A Practical Navigator for the Internet Economy

Understanding the Global Digital Economy

If you have not been led by the mainstream media into a false sense of security, and if you give any time at all to thinking about whether any politicians in the East or the West are expressing any positive leadership on behalf of their citizens in charting a sustainable future  -- one that does not involve a return to something bordering on medieval feudalism or a right wing led, fascist-oriented corporate state dominated by its military leaders; you probably are looking at the ideas and visions of a small handful of Internet-based visionaries who are focusing on organizing alternative societies.

In saying this we are speaking very broadly about a handful of thought leaders who are making it their calling to scan the horizon and think across the entire entire global range of technology: science, communication, medicine, agriculture, and urban rural living patterns. Readers will know many of these folk ranging from Doc Searls, Clay Shirky, David Weinberger, JP Ramaswami, to George and Esther Dyson, to Vint Cerf and the leaders at Google, and to Kevin Kelly and Chris Anderson of Wired.

But there are an even smaller handful of people who focus globally on curating the leading thinkers in every discipline are with their curation are describing positive potential outcomes from the best of these people's work. Stewart Brand began the process decades ago with his Global Business Network and Whole Earth Catalog.  Brand’s work nurtured Tim O'Reilly and the rise of the O’Reilly publishing company and his own curatorship of conferences that brought the leading visionaries in new technologies and new disciplines together to explore whether a common vision of an achievable future could be articulated.

Six or seven years ago Michel Bauwens began the Peer-to-Peer Foundation which is a coordinated group of people from several dozen of countries around the globe that has created and is sustaining an encyclopedic wiki of peer-to-peer technologies -- technologies on which, according to John Robb, resilient communities can be based.  Two years ago I reported across two different issues on what Michel Bauwens and his Peer-to-Peer Foundation allies were doing and how their wiki was built and structured.

Six years ago I took my first look at Jerry Michalski who worked for Esther Dyson in the late 80s and early 90s writing and editing Release 1.0.  For this issue I have returned to Jerry to dive into a much deeper discussion of how his view of the world has changed since 2006 when we first talked in some depth.  His thinking turns out to be very close to my own and that of Michel Bauwens.  His approach is to found and develop a group of leaders in their respective fields that can range from government organizations, to corporations, to financial organizations and foundations and so on to spread the ideas that are necessary to overturn the 20th century way of thinking that had led to financialization of the global economy and to a race to the bottom with globalization and unlimited deregulated speculation and corporate control of nationstate systems that that, in the nearly 20 years since the fall of the Soviet bloc, has been making the world a more dangerous and less sustainable place.

Having examined the way that Michel Bauwens puts the peer-to-peer wiki to work and keeps  it functioning as the platform for his people, in this issue I have asked Jerry to detail the workings of his “Brain” which is a very different kind of software from the wiki but has been used by Jerry for similar purposes to organize his own thoughts over the past 15 years. I then go on to 3 detailed interviews with Jerry that lasted a total of nearly 6 hours. During these discussions he shared with me how his thinking evolved into a much more interesting and sophisticated version of what some years earlier in the aftermath of the ClueTrain Manifesto he had referred to as the Relationship Economy.

Jerry has seriously expanded his definition of what the convergence of Internet technologies and globalism means to sustainable democratic societies and he has developed a series of ideas based on what he calls “contrarian thinkers” who became revolutionaries in their perspectives fields of endeavor by effectively saying that everyone in that field must be trusted and that their field must not build command-and-control hierarchies over the people that  they sought to lead and that the Yang of scientific hierarchical top-down we know what's best for the masses kind of leadership needed to be balanced with the much more soft, feminine, open and trusting Yin in the way that people dealt with each other

Jerry describes how he takes the visions of many of his contrarians and puts them in front of leaders from both corporate and government; nonprofit and research oriented organizations who have joined him in paying a monthly fee over a period of time that will presumably range across many years to develop a unified version of social political and economic leadership that will be better to ride and survive the waves of the tsunami of change that Jerry and many of his other compatriots see coming upon us.

Talking about the evolution of his thinking during the most recent years, Jerry will admit that he does not quite readily know how to solve the problem that the impact of evermore rapid technology change is bringing to the nation states involved in 21st-century global capitalism.  I think it's fair to say that he does believe that currant and predominant Yang-based more masculine hierarchical version of global capitalism needs to be considerably tempered by a more feminine, more Yin based kind of outlook on how one gets things done

Now Tim O'Reilly in September 2012 gave a very interesting talk on what he calls the global brain and he explained his philosophical cosmological approach to understanding the evolution that the Internet has brought upon the minds of people who use it to communicate and build parts of what can be seen to become a net of global consciousness. I have made my own transcription of Tim's Long Now talk and will close this executive summary with some similar highlights of the points of view of Jerry Michalski and Tim O’Reilly. (The material that follows is taken from the interview with Jerry and the transcript of Tim’s Long Now talk.)

Michalski and O’Reilly -- Technology Destroys Jobs

According to Jerry, one is consumer mass marketing and no-holds-barred capitalism, fueled by outsourcing and global labor arbitrage.  These last trends are simply drying up paying work everywhere.

Michalski: “That giant sucking sound of global labor arbitrage and automation is taking the life out of work.  I don’t see a rise of new jobs that pay enough to pay the mortgage and pay the orthodontists and put the kids through school.  But historically it does seem that there is always a new wave of jobs that comes up to save day.” 

COOK Report: “But Jerry, this brings to mind what frustrates me so much.  It is that, given all the problems out there, there is so much that needs to be done that, if we educate our kids halfway decently, there shouldn’t be such unemployment.  Because by using the Internet and other collaborative tools, we should be able to find so many things for our young people to do.  Given the need and the size of the challenge, how does one help push and shove our economy to be reoriented to enable employment of our young people on public service tasks or on infrastructure tasks on building up our country instead of tearing it down? How do we accomplish these changes?  Can we give our current college graduates hope for their future?  It is an untenable situation for them to come out of college with a lot of debt and no work.”

Michalski:  “Yes. That is a huge huge problem. And my concern is that there are not enough paying jobs that will give people enough income to cover their mortgage or their rent and what they owe on their tuition.  We are entering a time that is going to be very difficult for a lot of people.  I’m really interested in helping people build alternative methods of getting enough of what they want, of having sufficiency maybe even outside of the current monetary economy, with alternative currencies, with reciprocity, with whatever else it might take.”

New Fabrics and Global Minds

“We must create basically a new fabric for what ever is the task at hand. One for learning, one for inventing, one for problem solving and building.  I’m not talking Big Government.  It is not quite a safety net. That implies too much passivity one the part of the recipient. But it is an opportunity for a social model of collaboration in a Commons where people can and do support each other very much along the ideas of what Michel Bauwens’ chronicles.  What we are saying is that we are busy weaving a whole new fabric within which people can be vitally alive and in community and governance with each other.  That is the situation in which we’re working right now.  It is an awesome era.”

Tim O’Reilly says very similar things. He uses greek philosophical concepts to describe how humans know their reality and then suggests that because humans know their software  tools very well and like google have so incredibly much data that they can put data and toolsets together in entirely new way to solve unforeseen problems in near real time.

O’Reilly offers the following chain of reasoning in describing where computer based technology has led its human users.  “We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.”  “The global brain is us -- connected and augmented.”   The secret of algorithmic data systems is to focus on real time measurement of outcomes.  We are building techniques for extracting collective intelligence from large amounts of the data exhaust of humans.

Finally Tim concludes basically the same conclusion to which Jerry came - saying that in their recent book the Race against the Machine, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee make the case that many of the jobs that have gone away are not coming back that we are in effect automating jobs out of existence.   You just take the case of this Google autonomous vehicle and look at its impact.  There go the jobs of taxi drivers and their go truck drivers  and you just repeat that across the  economy.   He asks what does the future economy look like as we take away more and more of the menial jobs?

YouTube may be closer to having the real business model for the attention economy than does Facebook or Twitter.   Like Jerry’ emphasis on sharing, Tim mentions sharing in the context of using a website called the Mesh as his example.

I suggest that we take open technology as an example. We can use it, mix it and mash it up in new ways that will make business models that produce trade offs in time or place or scale. Our choices are virtually unlimited.  The question is what scales. Education the way we do it at the college level and up does not scale according to a recent piece by Clay Shirky, on Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs]. Flexibility is good, tightly coupling probably not so good. Furthermore rewards don’t have to be all monetary.  The web offers us an infinite number of ways to mix how people can communicate and do things in new and different ways -- time binding being one such way.  What evolves will be determined as much by physical location as by the location of thoughts and ideas.

Finally, Jerry and Ferdi Serim; and probably Tim; and definitely myself share very similar ideas about how education SHOULD work. But how to implement them is another question.  It seems as though it would be easier in a rural location than urban one to change the necessary basic educational processes.



Executive  Summary                                p.4

Michalski and O’Reilly -- Technology Destroys Jobs        p. 6
New Fabrics and Global Minds                            p. 6

Introduction Jerry Michalski                        p.8

A Global Mind?                                        p. 9

Prelude EXPLAINING JERRY’S  “BRAIN”        p. 12


Part 1 Why the World Needs Rebalancing

Between Yin and Yang                            p. 18

George Fox 1624-1691                                p. 19
The Need to Rebalance                                p. 21
Agency                                                p. 24
Origins of the REXpedition                                p. 29

Interlude -- What if We Trusted You?

Jerry’s TEDxCopenhagen talk                              p.31


Part 2 How Does Society Acquire New Knowledge?

An Agenda for Change                                    p. 34
Christopher Alexander and Pattern Language                p. 34
Eleanor (Lin) Ostrom                                    p. 36
Joel Salatin                                            p. 39
Alice Miller and John Taylor Gatto                        p. 40
Jimmy Wales and Ward Cuningham                        p. 42
Hans Monderman                                        p. 44
Back to the Brain                                        p. 45
A Titanic Battle Between Two Possible Futures            p. 51    Experiencing New Ideas                                p. 55

Part 3 Strategies and Making the Rexpedition Operational

Workshops                                            p.62
Alternative Systems                                    p.64
New Fabrics and Global Minds                            p.66
Learning to Live in a World of Nuance                    p.67

Tim O'Reilly: Birth of the Global Mind

September 5, 2012                                        p. 73

Editor’s Introduction                                    p.74
Korzybski and Simon - Language as a Conceptual Map        p.75
Classical History                                        p.78
Open Source Revolution and Internet Paradigm Shift        p.80
Web 2.0 and Collective Intelligence                        p.80
Feedback Loops                                        p.83
Data Science                                            p.85
Economy                                                p.88