We Can Be Heroes in 2021

It’s fair to say 2020 wasn’t the year most of us were expecting, and it’s not over yet. It’s a long 2020.

As well as the culmination of the self-inflicted BoJo/Brexit/Trump insanities that meant UK and US were distracted from what really needed attention in the world at large (Chinese Uyghurs anyone?) Covid took over any remaining attention-spans we had left.

The effect was compounded for me personally, because towards the end of 2019, after a decade of mostly home working – visiting colleagues and clients in person as and when necessary – I’d just committed myself to near-full-time working at offices ~120 miles from home. Back to a previous life on the road and mostly in hotels a couple of nights a week. The particular job was (is) complicated enough in scale and complexity of partners and stakeholders, that the switch to enforced total homeworking has been a hammer blow.

Mostly home working as-and-when is a flexibility. Enforced total home working is a millstone to progressing shared understandings of a novel approach to information architectures for digital transformation – to use the jargon of my current day-job. Remote working works well with people with whom you have significant shared understanding and trust, but not when you’re still trying to get on the same page under complex work pressures. That requires human dialogue and contact beyond the formal transactions.

Anyway, this isn’t about me and my day job, it’s about the relevance of information & communication architectures to the full context. The information environment and decisions made by us and for us about Brexit, Trump, Covid etc. Decisions which are themselves reflected in everyday life and day-job choices. Follow-the-science & official advice vs fake-news & conspiracy-theories at its most stark.

Since the 1940’s – before electronic computers – that’s been known as Cybernetics. These days it’s called Systems Engineering – human systems to manage the organisation & governance of human affairs – biological, social, business, political – you name it. In my day-job it’s primarily about business systems and operations, but all human life is here in any complex business.

Just before I committed to that job in Sept 2019 I posted about identifying a new potential hero in terms of systems architectures, systems which go right back to biological evolution of our sentient and purposeful selves. Our human architecture. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last night was the US day-after the Trump rabble(*) insurrection of 6th Jan 2021 and social media was full of “takes” and updates. That whole melee of information, official & individual, fact & opinion, real &”fake”. One thing’s clear, a large part of the Trump mob angle comes from the QAnon all-purpose anti-establishment conspiracy-theories end of that spectrum, whether it’s rigged-elections, anti-vaxxers, white-supremacy vs antifa or whatever.

(* I say “rabble” – but with the actual intent and planning, and a little different chances on the day, it was close to being a mob bloodbath.)

Deciding – or simply having an opinion about – the best thing to do with or about Trump and his mob is tricky to say the least at many levels across many timescales. Obviously for most of us there’s a general bias towards justice, but that still leaves many options. And none of the choices is independent, eventually they’re integrated into an objective reality and a collection of perceptions we have to live with. In my previous post I started to bring in journalists that get the significance of the information communication architecture – how the information flows affect the actual knowledge content, when the consumers are democratically (individually) controlling them, as we are in social-media environments. (It’s an idea as old as McLuhan, but …) Transparency that bypasses the idea of professional media is ultimately and inevitably degenerate. (Read the Jay Rosen 24-tweet thread linked in that post.) All issues degenerate to binary / unstable extremes, with all stable / nuanced options crowded out.

Last night – in a pause from the Trump traffic – I happened to watch the lecture by the potential hero I’d blogged about in Sept 2019. John C Doyle. Apart from capturing the link and my reasons for doing so, I’d completely forgotten I’d watched it before last night. Looking at my on-line activity, it seems entirely random that I did.

System architectures for massively enhanced evolvability” is spookily close to my day-job agenda, but that’s a story for another day. The game changer for us humans more generally is this:

Human systems architectures are well evolved
to deal with bio-genetic viruses. (And deal with mountain-biking down steep rocky paths.)

Human systems architectures are not well evolved
to deal with info-memetic viruses.

The latter is our bigger problem right now.
Has been (my main agenda) for two decades.

It’s been apparent since the rise of personal email, compounded in the days of bulletin boards and email exploders, and gone nuclear thanks to real-time “unmoderated” social-media. The human system can’t handle it for in-built design reasons. The information  channels are too fast for our internal system dynamics and instability is inevitable.

8 thoughts on “We Can Be Heroes in 2021”

  1. I’m at the phase of seeing the general message, but puzzling over terms that I do not have enough background to be comfortable with. This includes ‘systems architecture’. However, the Rosen thread, perhaps because it’s less obviously technical, is starting to make sense of how things have gone awry. Before commenting further, I need to give the neurons the time to make the necessary connections, lightbulbs to pop on, pennies to drop, and all those other bad metaphors that gesture towards to how we shift from befuddlement to understanding.

  2. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on, and there’s a fair share of blame to go around.”

  3. Ha yeah, the switch to the “systems architecture” (day job) tack is pretty sharp and was pretty random. John Doyle is someone I’m only just trying to get to know myself – but I was impressed that both Dennett and Gazzaniga had him as reference sources (in terms of the evolution of human consciousness.) The speed at which he skips across ideas and concepts in that lecture is impressive almost because it’s hard to follow 😉

    Just seems like some kinda “genius” it might be important to understand?
    It can be an illusion when such disparate ideas seem to connect … not sure yet, just had to share the thought.

    But hang on to that Jay Rosen line “Information is downstream of identity”.
    That is going to prove central to dealing with fake-news / conspiracy theories etc.

  4. You mention in passing the importance of “significant shared understanding and trust” in your day job. I’d like to hear more about that, because I’m beginning to think trust is a major factor in the equations around our current systemic dysfunction.

    To say that people need to be more careful and responsible about determining the truth is commonplace. But what we all take as “truth” is heavily mediated. Trumpers and people attracted to QAnon seem to be just as invested in discovering “the truth” as we are, but they don’t trust the mainstream sources that we take as authoritative. From a position of extreme scepticism, they are convinced that “the truth is out there,” to allude to the old TV show “X-Files,” but that to find it, they have to dig beneath what mainstream society is telling them, doing their own research and drawing their own conclusions. (Wherther they’re well-equipped for such research is another question.) In a way, this is a curious right-wing echo of the left-wing suspicion of the mass media articulated by Noam Chomsky in “Manufacturing Consent” back in the 1970’s.

    Urging right-wing conspiracy theorists to think clearly and rationally and do their research is no help. They think _we’re_ deluded, and they have exactly the same advice for us.

    What seems to be at issue here is who to trust, and why. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has occasionally shown itself unworthy of our trust . One thinks in particular of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”: the hysterical way they were reported, and the fact that they turned out not to exist. Was the conspicuous mainstream excitement just a propaganda drive to Support Our Troops in an imperialist adventure to control Middle East resources? Whatever the actual answer, the question is suggestive of what underlies our current dysfunction. The urgent question today is not how we can get people to see “the truth.” It’s how we can identify a trusted authority, when everything we supposedly “know” is pretty much second-hand information, mediated by powerful, ultimately faceless agents who may or may not have an agenda.

  5. Yes that’s my recurring point, that it’s not about logic and rational argument for or against conspiracy theories, that just leads to binary polarisation. It’s about the environment in which trust and knowledge evolve, the processes by which mediation occurs and trusted mediators are valued.

    (And as Jay Rosen says, that’s more about identity than the content of any argument …

    “Information is Downstream of Identity”


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