I Got a Phone Call Out of the Blue
Out of the blue I got a phone call this morning that completely caught me off guard. Over the years I have had tons of people writing me emails about published articles. Most of them agree with my stance that America the Beautiful has changed into a fascist smelling empire, and some obviously don’t. It really does not matter to me when people claim ignorance on my side and that America has a right to make the excusable young republican claim that “our nation is still young, we are allowed to make mistakes.” And frankly I often agree with that somewhat juvenile approach, ….provided that action is taken to correct those mistakes and people don’t collectively stick their heads in the sand. After all I’m not writing my essays to please myself. I write them so people who have less time to look around, because they are burdened down with every day survival issues, get a notion of what is going on with what once was a promise of freedom and democracy the world could look up to.
The phone call this morning asked me if I was the publisher of Searchamelia, upon confirmation of which, I received a huge compliment that completely took me by surprise. The caller (as my caller ID indicated) was a concerned official who complimented me on yesterday’s story exposing US Attorney General Holder’s blatant abandonment of the US Constitution.
From the content of the call I abstracted that the caller was possibly a ranking member of Florida’s Law Enforcement elite, who expressed grave concerns about the direction this country has taken especially when at one point in the conversation he claimed that he “dreaded the day he would have to turn in his badge and move over to the other side.”
That admission in itself was a not only a chilling reinforcement of how we are now divided, it also brought back a story I recently received from Pete K, who owns a cloud computing solutions company, but is lately focusing on helping people train for a new future build on a different paradigm.
I would like to share excerpts of that story with you, as it will hopefully help you realize that the Race is truly on and not all of us will make it through the narrow gate. Kind of like the ending of the movie 2012.
Here is Pete K’s race scenario:
Imagine the example of a race condition involving the tale of the young newlywed couple facing cash shortages at the end of the month. While awaiting the electronic deposit of her paycheck, the wife writes a check to pay for unexpected automotive repair. Unaware of this fact, the husband writes a check to pay for groceries, confident that there is enough money in the bank. Should their paychecks clear first, all is well and disaster is averted. On the other hand, if their paychecks do not get deposited in time, a series of bounced checks will result in inconvenience, embarrassment as well as a myriad of fees charged by the respective bank and vendors. The outcome of the race is not known until insufficient-funds notices start showing up in the couple’s mailbox.
In many ways our economies are is a similar race. And then there is the Cultural Race Condition.
While it may be a simplification of the circumstances faced, it can be said that the world is currently experiencing a “cultural race condition,” pitting the forces of liberalization against an increasingly desperate establishment. The upheaval being observed is no natural ebb and flow of power transitions. Rather, for reasons that will be further explored, the dramatic changes witnessed are occurring at a pace so rapid that existing social and political structures are unable to reach new positions of equilibrium.
In Lane Number One – The Establishment
By definition, it is the objective of the establishment to preserve the status quo. Often presented from a position of benevolent paternalism, preserving the status quo is traditionally accomplished through the creation of boundaries that are invisible until they are touched. These “electronic dog fences” are marketed by the established state and corporate powers as being for the benefit of society. Regardless whether financial, physical, cultural or informational in nature, in an attempt to keep up with shifting societal tides, new controls are regularly introduced and implemented by the establishment, even though most of the populace may be oblivious to that reality.
A key control technique is to establish boundaries beyond the interest or perception of the masses. This accomplishes two objectives. One is that the control measure will be perceived by the majority as arcane and largely irrelevant to their personal condition. After all, if a restriction is placed in the realm beyond the daily vicissitudes of life, why bother expending significant intellectual energy debating its validity?
The second and more powerful consequence is that it facilitates the marshaling of the majority against “the fringe.” Consider the expression, “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.” This argument is invariably used by the individual who is not impacted by the boundary established.
An example would be the issue facing American citizens regarding foreign financial holdings. Reporting requirements and sanctions imposed for noncompliance stipulated by the US Treasury against non-US banks has made it exceedingly difficult for US citizens and residents to open bank accounts outside the United States. As most Americans have not given thought to such matters, most will dismiss the topic as a matter of concern only to the financial elite. Many in fact support such restrictions, even though, for all intents and purposes, they represent de facto capital controls. The electronic dog fence in this instance is beyond the “roaming range” of the majority and therefore is not perceived as a boundary.
And in Lane Number Two…
Occasionally, the establishment will be caught off guard by significant and empowering changes sweeping society. These changes, typically caused by technological innovations, extend the masses’ awareness, interest and influence into realms previously considered under the uncontested control of the establishment. Naturally, this results in conflict as the establishment redoubles its efforts to maintain control.
An instructive case is the debate surrounding the SOPA and PIPA legislation put forth by the US Congress at the end of 2011. The purported argument for the legislation was to protect intellectual property – primarily digital content distributed over the Internet. While reasonable people can debate the principles and logistics surrounding the issue of intellectual property, this legislation overstepped by trying to grant the State very broad privileges to shut down Internet sites even for allegations of intellectual property infringements. Without delving into the technical and legal details, it is important to note that the legislation received so much pushback that the entire affair was dropped. Well, not really, as it turns out – more on that momentarily.
The case is interesting on several fronts, starting with how it demonstrates that an issue – in this instance, intellectual property – can rapidly morph from being a fairly esoteric discussion point into an almost explosive national issue. Simply, the establishment failed to recognize in advance that the roaming range of the masses had already increased, leaving the government feverishly behind and rushing out a clumsy attempt to install new electronic dog fences.
As for my somewhat cryptic comment above, you may find it interesting that the US government unilaterally shut down dozens of web sites the day after SOPA and PIPA were abandoned by the US Congress. It appears that SOPA and PIPA represented an optional formality.
Back to the point, on one side of the horse race, we have the establishment, which is working constantly to contain and control knowledge, thought and action. On the other, we have the unexpectedly empowered masses who are increasingly aware of, and resistant to, the government’s attempts to curtail their ability to think and act freely. The cultural race condition is afoot.
Communication Constructs as Agents of Change
As mentioned, this cultural race condition, and the social instability manifested thereby, does not represent a traditional generational changing of the guard. Rather, the world is facing a communications-driven cultural shift on a scale not seen in five hundred years, a shift that has come about from the invention and adoption of game-changing technology.
The last time the world experienced a similar shift was in the middle of the fifteenth century with the advent of Gutenberg’s moveable type print. Gutenberg’s invention is credited with being the catalyst of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the Reformation as well as the Scientific Revolution and expansion of learning to the greater populace. The existing establishment of the period, largely centered on the Catholic Church, saw its authority erode in political, scientific as well as religious matters. These historical movements were accompanied by significant social upheaval and unrest.
Today we are seeing a shift of similar significance. In the current instance, the catalytic technology is of course the Internet, enabled by the introduction of microprocessor-based computing. While most will agree that the Internet represents a revolutionary technology, to fully appreciate its transformative power, we need to consider it in the context of the three laws of the network.
The Three Laws of the Network
The First Law of the Network is Sarnoff’s Law, named after David Sarnoff, the founder of NBC. Sarnoff’s Law states the power of the network is directly proportional to its number of participants. This law applies to a traditional broadcast environment, regardless of medium. The model is defined by a single producer of content serving an arbitrary base of information consumers. Under Sarnoff’s Law, information flows only in one direction, which fundamentally leaves no distinction between the Gutenberg print press, newspapers, radio and broadcast television. Logistical efficiencies and the speed that information can be distributed are certainly factors to be considered, but fundamentally they all represent a one-to-many relationship.
The Second Law of the Network is Metcalfe’s Law, named after Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet and co-founder of the technology firm 3Com. Metcalfe’s Law states that the power of the network is directly proportional to the square of the number of participants. In this model, every participant in the network is both a consumer and producer of information. It is the many-to-many relationship that is its distinguishing characteristic. Email is an example of Metcalfe’s Law – a network with two email addresses represents a single connection. As additional email participants are added to the network, the power of the network grows geometrically.
The Third Law of the Network is Reed’s Law, named after David Reed, an accomplished computer scientist with the Viral Communications Group in the MIT Media Lab. Reed’s Law states that when a network reaches a certain size, further growth achieves power far greater than that described by Metcalfe’s Law because the contributions of subgroups within the network become an increasingly significant component of the overall network. This can be summed up as a “many many-to-many” arrangement. Perhaps the most prominent example is Facebook.
As of December 2011, Facebook had 845 million users. The power of Facebook, however, does not lie primarily with the user count, but rather with the innumerable groupings that are formed within the Facebook community.
Twitter provides another prominent example of a network governed by Reed’s Law. During the infamous Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008, a very clear picture of the events emerged within five minutes via Twitter. And Twitter continued to provide detailed, real-time updates of all phases of the event. Traditional broadcast and cable media were never able to get in front of the story.
Reed’s Law allows for complex information to be formed, processed and distributed almost in real time, pushing the bottleneck of information to the very source, virtually eliminating the challenges of distribution as a road block. In addition, it allows for value to be added throughout the process.
Goodbye Gutenberg, So Long Sarnoff
It can be reasonably postulated that mass media began with Gutenberg’s invention in the middle of the fifteenth century. From the first copy produced by Gutenberg’s printing press to broadcast and cable television, information distribution and the power that lay therein was governed by Sarnoff’s Law. With the advent of interactive media, largely driven by the Internet, Sarnoff’s Law has given way to media being governed by Metcalfe’s Law and recently Reed’s Law. This in turn has resulted in an erosion of the establishment’s ability to maintain tight control over both medium and message.
That erosion is central to the social unrest we are witnessing in the beginning of the 21st century.
If history is any guide, in the end the establishment will lose in its attempt to retake control; however, no organism forgoes its position without a struggle. As traditional institutions are likely to become unstable, and in some instances collapse, it becomes increasingly critical that each of us prepare plans and build resources to better weather coming periods when social institutions experience acute disruptions.
Making it Through the Bumpy Ride
In looking back on the social and political consequences of Gutenberg’s revolutionary innovation, the positive impact on Western civilization can hardly be overstated. The invention marked the end of the Dark Ages, a ten-century period beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire during which virtually no progress was made and the human condition was generally dismal. That the invention proved to be a monumental step in the advancement of mankind was, however, of little consolation to the people caught up in the extreme violence and volatility of that period.
Religious, scientific and cultural pioneers often faced personal and professional attacks and frequently paid for their leadership with their fortunes and lives. William Tyndale is remembered for translating the Bible into English. It was a “crime” for which he paid with his life.
Today Egypt, Libya and Syria are but the most obvious examples of violent social unrest; unrest fueled by the paradigm shift of the Internet and Social Media. The yet unproven advances in the human condition many expect to see materialize in these places provide little relief to those who will lose their property, livelihood and lives during the transition. In the process of greater advances, it is easy to become collateral damage. Volatility impacts “bystanders” as much as active participants during social upheaval.
“Keep Your Head Down and Your Powder Dry”
While Oliver Cromwell’s famous admonition should always be considered sage advice, it is especially warranted during periods of widespread volatility. Today that advice should be considered in the context of ensuring personal safety, safeguarding financial resources and maintaining access to current information that either provides immediate actionable guidance or helps establish an emerging trend that can be used for predictive analysis.
This is an iterative process, demanding regular if not continuous vigilance against existing and emerging threats. This requires committing to continuously seeking trustworthy sources of information. Fortunately, Reed’s Law, and technology based on it, allows for rapid cross-pollination of ideas. Focused sources of information can be rapidly processed and reassembled to help in making specific decisions, a concept that is called content “mash-up.”
It is inadequate to exclusively rely on monolithic traditional information sources, such as those still operating under Sarnoff’s Law, many of which are unduly influenced by the establishment and so are no longer to be fully trusted.
The first of the three alleged Chinese curses proclaims “May you live in interesting times.” By every measure, it would seem that we do. The period just ahead will be defined by opportunity seized and opportunity lost. How you personally make out during the transition will largely be a function of your willingness to remain current with the societal transformations taking place. In other words, only by dedicating a portion of just about every day to assemble relevant and timely information will you be able to properly assess and manage your exposure to risk.
The steps you should take to protect yourself include:
• Understand and participate in social media. It will initially serve as an early warning system to opportunities, threats and risks. In time, it may be the only warning system. Stay on top of it. While contributing is optional, participation is becoming mandatory.
• Recognize that social unrest can happen anywhere, including “here.” During social unrest, the government is not your friend. Their objective is to restore their order. Think Katrina. Diversify your life, including physical and financial assets, so you can safely sit out the mayhem. Start planning now. There may come a time when it is too late.
• Assess your geographical environment as it applies to your physical safety. Large metropolitan areas and economically marginal communities can quickly descend into upheaval should basic life support systems fail. Develop the skills to protect yoursel f, your family and your property.
• Recognize the increased significance of your digital life and take meaningful steps to protect it. Governments will increasingly seek to control and monitor your digital life. Develop and maintain the skills to protect your digital identity – it is inextricably linked to your physical and financial well-being.
• Don’t go it alone. There are a lot of complexities afoot in the world today, and trying to process all this information on your own is almost impossible. By teaming up with other individuals you know and trust, and sharing resources, you can enhance awareness and improve your capabilities in planning should the sorts of serious changes that we could see come to pass during this transitive period.
These are but a few steps you can take that will serve you well and likely put you ahead of your peers. By keeping your head on swivel and regularly updating your fall-back plans, you can get on with enjoying your life, create value in your chosen field of endeavor and not worry about becoming the horse that doesn’t make it through the gate.
Publisher: Yes I was thrilled by the compliment delivered over the phone; I felt graced by the fact that I reached “the other site” and was reimbursed with the knowledge that even on that site, some are concerned. While looking at my phone’s LCD display and recognizing where the call came from, there was also a little nagging warning signal (you’re being set up!!!) going off at the same time.
We are all racing towards a small gate and who is going to make it through depends largely on trivial components and seemingly inconsequential distractions.
Personally I am looking forward to the day that people shed fear and use their educated belief system to comment on stories on this and other websites and realize that we the people disperse the authority. Whether we agree or disagree, liberty is just too important to keep indoors or beat it down with silence and fear. Especially since we are in a race, where losing our Liberty is a very serious possibility.