Monday, June 16, 2014

People Organizing Themselves

This isn't a game design post.

There's been a growing stream of news about people organizing themselves. It's becoming more and more easy. Things like AirBnB and Uber are one example. People organizing to evade import taxes and tariffs are another example. The new tone of socially-aware political protests are a third example.

But even you, personally, have probably noticed how easy it is to organize people. When each side has a smartphone, messages and internet maps make it very easy for any two people to quickly negotiate a time and place to meet. Even if you don't want to meet up, talking via messages allows for easy, asynchronous, searchable communication. It's easier and easier to communicate.

Most of the organizations arising in this space are "trust brokers" - their job is to insure that the people communicating are both trustworthy. Like all middlemen, I expect these organizations to be replaced by something a lot flatter and more public, but it'll be a while before that happens.

Anyway, anyone with a smart phone is exercising powers that used to be held only by corporations, governments, and the extremely rich. Buying from abroad used to be limited to those categories - companies would buy or manufacture abroad, then ship it home. "Globalization", we called it. Governments stepped in to regulate it, some more than others. But individuals were not usually very carefully regulated.

If person A wanted to buy jeans from America, person A would have to fly to America, buy them, and fly home. Obviously a huge expense and waste of time. Instead, person A would buy jeans from a company that specialized in importing jeans. And they would pay the middlemen and the government to do so.

Now, however, person A can buy jeans via person B, who happens to already be in America and wouldn't mind doing your shopping for you. This is a literal middleman - not an organization, but a specific person. You don't even have to know them - they have a 5-star rating from everyone that's come before, so you can trust them to get the job done.

This may sound pretty familiar, because its not exactly a new idea. People have been noticing this kind of thing growing for quite a while. But I want to talk about the cultures surrounding it in a bit more depth, because I have Opinions.

Let's state the idea clearly:

Ad-hoc cooperation is the future.

It's a carefully chosen phrase, because there is a lot of political chaff floating around. If I say "individuals will create the new economy", it won't go across right. Even though it technically means what I'm trying to say, it is already associated with a particular political group - the Libertarians - and therefore people will naturally think of Libertarian philosophies.

So, let's be clear: this is not a Libertarian thing. This is not about independence, but interdependence. It is not about supply and demand, markets, or abusively externalizing your costs. In fact, it's basically the opposite of those things.

We're talking about arranging to cooperate in a limited fashion so fluidly that everyone stops thinking "I'm going to do this" and starts thinking "we're going to do this". It's not about an economy or brokering of trust, because that implies some kind of buying and selling of trust. It's about sharing resources and skills so fluidly it's almost unconscious.

If I were to create a science fiction setting around this idea, I'd have to be careful. It would be too easy to simply treat things as a hive mind.

But I'm actually talking about the reverse of a hive mind! I'm talking about a frothing mix of very diverse people naturally finding others that are complementary. Others that are interested in doing the same things, or whose activities perfectly line up with the activities you need. This is not a method to make people all the same: it is a method to leverage the fact that there are so many different people.

Because that's what's happening. Humanity is diverse, and growing more so.

Our ability to connect through the noise and chaos and distance is growing even faster.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love you, you silly idealist!