, for example, found that 5 per cent of all vehicle movements on British roads are health-related. This energy blindness is significant; because the true costs of so many activities is neither perceived nor counted, no thought is given to their possible replacement. My sombre words at the Mayo conference were met by a sea of blank stares. I was not offended: the medical world is preoccupied by other issues than the consequences of energy transition. The danger facing complex organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, nonetheless, is that, by postponing consideration of energy issues, it risks ‘catabolic collapse’ down the line. This is the situation, as described by John Michael Greer, in which, by the time a system realizes that its energy regime is not sustainable, the money, energy, and resources to do anything about it are no longer available. PEAK FAT From catabolic collapse I moved on in my talk to peak fat. I was perplexed at this fascinating conference by a weird imbalance. I saw several case studies about innovative ways to deal with consequences of the diabetes pandemic; by 2030, it’s forecast that 438 million people will have diabetes worldwide – a 54 per cent increase on today’s total.1 The response of designers and doctors present was an array of Personal Health Planning tools, ‘high-end wellness’ services, superfoods, remote diagnostics, and more. But I heard almost nothing about tackling the causes of this grim disease. That oversight is system-wide in medicine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for example, in a briefing about obesity, explains that these killer conditions ‘result from an energy imbalance. Behaviour and environment play a large role…these are the greatest areas for prevention and treatment actions’. This is a bizarre statement. ‘The environment’ makes you fat? I was under the impression that fat makes you fat – and the correlation between the growth of fats in the food system and the growth of obesity and diabetes in the population, is not hard to spot There’s even a word for it: the ‘obesogenic environment’. Neither is it a secret that the producers and distributors of this killer fat are the junk food and soft drinks industries. The medical system – from the CDC to the…2066

Health care is another necessity of life in which the South is ahead of us – by example, if not by choice. Because poor countries cannot afford the doctor-focused, pay-per-procedure, treat-the-symptoms-not-the-causes medical systems that are on course to bankrupt rich countries, they focus – because they have to – on community-based health and prevention. Physicians are based in neighbourhoods, not in clinics or hospitals. Community health care is carried out by trained local people, not only by doctors. A lot of this social medicine is self-replicating, too; in countries such as Venezuela, doctor-teachers recruit and train health workers from among peasants and workers. The goal is to empower local people to provide 90 per cent of their own health-care needs. This is 5 per cent health in practice.2406

Local energy, as described by Kevin Carson, is ‘the world’s biggest coordinated DIY effort’.122416

Thirty per cent of the world’s total investment in mining is in Latin America, and dozens of ecologically damaging open-cut mining projects are under way. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa argues that his country has no alternative to mining and resource extraction because ‘we need this money to end poverty’. His counterpart in Argentina, Cristina Fernández, takes a similar line: ‘it is noble to defend flora and fauna, but it’s more important to take care of the human species so it has work, water, and sewers’.27 These contradictory positions have to be faced. Although there will be no jobs, no welfare, and no education on a dead planet, a more positive narrative is needed to counter the toxic allure of extractivism. Although millions of people are busy with projects to meet practical needs in these precarious times, we’ve been lacking an umbrella concept, a coordinating idea, to make sense of the work we do as individuals in the swarm. COMMONING That something – that new story – is the story of the commons. The commons is an idea, and a practice, that generates meaning and hope. In The Commons: A New Narrative for Our Times, Silke Helfrich and Jörg Haas talk about the commons as ‘all the things that we inherit from past generations that enable our livelihoods’. Seen through that lens, the commons can include land, watersheds, biodiversity, common knowledge, software, skills, or public buildings and spaces. The maintenance, health, and sustainability of these resources are in our shared interest, as they have always been. No individual, company, or government created these common goods; therefore, none has a right to claim them as private property. On the contrary: we inherited them from previous generations and have a moral obligation to look after them for future generations.28 Along with the other kinds of solidarity I’ve described in this chapter, the commons as a social practice dates back many centuries. The original meaning of the term comes from the way that communities managed shared land in medieval Europe, but history is filled with similar systems in which communities managed common resources sustainably over the long term. The shared management of water, for example dates back eight thousand years; the earliest records of collectively managed irrigation have been found in regions of the Middle East that we now know as Iraq and Iran. In Bali, as I described in Chapter 4, a complex irrigation society that dates back a thousand years is still alive today, and evolving. The era of globalization is no exception; millions of commoners have organized in recent times to defend their forests and fisheries, reinvent local food systems, organize productive online communities, reclaim public spaces, improve environmental stewardship, and, as David Bollier puts it, to ‘re-imagine the very meaning of “progress”’.292530

No simple formula or rule book exists for commons governance but, in her 1990 book Governing the Commons, which was based on a systematic study of fisheries, irrigation, groundwater, and forestry systems, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom identified a number of design principles that she had discovered were common in successful examples of self-governance: ▶ the principle that use value trumps exchange value: commons that are useful to our everyday life shall not be turned into commodities to be sold for money; ▶ the principle of reciprocity: anyone who takes from the commons has to contribute to the commons; ▶ the principle of free knowledge: all commoners must protect the right to share and contribute shared skills and technologies; ▶ the principle of self-organization: ways to resolve problems are sought for collectively rather than imposed from above.32 In the years since Ostrom’s pioneering work, a new generation of commoners has added clarity and detail to these broad principles. Among recent additions are: ▶ the need for collaborative monitoring of biophysical conditions; ▶ the principle of graduated sanctions to be applied to citizens who violate agreed rules; ▶ the need for conflict-resolution mechanisms.33 For my own work, which often involves connecting designers with communities in transition, I have added a number of Rules of Engagement to complement the principles articulated by Elinor Ostrom and her successors. Among these: ▶ respect what’s already there: most designers are trained to change things first and ask questions afterwards. A better use of a designer’s fresh eyes is to reveal hidden value and thus mobilize hidden local resources; ▶ empower local people: any design action that rearranges places and relationships is an exercise of power. A good test for the sensitivity of a design proposal is whether it enables people to increase control over their own territory and resources. ▶ think whole systems: when designing an improvement to a common resource, such as a river, the design of the device, such as a pump, will seldom be more than 10 per cent of the complete solution; the other 90 per cent – and the rest of the system – involves distribution, training, maintenance and service arrangements, and partnership and business models. These are just as important.2560

An important lesson has emerged from study of these diverse kinds of commoning: the How is as important as the What. Paying attention to the process by which groups work together is just as important as deciding what needs to be done, if not more so. It’s not enough simply to proclaim the moral superiority of sharing, for example, and then expect everyone to fall in line. Tough questions must be confronted, and not brushed under the carpet. Among these: how to define, map, and name the resources to be shared; determining who is entitled to what; designing rules and sanctions; designing how to make the rules. For one long-time advocate of commoning, Massimo De Angelis, how to deal with difference is the most important of these issues by far. ‘We have to go beyond the idea that democracy means: “here is my view, there is yours, let’s see who wins”,’ he asserts; ‘we need to acknowledge differences, allow those who don’t want to share with us, or with whom we do not want to share, to be heard.’34 Dealing with difference involves a lot of consensus building, active participation, and collective decision-making. All this takes time, and a politics that involves endless meetings is neither attractive nor practicable for most people. New ways of doing politics are therefore needed that are shaped by the ways people live now – not the other way round. For David Bollier, another insightful advocate, commoning is more of an art than a science. ‘We all know that the commons is about the stewardship of resources,’ he has written, ‘but we may not realize that it is also about hosting people. Not “managing” them or “organizing” them, but unleashing their capacity to self-organize themselves in creative, constructive, humane ways.’2589

Adam Kahane, one of the pioneers of conflict resolution and collaboration design. ‘What might seem at first glance to be abstract theory has proved incredibly instructive,’ says Dahle. ‘When we convene any group – fishers, processors, or financiers – we set up the conversation so there’s something in it for them. We acknowledge the interests of everyone in the room, and we never ask anyone to sacrifice their self-interest. We work to show – to prove – that there is a reason for them to shift their thinking and behaviour.’382620

Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In AI, rather than compile lists of all the problems that need to be fixed, and all the wicked things that have been done, the group focuses first on what’s working; it then explores how successful ingredients might be improved, and how. A number of next-generation institutes will teach you skills that are similar to AI. At the Presencing Institute, for example, founder Otto Scharmer runs Theory U workshops that teach people how to ‘co-sense and co-create positive change’. The Alia Institute, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, offers skill-building courses with names like Change Lab and Human Systems Dynamics. Another network, Art of Hosting, teaches people ‘how to be successful in complex circumstances when we can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like’. In Brazil, the Elos Institute, founded in 2000 by young architects, runs a collaborative game called Oasis that’s designed ‘to awake and give impulse to communities through fast actions with high impact’. A cross between an architectural design project and an Amish-style barn-raising, Oasis games typically end with a square, a park, or a daycare centre being built there and then.2626

For the Financial Times, Big Data signifies nothing less than the arrival of a ‘postmodern economy’. Under the headline ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’, the paper stated in 2012 that ‘today’s market is the most infinitely complex and impossible object ever imagined’.6 In order to prosper, the FT opined, the modern investor must be ‘adaptable to changing modes of acuity’; be able ‘to imagine different realistic states of the world’; and be able to think as ‘both the mathematician and the artist’. If frothy prose like this appeared in an undergraduate’s cultural studies paper, one would not blink an eye – but these words adorned the house journal of global finance. It is surely alarming that the world’s economy is being shaped by people who are mesmerized by all things digital but blind to a much larger reality: the analogue knowledge accumulated in nature during 3.5 billion years of evolution. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond argues that one reason societies fail is that their elites are insulated from the negative impact of their own actions.7 Diamond focuses on Easter Island, where the overuse of wood products eventually destroyed its inhabitants’ survival prospects, but the lesson applies equally to us today. We lust for speed, perfection, and control but, because we inhabit an abstract, digitally diminished world, we’re blind to the true costs of what we wish for. I do not pretend to be a cognitively superior observer, here; I spend too much time myself in environments, such as airport lounges, that are just as insulated from reality as the FT’s news room or a risk trader’s console. But I also spend enough time outside the digital bubble to know that the environmental impacts of the economy are no less devastating just because they are out of sight. The desert of the real isolates from literally vital knowledge in four ways: because it’s invisible; because it’s somewhere else; because our sensory bandwidth is too narrow; and because we’re ‘educated’. Of the life-critical phenomena we don’t see because they’re invisible, the most important is energy intensity. As I explained in Chapter 1, we need sixty times more energy per person to meet our daily life ‘needs’ than pre-modern men and women – and that gap is widening. When you think about it, that sixty-fold-and-rising difference should be terrifying – but we don’t think about it, or not clearly.2734

Another deadly feature of the desert of the real is that we think too much, and sense too little. Think back to that brain and its billions of neurons. We only use a tiny fraction of those neurons for conscious observation and rational thought: we use the rest to experience the world unconsciously – but these other ways of knowing the world have been suppressed in modern society. For the philosopher John Zerzan, this is where our problems began – when we embraced symbolic culture and placed language, art, and number above other ways of knowing the world. Because every abstraction both simplifies, and distances, earthly reality, it underpins a concept of progress in which the globe is perceived to be a repository of resources to fuel endless growth.82758

Abstract thought is deeply embedded in the fourth defining feature of the desert of the real: the fact that we’ve been ‘educated’. Time was, not so long ago, when children didn’t go to school: school surrounded them. As Ellen Haas describes it, ‘nature was a living teacher. Every relative – and every plant and animal – was a mentor. People soaked up the language of plants and animals by immersion.’9 We are born with an inherited aesthetic tendency to appreciate this intimate connection with the world, and for thousands of years this form of learning served us well – but nowadays we go to school. There, an unremitting focus on science and technology exacerbates our dislocation from the Earth. We become expert in the manipulation of symbols, abstractions, and concepts – but to what end? To earn money? To consume? We are also mistaught in school that competition between individuals, and survival of the fittest, is the dominant framework of life on Earth. The more up-to-date theory of symbiogenesis suggests that evolution takes place in communities of interacting entities and that, as Donna Haraway puts it, ‘our environment is us’.10 School-based education separates children physically, and therefore cognitively, from this reality. By promulgating a way of knowing that assumes an external world of objects and facts, it invalidates local systems of knowledge and local ways of knowing as well.112764

However positive and uplifting their stories may be, they leave untouched the underlying narrative that we can have our cake and eat it – where ‘cake’ means a perpetual growth economy. To be blunt: a focus on the individual’s personal contribution to a problem – and how to change that – is an example of what cynical politicians call bait and switch. Two simple examples: if you or I take our shopping home in a reused disposable plastic bag, and feel good about doing so, the bag is typically responsible for about one-thousandth of the footprint of the food it contains.12 Or if I turn off my phone charger, on the principle that every little helps, the energy saved in switching off for one day is used up in one second of driving a car.13 Reusing a bag or turning off a charger may be an easier thing to ask than something huge and abstract, like reshaping a food system – but campaigns to make us feel good about ourselves deflect attention from the underlying values and structures that shape our behaviour in the first place. If accentuating the positive is not, of itself, an answer, we are left with a dilemma: what are we to do if, when people are exposed to shocking stories and images, nothing seems to change in the system as a whole? What are we to do as designers if we create a powerful piece of communication – and it has no impact? How do we reach a TL;DR generation (textspeak for Too Long: Didn’t Read) that survives the media blitz by filtering most of it out? In my search for guidance on this topic, I’ve discovered these are not new questions. St Augustine, in City of God, attacked ‘scenic games’ as being responsible for the death of the soul – and that was more than 1,500 years ago. A century ago, in 1908, the American philosopher John Dewey decried the emergence of what he called a ‘Kodak fixation’14 – a photographic attitude that reduces the citizen’s role to that of a spectator, detached from that which is experienced. Ivan Illich, writing in 1971, believed that our culture started to go off the rails when monks stopped reading texts aloud to each other and became solitary scholars – in 1120.15 Twenty years ago, Susan Sontag’s classic text Regarding the Pain of Others raised similar issues – with particular reference to war photography.16 ‘Why is it’, she asked, ‘that even when we are exposed to shocking stories and images, nothing seems to change?’ Sontag memorably alerted us to the danger that photographs – and by implication all visualizations – have a tendency, in her words, to ‘shrivel sympathy’. Images shown on television, she wrote, are, by definition, images of which one sooner or later tires. Image-glut keeps attention light, mobile, relatively indifferent to content. ‘Compassion’, Sontag concluded, ‘is an unstable emotion… it needs to be translated into action, or it withers.… It is passivity that dulls feeling.’ If it’s passivity that dulls feeling, as Susan Sontag concluded, if emitting messages – however clever or evocative they may be – is ineffective without some kind of follow-up action, then it follows that the actions we need to take are those that reconnect us – viscerally and emotionally – with the living systems we’ve lost touch with. These actions should create space for people to experience relationships with living systems no matter how small the scale; they should facilitate a sense of belonging and being at home in the world as it is now, in Roger Scruton’s words, and focus attention on the positive qualities of often small, humble, living things that surround us.172784

Until recently, we tended to think of the nervous system as a glorified set of message cables connecting the body to the brain – but from a scientific perspective, the boundary between mind and world turns out to be a porous one. The human mind is hormonal, as well as neural. Our thoughts and experiences are not limited to brain activity in the skull, nor are they enclosed by the skin. Our metabolism, and nature’s, are interconnected on a molecular, atomic, and viral level. Mental phenomena – our thoughts – emerge not merely from brain activity, but from what Teed Rockwell describes as ‘a single unified system embracing the nervous system, body, and environment’.25 The importance of this new perspective is profound. If our minds are shaped by our physical environments – and not just by synapses clicking away inside our box-like skulls – then the division between the thinking self and the natural world – a division that underpins the whole of modern thought – begins to dissolve. Having worked hard throughout the modern era to lift ourselves ‘above’ nature, we are now being told by modern science that man and nature are one, after all.2859

Connection is not just about words, he taught, it’s about encounter and community. Literally ‘vital’ conversations need to be embodied, and situated. It follows from Martin Buber’s insights that we need more interactive and less choreographed forms of encounter. Over many thousands of years participatory ritual, and performance, were the main ways in which beliefs were shared within a culture. In indigenous cultures the world over today, too, communities use ceremonies, arts, and stories to maintain harmony between nature and culture, body and mind. The meeting formats we design now, therefore, should enable us, quite simply, to breathe the same air in a natural context. In my own work as an event organizer I call these ‘feral encounters’: they usually takes place outside – or at least, outside the disciplinary tent – and are shaped and energized by their context, not by an abstract agenda. Being outside the tent also brings one closer to people with first-hand experience of social-ecological systems: fishers, farmers, foresters, water stewards, ride-sharers, space reusers. An out-of-the-tent approach enables distracted people to cherish and nurture what’s unique about each place, each moment, each group of people. This is why we call our Doors of Perception encounters ‘xskools’. ‘X’ means: breathing the same air. Shoulder-to-shoulder learning. The opportunity to be still. Only here, only now.2909

HOW CHANGE HAPPENS Getting out of the tent is just the start. Whether inside the tent or out, change doesn’t happen just because you tell people things. Change is not about campaigns to raise awareness, or to change other people’s behaviour; these approaches simply don’t work – or only partially. Change is not much about finely crafted ‘visions’ and the promise of a better reality in some future place and time. In the fine words of Guy McPherson, ‘Nature evolves by paying attention to present needs and opportunities – working piecemeal rather than in grand designs.’32 Above all, change is not about making demands, of telling politicians what they must do. ‘The government must end our dependency on fossil fuels.’ ‘We must end this obsession with perpetual growth.’ ‘They’ won’t do any such thing. They can’t. They’re not captains of a ship. They’re following the wrong script in a dysfunctional system. Change is more likely to happen when people reconnect – with each other, and with the biosphere – in rich, real-world contexts of the kind I have written about in this book. This will strike some readers as being naive and unrealistic. But given what we know about the ways complex systems – including belief systems – change, my confidence in the power of the Small to shape the Big remains undimmed. As we’ve learned from systems thinking, transformation can unfold quietly as a variety of changes and interventions, and often small disruptions accumulate across time. At a certain moment – which is impossible to predict – a tipping point, or phase shift, is reached and the system as a whole transforms. It’s a lesson confirmed repeatedly by history: ‘All the great transformations have been unthinkable until they actually came to pass,’ writes the French philosopher Edgar Morin. ‘The fact that a belief system is deeply rooted does not mean it cannot change.’332920

a leave-things-better economy – myriad projects in which people are taking action to close the metabolic rift.2939

The philosopher Joanna Macy describes the appearance of this new story as the ‘Great Turning’, a profound shift in our perception, a reawakening to the fact that we are not separate or apart from plants, animals, air, water, and the soils. There’s a spiritual dimension to this story – Macy is a Buddhist scholar – but her Great Turning is consistent with recent scientific discoveries, too: the idea, as articulated by Stephan Harding, that the world is ‘far more animate than we ever dared suppose’. Explained in this way – by science, as much as by poetry, art, and philosophy – the Earth no longer appears to us as a repository of inert resources. On the contrary: the interdependence between healthy soils, living systems, and the ways we can help them regenerate, finally addresses the ‘why’ of economic activity that we’ve been lacking. This narrative points to the one kind of growth that makes sense, and that we can afford: the regeneration of life on Earth. The core value of this emerging economy is stewardship, rather than extraction – and the positive feeds on the positive. The more pieces we fit in – each piece a new way to feed, shelter, and heal ourselves in partnership with living processes – the easier it becomes. It’s our genes at work: formed long before the industrial age, they’re helping to reconnect us with our wild side.2940

CHAPTER 1: CHANGING 1 Vidyut, ‘Smart Cities or Cleverly Disguised Corporate Colonies?’, Aam janata, 14 February 2015, https://aamjanata.com/smart-cities-cleverly-disguised-corporate-colonies/ 2 Bardi, Ugo, ‘Tainter’s law: Where is the physics?’, Our Finite World, 27 March 2011, http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/03/31/tainters-law-where-is-the-physics/ 3 Fernández-Savater, Amador, ‘Strength and Power Reimagining Revolution’, Guerilla Translation, 29 July 2013, http:// guerrillatranslation.com/2013/07/29/strength-and-power-reimagining-revolution/comment-page-1/ 4 Macy, Joanna, ‘The Great Turning’, Ecoliteracy, http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/great-turning 5 Morin, Edgar, Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millennium – Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity and the Human Sciences, New York: Hampton Press, 1999 6 DeLong, Brad, ‘Earl Cook’s Estimates of Energy Capture’, Grasping Reality, 22 January 2012, http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2012/01/earl-cooks-estimates-of-energy-capture.html 7 Murphy, Tom, ‘Can Economic Growth Last?’, Do The Math, 14 July 2011, http:// physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/can-economic-growth-last/ 8 Tverberg, Gail, ‘Energy and the Economy – Twelve Basic Principles’, Our Finite World, 14 August 2014, http://ourfiniteworld.com/ 2014/08/14/energy-and-the-economy-twelve-basic-principles/ 9 Glover, John, ‘Global Debt Exceeds $100 Trillion as Governments Binge’, Bloomberg, 9 March 2014 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-09/global-debt-exceeds-100-trillion-as-governments-binge-bis-says.html 10 Tverberg, Gail, ‘WSJ Gets it Wrong on “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True”’, Our Finite World, 6 October 2014, http://ourfiniteworld.com/ 2014/10/06/wsj-gets-it-wrong-on-why-peak-oil-predictions-havent-come-true/ 11 Commons Strategy Group, ‘The Coming Financial Enclosure of the Commons’, Shareable, 11 June 2013, http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-coming-financial-enclosure-of-the-commons 12 ‘The Financialisation of Nature: Linking food, land grabs, climate & mining’, Gaia Foundation, 10 November 2011, http://www.gaiafoundation.org/blog/the-financialisation-of-nature-linking-food-land-grabs-climate-mining 13 http://naturenotforsale.org/declaration/ 14 https://www.foeeurope.org/nature-not-for-sale 15 http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-risks-report-2015 16 http://www.dni.gov/index.php/about/organization/national-intelligence-council-global-trends 17 ‘Planetary Boundaries’, Stockholm Resilience Centre, http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/1-15-2015-planetary-boundaries-2.0—new-and-improved.html 18 Raford, Noah, ‘Collapse Dynamics: Phase Transitions in Complex Social Systems’, 29 November 2009, http://news.noahraford.com/?p=48 19 Kelly, Kevin, ‘The Post-Productive Economy’, The Technium, 1 January 2013, http://kk.org/thetechnium/2013/01/the-post-produc/ 20 http://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2013 21 Murphy, Tom, ‘Can Economic Growth Last?’, Do The Math, 14 July 2011, http:// physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/can-economic-growth-last/ 22 Zolli, Andrew and Ann Marie Healy, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013 23 Foster, John Bellamy, The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009, p. 13 24 Morton, Timothy, ‘The Catastrophe Has Already Occurred’, 13 July 2008, http:// ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.fr/2008/07/ catastrophe-has-already-occurred.html 25 Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962 26 ‘World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability’, German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU), http://www.wbgu.de/fileadmin/templates/dateien/veroeffentlichungen/hauptgutachten/jg2011/wbgu_jg2011_en.pdf 27 Kingston, Christopher and Gonzalo Caballero, ‘Comparing Theories of Institutional Change’, Amherst College, 16 June 2008, https://www3.amherst.edu/~cgkingston/Comparing.pdf CHAPTER 2: GROUNDING 1 ‘Les Incroyables Comestibles du…2952

The Light Bulb Conspiracy; David McConville for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. A good number of the people who appear in this book met first at Doors of Perception 9 in India; I thank Aditya Dev Sood and his team for their invaluable role in that memorable event. Since then our hosts and partners for Doors of Perception xskools, which succeeded the Doors conference, have been a joy and inspiration to work with, especially: Edmund Colville, who hosted the first xskool at West Lexham, England; Michael Toivio, Aija Freimane, Bo Westerlund, Martin Avila, Magnus Lindfors, Petra Lijla, Yngve Gunnarson, and Karina Vissonova for our ongoing xskools in Sweden; Elisabeth Bastian, at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba; Christopher Crouch, Sally Holmes, and Brad Pettit in Fremantle; Alan Pert, Gini Lee, and Rory Hyde in Melbourne; Mansi Gupta in Kanpur; Christian Duell and Peter Hall in Brisbane; Klaus K. Loenhart and Michele Savorgnano in Venice; Donna Holford-Lovell and Dawn Campbell in Dundee; Alison Clarke and Michael Kieslinger in Vienna; Jacqueline Otten, Michael Krohn, and Karin Zindel in Zurich; Simon O’Rafferty, Frank O’Connor, and Andrew Goodman in North Wales; Terry Irwin at CMU; Andrew Polaine in Lucerne; Simona Casarotto in Treviso; Andrew Bradley, Linda Doyle, and Barry Sheahan in Dublin; Stuart Walker in Lancaster; Serge Gheldere, Joannes Vandermeulen, and Heleen van Loon in Belgium; Aldo de Jong and Abby Margolis in Barcelona; Barbara Predan in Llubljana; Nurten Meriçer, Tuna Ozkuhadar, Ayhan Ensici, Merve Titiz, and Julie Upmeyer in Istanbul; the late Dori Gislason, Soley Stefansdottir, Andri Magnasson, and Gísli Örn Bjarnhéðinsson in Iceland; Birger Sevaldson, Bjarne Ringstad, Perann Sylvia Stokke, and Jane Pernille in Norway; Peter Krogh in Denmark; Ewa Gołebiowsk in Poland; Julius Oförsagd in Rovaniemi; Carla Mayumi, Cristina Bilsand, Camilo Belchior, and Marcelo Melo in Brazil; Oscar Salinas Flores, Jimena Acosta, Emiliano Godoy, and Desiree Ibinarriaga in Mexico; Alvin Yip in Hong Kong; Banny Banerjee at Stanford; Kati Rubinyi, Mud Baron, Rebeca Mendez, and Adam Eeuwens in Los Angeles; Edward West, Sarah Brooks, Leslie Roberts, and Kirk Bergstrom in the Bay Area; Peter Wünsch and Rachel Deller in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Ben Brangwyn, Isabel Carlisle, and Ed Mitchell in the Transition Network.3971

For keeping mind, body, and soul more or less connected, I thank my teacher Valérie Katz. My wife Kristi, and daughter Kate, have had to tolerate a preoccupied3998