These days the media is extremely influential. More so than the government. Television, newspapers, books, film, and especially the Internet—they all have a major impact upon the collective psyche and can thus stimulate catalytic change. When it comes to the power of the media, I am reminded of the classic award winning filmNetwork. Made in 1976 and starring Peter Finch and William Holden, the film takes a sharp and satirical look at the television industry (which was the principle media industry back in the 1970s). There is brief period of time when docile American TV audiences (in the movie itself) are rudely awoken from their stupor by an outspoken TV presenter (played with relish and marvellous aplomb by Finch) who starts telling the truth about how vacuously bland and hypnotic the entertainment industry is and how corrupt society is. Morphing into a kind of “raving prophet”, he tells people to get up off their asses and demand an end to the hypocrisies of the time. Soon, a veritable social revolution is in the making.
With airwave ratings soaring but with corporate interests under threat, the revolutionary presenter is called before the chairman of the TV network. This turns out to be a kind of manipulative media mogul demi-god (played by Ned Beatty) who explains that life on Earth is but a business, a network of corporations bound together by the dollar and supported by other networks like the TV industry. This ‘corporate cosmology’ is brilliantly delivered and Finch is coerced into toning down and playing along with the corporate game. The masterfully scripted clip in question can be viewed here and is worth watching and bearing in mind for what follows:
Thus, as we are fast learning and as Earth 2.0 will continue to avidly assert, the sprawling network of human culture will only be able to persist on this planet if it harmonises itself with the larger life support network that has been around for billions of years longer than we have. That larger life support network is, of course, the biosphere with its interconnected ecosystems bound together, not by corporate cosmological dollars, but by smart symbiotic inter-relationships. And even the biosphere itself must harmonise and fit within the larger system of which it is a part—namely the dynamic solar system and beyond. The entire Universe (and this includes the various laws and forces of Nature) is, in effect, a singularly vast life support network. As, too, is the human body. Networks within networks within networks.
The sooner we acknowledge the smart life support network that is the biosphere and thence attune our behaviour (physical, psychological and technological) to it the better. In other words, there is a most sensible way for humanity to be sustained, and that depends upon human culture fitting in with the larger contextual system, or larger network, in which it is embedded. If one concedes that the web of life exhibits a networked metabolism, then human culture must partake of that metabolism and play by the same ecological rules.
So whilst it is true that a vast network of corporations, business conglomerates and commercial brands dominate culture, if they wish to be sustained they have no choice but to regulate their practice according to the ecological rules of the larger network of planetary life (which, to reiterate, sustains us via all manner of ecosystem services). Which means business and commerce must practice in a sustainable and adaptable eco-friendly manner. To be sure, eco logic demands this. Further, given that we have 7 billion people who all share the same finite biospherical home and the same finite biospherical resources, it is clear that eco-friendly practices must be merged with people-friendly practices. Everything is woven together and what goes around comes around. It really does.
The challenge ahead is therefore to turn the typically selfish, greedy and non-conscious ethos of the corporate network into a conscious, eco-friendly and philanthropic ethos. Instead of channelling immense profits and wealth into the hands of a few smug fat cats, such biospherical wealth (and all wealth is biospherical when you think about it) really needs to be shared so as to boost the health and well-being of both people and planet alike. In a real way, wealth is like a substance that can help knit together and strengthen networks.
That we need to share essential wealth (like food, water, medicine, renewable energy, housing materials, technology, information, knowledge, and so forth) is not rocket science nor is it a contentious political stance. It is self evident that sharing wealth is a good thing. As stated, what goes around comes around. This is why sharing is one of the four chief operating principles of Earth 2.0. Sharing is basically a cultural parameter—like a knob on a stereo. It can be turned up. And the way to turn up this sharing parameter is to get those with the real means to share—like those massive wealthy corporations that Beatty talks of in Network—to lead the way.
Of course, this is a formidable challenge—but once the process starts there will be no going back. And this is where the media network comes in—because it is precisely the media that can help push this kind of agenda. If big corporations and big brands will not go away (which seems unlikely for the moment) then they have to be turned around, be upgraded, and thence become a force for ecological and humanitarian good—quite literally a force for, and of, Nature. If the media and enough ‘ordinary’ people demand this, such an upgrade can come to pass. One can think of it as one kind of network (the media) upgrading another kind of network (the corporate sector) so that all networks benefit.
Evidence of this trend has already begun. Web-based organisations such as Avaaz (http://www.avaaz.org/en/) and Wikileaks have ably demonstrated how a cross-boundary international Internet-based network can harness the attention of millions to focus on everything from global warming to war atrocities. Where attention goes, pressure for change follows. It is rather ironic that the Internet, a system designed by the military to withstand any kind of attack, has mutated into one of the most powerful networks on the planet.
When things are connected in the right way and information is allowed to flow freely and self-organise, then good things will come to those that network. Decentralised cyberspace may well be the informational network that helps human culture forge a truly sustainable way of life. In this manner will Earth 2.0 be delivered.
Photos credit: Network (film poster) qualifies as fair use under copyright law. It's a low resolution copy of a Film Poster / VHS or DVD Cover. It doesn't limit the copyright owner's rights to sell the film in any way, in fact, it may encourage sales. Strength through connectivity - screenshot from the documentary Metanoia, used with permission.
By Valkyrie Ice
10 March 2011
WELCOME TO THE TRANSPARENT WORLD
Hi there, this is Valkyrie Ice and I’ve been asked to write a bit about my views on the future, with particular regard to the Internet and the issue of transparency.
To start off, I’m sure most of you followed the story about the revolution in Egypt, and how the protestors made good use of Twitter, Facebook, etc, and the effort that the government made to actually shut down the Internet. It should illustrate very effectively how the Internet is a tool that is inherently hostile to information control. Sure, the government did shut the Internet down. But they did so far too late, and the populace simply built a makeshift new Internet out of mesh networks and dial-up lines, thereby keeping cyberspatial communications going. This is an ongoing story that you should really pay attention to, because you are going to see it repeated more and more frequently. Why? Because the Internet has taken over the role that cities once had.
No civilization in history has been created without cities, because cities were always hubs of information. Traders could get knowledge of the best areas to trade goods, politicians could get knowledge about other cities, and common people could hear about ideas from far and wide. Cities have driven the advancement of human civilization precisely because they allowed knowledge to be shared among far more people than was possible without cities. But we’ve been growing beyond cities, first with radio, TV, and cars, which allowed ideas to be distributed from cities into the rural areas, and now with the Internet, which not only allows distribution, but also exchange.
As a medium of information exchange, there is nothing humans have ever created before that equals the Internet. You no longer have to be able to go to a far away library to have access to knowledge, or even to your local one. From scientific papers, to news, to opinion, to knock down drag out information exchange brawls, the Internet has created a nervous system for the human meta-organism. It’s still primitive, but it’s allowing people all over the world to communicate, and making us all aware of the larger world outside the walls of our homes. And, as events in Egypt demonstrated, when people can share knowledge, they grow ever less willing to be controlled.
Tyranny relies on isolation. It relies on control of information and making those tyrannized have a worldview that makes them feel isolated and alone. A tyrant wants everyone to be suspicious of everyone else, and to feel that rebelling is pointless because they would be one lone voice who would be quickly silenced. They want people to feel terrified of the world that exists outside of the tyranny, so that people will tolerate the lesser of two evils. But that modus operandi is untenable with the presence of the Internet. When people can connect without borders and can talk to people all over the world, isolation is impossible.
But just by itself, the Internet is not enough, because, as Egypt again shows, just being connected is not sufficient. There’s a second element that is needed to eradicate tyranny, and that is accountability—and it goes hand in hand with transparency.
If you are unsure what I mean by accountability let me give you my usual example. If you look at a small tribe, everyone knows everyone else, and if any member is up to no good—i.e. acting in a manner that jeopardizes the well-being of the tribe solely for self serving gain—then they are easy to spot, and easy to penalize. If they steal food from others, then they don’t get to share in the hunt, or they get thrown out of the tribe if it’s bad enough. Now, the Internet is allowing us to gradually return to this state of “knowing everyone” again, in the sense that it allows us to create and access records of even the most trivial events, and even pull up video records of political figures saying the exact opposite of what they currently say.
So how can the Internet be used to make humanity accountable again now that we have lost that small tribe intimacy? That answer lies in the fact that now that we’ve made a basic nervous system, we’re in the process of giving the net “eyes” and “ears.”
How so? Certainly not deliberately—but I’d be willing to bet that if you don’t own a smartphone now, you are planning to get one, no? Even if you are not, I recommend getting used to the idea of owning one eventually, because having one will be your key to entering the world of mobile VR. Within the next ten years, we are going to not only increase the abilities of smart phones far beyond what your current desktop can do, but we will integrate them with either wraparound virtual lenses made of lightweight plastic that have cameras, LIDARS (optical sensors), and displays built in (via printed electronics), or we will be wearing contacts or have implants that do the same thing. In essence, we will give the Internet our eyes and our ears, so that it sees what we see, all so that we can create and interact with augmented reality and virtual worlds.
For a bit more of in depth look at that, I recommend reading some of my articles on H+ magazine, particularly the 3 part essay “Virtualization” (links at the end of the article). But understand this: we will shift to living a life on camera not because of Big Brother but because we have no other choice but to do so to make VR work, and with the advantages that VR will give us, we’ll be no more likely to reject it than we reject smartphones.
So what does “life on camera” mean? It means that we will be recorded, our actions outside of our homes available to anyone who wishes to look. And, it will indeed be used for surveillance and attempts by tyrants to control the masses. But the more cameras that exist and the greater the ability to become aware of the actions of others, the less ability that Big Brother has to escape being on camera himself. The spy can only spy in secret. If the spy is himself being spied upon, it pretty much negates the purpose.
Sure, tyrants will seek to use universal surveillance to tyrannize. But with the improved ability to spy comes the improved ability to be spied upon. Governments and elites will love the opportunity to spy on everyone, including each other. We’re about to enter the age of the surveillance arms race as new and better ways to spy on one another are created, defended against, and then innovated. The elites will be spying on the governments, the governments will be spying on the elites and each other, and, as each and every spy technology becomes obsolete, it will filter down into the hands of the masses who will be using it to spy on the governments, the elites, and, of course, each other.
Get over your notions of privacy. There is nothing you can do to prevent this. By the time the surveillance wars are over, there will be no-one and no-place on earth that is not observed, recorded, and available for access at any time. I’m sure we will pass laws to protect personal life blogs or “private” information, for all the good it will do, but in the end we’ll just accept it.
Why? Because when everyone, and I do mean everyone, is on camera, it will be impossible to escape accountability. Transparency will be the norm. If you break a law, it will be known. If you steal, it will be found out. And after a very short period of time, in a world in which crime no longer is possible, and in which no CEO can inflict misery on large masses of humanity without penalty and no politician can lie his country into a war on false pretenses, we’ll come to wonder how we ever managed to survive in a world in which people could not be held to account.
You don’t have to like this reality, and I’m quite well aware that it will terrify many of you, but that’s because you’re not thinking past the “horror of Big Brother” to the inevitable result that will follow those attempts to tyrannize, when tyranny is finally and forever laid to rest.
Editor’s Note – Melissa Sterry is the founder of New Frontiers, an organisation dedicated to sustainable design. We are pleased to announce that Melissa has now joined forces with the E2 team!
Over millennia floods, earthquakes and fire have brought hell and high water to cities, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Until now, no civilization has been spared from the worst-case scenarios unleashed by extreme meteorological and geological events. However, the legacy of fear that surrounds many of our planet’s essential operating mechanisms, such as tectonic plate movements, need not continue forever and today’s disasters could be turned into tomorrow’s opportunities.
The Bionic City promises new levels of sustainability within the urban built environment. So apart from integrating solutions to meet the challenges presented by the fact that mankind has reached eight of the nine biosphere limits (as defined by the Stockholm Resilience Centre), the Bionic City extends its remit to incorporate resilience to some of the most extreme environmental impacts that climate change will create.
The cities of the past and present were built on the assumption that we live in a steady state world, which of course we don’t. We instead live on the surface of a series of ever-moving plates, upon a ball of molten rock spinning through space at approximately 1038 miles per hour. Several thousand years of relatively low seismic activity, against the backdrop of a generally stable and temperate climate in most parts of the world, have led us to forget the shifting nature of our planet.
While we may have become the most invasive species, we have certainly not become the most resilient. The only remaining bipedal primates of the Homo genus, our species has nearly become extinct several times. One example of a previous near human-extinction event was the volcanic winter caused by the Toba super-eruption of 74,000 years ago, which recent archaeological evidence suggests reduced our numbers to as few as 1,000 breeding pairs. Far from being assured, our species survival to date has been somewhat hit and miss.
While researching resilience within natural ecosystems to extreme meteorological and geological events, I came to realize that there are several distinct universal principles that enable these systems to sustain their core infrastructures over expansive periods of time. These principles are completely at odds with the built environment design paradigm that determines current city construction. In contrast to human architectural design, nature builds flexible interconnected smart infrastructures with the ability to anticipate and prepare for significant environmental changes. Where such changes occur with relative frequency (i.e. annually), nature builds the changes into lifecycles – for example ecosystems located within deltas and wetlands are designed to accommodate annual flooding events.
Mankind has become the master of off the peg built environment design solutions. However, our one-size-fits-all approach is our downfall because, as nature shows, one size really doesn’t fit all. Nature is a master tailor, creating made-to-measure bespoke solutions within each and every ecosystem, which is the primary reason our planet is graced with such an abundance of biodiversity. While nature works with common principles and we see similarities between ecosystems, upon close inspection we find no two ecosystems are exactly alike; each has its own unique collection of species, each of which is subtly tweaked in size or colour or behaviour to suit its specific locale. For example, forests located in regions that experience strong winds in winter are primarily comprised of deciduous trees, which thanks to their reduced surface area are less likely to be blown over by seasonal gales. In a similar fashion, where appropriate, the Bionic City model embeds seasonality into its structures, whereby its various parts change form, colour, texture and functionality throughout the year, as befits the seasons.
The Bionic City thus embraces nature’s approach to building complex infrastructures. Whereas the conventional city is a mass of static, disconnected and inert structures operating independently and irrespective of one another and their environment, the Bionic City operates as an interconnected and intelligent ecosystem in which every entity is engaged in an ongoing symbiotic relationship with all others, from the molecular to the metropolitan in scale.
Take another example. Whereas the cities of the past and the present try to prevent floods, the Bionic City follows nature’s lead and builds an anticipation of floods into its operating model, not only creating resilience, but also seeking to harvest potential opportunities that can be reaped from the event. Peat bogs have a tremendous capacity to accommodate floods, thanks to plants like Sphagnum moss, which is able to absorb up to 20 times its dry weight in water. Water absorbing materials spanning both building and road surfaces is just one example of how the Bionic City will cope with the more extreme weather conditions that climate change is creating. Beyond preventing the problems traditionally associated with flooding, the Bionic City will also feature the means to utilise excessive quantities of water, including hydropower and water harvesting technologies.
The Bionic City can be viewed as a hybrid that fuses ecosystem services with man-made biomimetic technologies designed to work hand-in-glove. The Bionic City is inclusive, not exclusive, of its surroundings and not only at its perimeter, but far beyond, so that it accommodates environmental impacts stemming from remote causes. The sensitivity the city has with its surroundings is key to its ability to predict and prepare for environmental changes. Again, Nature has set an informative, albeit curious, precedent. An increasing body of evidence strongly indicates that animals have the ability to sense earthquakes long before humans. While researchers have not yet arrived at a unanimous decision as to how animals detect impending disasters, theories include animals sensing the Earth’s vibrations or being able to detect subtle changes in air pressure, or the presence of certain gases. One of the most famous recent examples of animals sensing an earthquake several hours before humans was the Indian Ocean tsunami event of 26th December 2004. Despite the fact that the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka was home to several hundred wild animals including elephants, leopards and monkeys, no mass animal deaths were incurred by the tsunami. Eyewitnesses reported flamingos abandoning their low-lying breeding areas, zoo animals rushing into their shelters and refusing to come out, and elephants screaming and running for higher ground. 150,000 people were killed by the Boxing Day disaster, including 60 visitors at the Yala National Park, yet virtually no wild animals deaths were reported.
Nature clearly engineers organisms and ecosystems with an acute sensitivity to their larger surroundings. Without fail, potential disaster scenarios are built into ecosystem plans, involving a pro-active, as opposed to a reactive approach, in which the scale of the responses to adverse impacts are tailor made. Thus, when disaster does strike, nature is prepared and unleashes highly efficient recovery protocols, such as those evinced in fire-prone savannahs where re-growth strategies are initiated the moment an inferno has passed. Nature is resourceful and opportunistic in the extreme – it simply doesn’t miss a trick. Where there is a potential resource at hand it finds a use for it and it is this canny, savvy approach to design that has enabled life on Earth to develop from humble origins into the awe-inspiringly diverse, ultra sophisticated, ultra efficient and breathtakingly beautiful array of biodiversity we see about us today. The Bionic City is a nod to nature’s R&D Lab, which at four billion years old, is a great deal more advanced than our own.
Credit: Melissa Sterry, PhD candidate, co-founder of New Frontiers and Societás, platforms that have launched groundbreaking new initiatives in design, media and the visual arts. She is also director of the annual international visual arts award the Creative Graduate Prize (launched in 2005) along with the Iconique Societás Awards (launched in 2007).
The tsunami and earthquake photos was released into the public domain by its author licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.