Smart Mobs Scenarios

November 25, 2002

in Strategic Foresight

All of us, at one time or another, have wondered what the future will be like? Dreamt the odd imaginary life and asked what sort of world will our children to live in? As corporate leaders there is pressure and desire make the world a better place? However, short-termism often gets in the way of exploring better ways of getting to the future. While we rush to INNOVATE – INNOVATE we still require frameworks for testing BETTER IDEAS! How often do we consider the forces of change that might light a long-term fuse, — create new options and ultimately help us frame that better more robust path forward?

This is a post mulling over long-term changes and whether earlier thinking about Smart Mobs had appeared in Global Scenarios. I just briefly looked again at The Millennium Project from 1999. It’s a normative scenario and way out there 2050, so we don’t benefit from an alternate view or obvious critical uncertainties. I just scanned it for threads around innovation, invisible tech, smart mobs etc. My interpretation is that our emerging “digital commons?” is encapsulated in the cyber brain concept, which appeared to emerge without wars over IP, DRM etc. Could it be the Millennium scenario assumed that “information wants to be free”?

Relating Global Scenarios to Smart Mobs; will the underpinnings that link the interests of organizations and govenments survive?

Global Scenarios are developed to go beyond regional or business boundaries. They are really attempts to think at higher levels of abstraction. They usually deal with global scale developments often providing useful background summarizing research and findings that enable smaller organizations to relate to these issues. An organization can then nest their scenarios in a way that enables a panorama style view. Dependent on an organizations / industry development there may be parallels. As an organization progresses this might increase the level of confidence amongst decision-makers. Regardless the idea is to provide people with images that make them think and learn. Having strong Global Scenarios out there helps us think.

So recent Smart Mobs discussion points piqued my curiosity. If I search Google for Global Scenarios, how many will address “Smart Mob” type issues? How many links will provide thoughts and frameworks for the next stage of this technical revolution? On searching I can find smart dust, pervasive computing, and yet I think our probing finds Smart Mob threads sadly missing. At a time when technology is accelerating is it possible that we need some new “global scenarios” that more effectively deal with the emergent challenges to “identity”, the digital commons, nano-dust, etc.?

An older article may help to provide some additional context. In 1995 Wired “How to Build Scenarios asks the question “What will be the general tenor of commercial life on a global scale in the year 2020?” This article was not about predicting the future or specific event, but to highlight large-scale forces that impact on the world we will live in tomorrow. The scenario matrix is still interesting today, though we may fill in some of the blanks differently.

Quoting from the article: “The first axis of uncertainty is the character of our desire, an “I” or “We,” individual or community. This uncertainty about the quality of our individual hopes and intentions cuts at the most fundamental level: Will the energy of democratization and the ascendance of the ultimate individualized “I” continue to prevail? Or will our social organization and self-definition be rooted in a group – a nation, a tribe, a collection of users of a particular brand, a more communitarian “We”? The I or the We will never disappear, but which will come to be the prevailing influence in our culture? It could go either way, and with a bang; that is the uncertainty.”

The second (vertical) axis shows the uncertain character of social structure: Will society be a center that holds and provides stability, or will it fragment? Here, we stake out the extreme possibilities of social organization: Will social and political structures (either new or traditional) provide a society wide coherence and order? Or will society shatter into shards, the jagged edges of which do not mesh into a coherent whole? Will there be a state to impose order, level the playing field, and unify a commonwealth? Or, will permanent fragmentation, increasing plurality, and unfettered free-marketism bring us to “bottom-up” functioning anarchy? Our second uncertainty might seem at first blush an outcome of the first. But in fact, while they’re related, they’re separately uncertain. Indeed, it’s precisely the way they’re intertwined that makes them interesting by giving us four scenarios, four very different “future spaces” to explore.

Now I know scenarios have been written (some with/by my clients) that included “smart mob” type consumer environments and radically changed information asymmetries. Yet my quick brush looking for updated Global Scenarios doesn’t bring this social information revolution to the fore. In fact there are few scenarios around that contrast the changing digital commons. Lawrence Lessig has spoken at length about the innovation commons. In other threads the ‘war on terrorism” is perhaps masquerading while serving a darker purpose.

Please judge for yourself. The question I am asking myself is. Are the premises that have effectively linked organizations and our governments for the last 200 years likely to be broken by Smart Mobs? I’d certainly like to see some global scenarios that deal the future for innovation, the exchange of cooperation, identity and community values.

Have you seen any? Can you provide any links? Without them, organizations and government may not change fast enough. As institutions they have served us well. Are we certain they will serve us as well for tomorrow or how must they change? Perhaps there are other ways forward? This area for dialogue can be made more compelling and build a conversation with a broader audience. I

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