It often feels as if I am living in two parallel worlds. In one of those worlds, people believe - or make out that they believe - that any changes happening now are just a temporary interruption. They look towards a future in which things will 'get back to normal': a normal of economic growth, 'full employment', an education system leading to proper jobs, all that kind of thing.

In my other world, I find people who see things quite differently. For them, the present-and-future reality is radically different from the past-and-present reality, the one where we grew up and have lived until now. They find themselves in a reality that they never expected, and they are making sense of it.

I have come to see these people as the vanguard of the Invisible Revolution. Let me explain.

My landscape of change[edit | edit source]

There are many streams of change at present and I will comment only on the ones I know through personal experience: on the interpersonal aspects of life in a digital world, as I have experienced it and reflected on it over a period of many years.

I am interested in those aspects of current change that cannot be seen, cannot be photographed or easily counted, but are nonetheless real. This invisibility puts a heavy communication burden on anyone who is experiencing these particular deep changes and trying to share the reality of them. If you have experienced them and reflected on the experience, you will already know what I mean. You may also understand why I have called it the Invisible Revolution and why it is so hard to describe.

In writing about these things, I draw on two main sources. First, the work that I have been doing for many years around education in its widest sense, formal and non-formal, in the UK, in Africa and, most importantly, online. Then, a further strand of work which began last year in the UK, including a set of workshops called 'Landscape of Change'. The emphasis of these workshops is on patterns of employment, mainly for people repositioning themselves in the world of work, or trying to enter it for the first time, but also for policy makers and people who are shedding staff.

This work has given me insights into the 'socio-tech' of collaboration across cultures and learning beyond formal institutions, of 'fluid-walled' classrooms, and relationships between online and face-to-face communities. I have observed and experienced various trends, always from a needs-driven, rather than technology-driven, viewpoint.

This new landscape of change is full of uncertainty and comparative chaos, where things emerge and flow in ways that can only happen because we live in an interlinked and networked world. It is a world characterised by rapidly changing roles, collaboration, and confluence. It is about people and their relationships: networking and degrees of separation. It is about personal (rather than organisational) identity, responsibility and accountability. It is also about openness, credibility, trust, and peer references (person to person, and network to network). It connects people through their overlapping interests, concerns and values (not the same thing as shared beliefs).

What should we point to?[edit | edit source]

The Invisible Revolution is tied in with the proliferation of digital technology. We are increasingly surrounded by mobile phones, laptops, tablets, ebooks and such like, but to focus on these gadgets may be a distraction from what is really going on. It is possible to have all the latest gadgets, and use them incessantly, yet still have no clue about the deep changes that are happening through their use. By contrast, someone who has only reached a minimum entry point with regard to the gadgets may be deeply involved in the new reality. Having the tools is not the same as being part of the revolution.

Looking back from here, it feels as though the Industrial Revolution must have been rather simpler, even if this way of looking is itself an oversimplification. But when steam engines, railways and factories appeared, they gave people something to look at. The engines provided an enormous, noisy and visible source of power for physical work. Railways enabled people and goods to be moved around faster. Factories produced stuff you could get your hands on. To a large extent, people could see what was happening, and if you were creating change in the Industrial Revolution, there would be something physical to show for it. This time it is different. The real changes that are linked to laptops, mobile phones and the internet don't have the obvious links between form and function that characterised that earlier period of transformation.

The edge of madness[edit | edit source]

What defines the Invisible Revolution is that key elements of the changes we are living through are impossible to point to; and yet, if you are experiencing them, they become more real than the realities that you can see. These experiences affect your perceptions of other things, and provide the scaffolding for how you think and behave, and yet they remain intangible. It is easy to discuss these realities with those who are experiencing them. It is difficult to explain to others.

For anyone straddling the two worlds, previously simple things become challenging. What seems completely reasonable in one world is utterly irrational in the other. The shared reference points are vanishing. Generalisations are no longer useful. They no longer act as a short cut to understanding; instead, they can cause deep confusion. Shared vocabulary becomes a stumbling block, because this revolution is causing many words to change their meaning. In the face of these elusive forms of change, anecdotes and metaphors become increasingly necessary.

If your internal reality is deeply embedded in the Invisible Revolution, but you are surrounded by people who are not relating to it, then where is your reality? Communication (if it is anything beyond small talk) becomes increasingly difficult. There is a background disconnectedness, and repeated reasons to doubt your own sanity.

This kind of mismatch between the internal views of reality of people sharing the same external space is a favourite theme of storytellers. My mind goes immediately to Rebecca, 'The Emperor's New Clothes', 'The Blind Men and the Elephant'. There are many more. Minor mismatches may be amusing, but major ones are potentially catastrophic - therein lies the road to madness.

Conversely, if we can find meeting points, areas of confluence where the various insights and realities can flow together, we may find saner solutions to the problematic situations in which we now find ourselves.

The world turned sideways[edit | edit source]

We are all entering unfamiliar territory, but not everyone has noticed yet, and those who have are noticing different things. We need to gather all the insights we can get. Fortunately, the new social structures enabled by the internet make it easier than ever before to escape from our silos and rub minds with people who have quite different experiences and perspectives. We don't have to face this new reality alone.

It is nothing new for people in the younger generation to feel that their lives are disconnected from the reality of their parents or teachers. Yet the present feeling of moving into a new world is not simply a generation-gap difference. The experience of deep change and a related disconnect from the past is touching people of all ages. The realities that we have known are crumbling. Those of us who recognise this as irreversible and are looking closely at the essence of those changes need to explore together and share our insights and strengths.

People have talked for decades about the impact of computers and an 'information revolution'. Often what they mean is doing what was done before, but handling the related information in a slightly different way. People who collect facts and figures now collect many more facts and figures. Companies who need people to give information to customers move their customer information services away from behind local counters to call-centres thousands of miles away. Such examples are all around us.

However, introducing the technology does not immediately translate into systemic change. Established organizations add computers and the internet to the way they achieve their objectives without any deep institutional change or altered mindset. Top-down organizations have websites and may be 'two-way' in their use of the Internet (sending out online questionnaires, using Twitter and Facebook, and inviting 'bottom-up' feedback through various channels) while still maintaining the same traditional structures, with the perceptions of 'top' and 'bottom' unchanged.

The Invisible Revolution involves a more dramatic change. Think of it as a 90 degree rotation: then there is no top from which to send information down, and no bottom from which to send it up, only a crossways flow. This kind of interconnected reality has been described as a flat world, and also as a spiky one. I see it as flat, regarding the directions of information flow, but spiky in terms of how information is attracted to flow in the first place. The flatness is because of an equality and shared respect between the people who are communicating with each other. The spikiness is like someone raising a banner on a battlefield. It is a visibility issue, necessary so that people can know where the action is, and demonstrate readiness to join in.

Digital but not binary[edit | edit source]

The deep changes of the Invisible Revolution are based on digital technologies and their impact on how people relate to each other. Yet these changes are by no means characterised by an emphasis on simple binary choices of yes/no, true/false, or fixed multiple choice questions. Its focus is far more human than tick boxes allow.

On this human level, it is about new opportunities for relationships. These are relationships between people, and also people's relationships with ideas, information and knowledge creation. Barriers of distance and elitism are breaking down. Sharing interests is a more important point of introduction than frequenting the same places, or knowing the right people. Socially, intellectually and entrepreneurially, it is easier than ever before to find the people you are looking for.

Creating our futures[edit | edit source]

In some ways, this new reality could be a great equaliser. The time-gap between the unknown future and the present is narrowing. In certain areas of our lives, we are exploring the ground of the future. When we are privileged to take the first step on what is truly untrodden ground then, by definition, no one else was here first. If no one was here first, then there need be no pre-existing hierarchy or established mindset. Everyone is equally a pioneer.

We may be arriving by different routes, but there is the possibility of connecting up with other pioneers, talking to each other, and exploring this reality together in meaningful ways. It is already real to us. It is becoming increasingly clearly defined. It is where we live, and together we will need to work out how to make the best of it. In some ways it is deeply threatening. In other ways it is a new chance. Things are going to be different, and as we explore this developing landscape together we share responsibility for the shape that things will take.

So, at the turn of the year, my attention is drawn to the dissolving boundary between the face-to-face aspects of life and the online aspects. I find myself looking at the intermeshed areas of collaboration, community, education, work, and social life. My field work is the life that I am living and my research findings are reflections on what I experience and the patterns I observe. Reflecting on all this, I wonder if the theme emerging may be 'coagulation', as previously separate initiatives become increasingly visible, find each other, and decide to stick together? Perhaps, as that happens, things will accelerate, and more that has been hidden will become tangible, obvious and increasingly mainstream? Perhaps 2012 will be the year in which the Invisible Revolution stopped being quite so invisible?

Discussion[View | Edit]

This discussion is brilliant, and it is a potentially significant component of a user interface to a sustainability knowledgebase. It can be used in two ways: as an introduction, inviting the user to choose which of two approaches to use, which have different forms of explanation and relate things somewhat differently to each other, or it and its implications can be woven into the fabric of a single graphic and story-line user interface.

Modulating competition One reason it is important is that communities are made up both of people who 'just get along', and of people who organize their lives around being in charge, maximizing their own wealth and power. Both groups, or only one of them, can be charitable and idealistic, depending on the combination of genetics and life experience. Typically males seek to be in charge if they discover they have the ability to dominate; there is a drive to do this which is inherited from our common ancestor with the chimpanzees, and which has been reinforced by competition among communities for suitable territory and resources, and consequent warrior sub-cultures. This drive to dominate by 'alpha males' and their supporters (who seek to join the winning team) is the direct cause of war, patriarchy, and other forms of 'primal competition'. The underlying causes are competition for key nutrients and for the opportunity to reproduce.

One major modulator of this competition is the ability of individuals, especially but not exclusively females, to bring their feelings of love for their children and for the group to bear on their perceptions of the group process, and engage in peacemaking, and in building peer-based mutual support systems. The other major modulator is the extreme range of differences between ecosystems, requiring different strategies for survival which, in turn, demand specialization, and favoring trade of surpluses as the most efficient and least costly strategy for acquiring nutrients and other resources which are not provided by one or another ecosystem (or are deficient).

Peacemaking and mutual support systems In one incident described by Jane Goodall, a female in a London zoo would move between males who started making signs of aggression at each other from across the cage, go to one and start grooming him, and draw him a little way toward the other, then go to the other and do the same, and repeat until both males were on either side of her, grooming her, and the adrenaline and testosterone were discharged. The female was able to maintain a group psychology of solidarity, and got the added benefit of male reciprocation to her grooming them. She was able to prevent potential injury to (which would greatly increase the probability of early death, in the wild) or enduring antagonism toward a member of the group. So even a chimpanzee has the potential to be an effective peacemaker, under certain circumstances.

In another incident, in the wild, the dominant male chimpanzees in a group monopolized food in a human garbage dump and were all poisoned as a result. After their deaths the remaining males and females in the group were mutually supportive; none of the surviving males seriously attempted to recreate the dominant-male roles. They all chose to live peacefully and cooperatively. (I don't remember the source, just seeing the video.)

Our mystical, spiritual and / or religious heritage and direct experiences teach us to distinguish our drives which lead to conflict and destruction from those which nurture, build community bonds, and heal, as well as motivating stewardship of nature. If a captive female chimpanzee can do it, we can too! Human culture is built on loving children, and teaching them stories which motivate them to identify with each other and their community as not separate from themselves, and to seek to contribute consciously to the well-being of all the people and all the nature around them. In order to contribute, they are taught to rely on the lore of the culture and their specific group to guide them as a concept map, which is also a literal mental geographic map, because all the stories are told as occurring in specific places which are part of their lives. This has been diluted in large scale agriculture-based economies, but it is the foundation of permanent mutual support systems, which is what villages are, in essence, for most people.

Many cultures have found how to live in peace with each other; many others moved along a scale from war through occasional raids through truce, over time. Tibetan Buddhists, in particular, developed a science of the human psyche, which has been used to create practices for teaching people how to 'come from a space of' compassion and altruism. With participation and funding from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this has been in incorporated into a curriculum by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University's School of Medicine. The CCARE curriculum has been instituted at more than 2000 schools so far, so it is obviously successful.

Other healing curricula exist, including the ethnic studies programs at Cabrillo College, Aptos, California (community college level, or lower tertiary), and (formerly) in Phoenix, Arizona, which was banned and is the subject of a court fight to get it reinstated (K-12, or primary and secondary). The ethnic studies curricula enable students to feel empowered in life, motivating them to exercise their natural abilities as scholars and leaders, which had been denied by the dominant culture. They become able to relate lovingly with each other and anyone who does not oppress them, and to use community organizing and the law to fight those who seek to dominate them. They report that this is a profoundly liberating process, and their test scores and graduation rates reflect the difference it makes in their identities.

An opportunity exists to incorporate both types of process, CCARE and ethnic studies, into a new, empowering overall pedagogy and curriculum resource, adapting them to each distinct culture and ecosystem, to reintegrate people with each other and with nature.

Differences between ecosystems Ecosystems are extremely varied across the Earth. There are 867 (plus or minus 50) eco-regions, which are areas containing distinct sets of ecosystems with strong consistency. There are many thousands of specific ecosystems at specific places. Human cultures co-evolved with the ecosystems and eco-regions which they inhabited, over a few to many tens of thousands of years. Each culture selected the most effective strategies for survival for the demands of its ecosystem(s), embedding them in both rules for living and the language itself. Many, if not most or all, cultures engaged in trade of surpluses as the most efficient strategy for acquiring nutrients (most famously salt) and other resources (such as flint, obsidian, or decorative pigments or ornaments) which are deficient or unavailable in their ecosystems.

Identification with one's community, nature, and collective spirituality as a coherent system of meaning and value, and success in those terms, was the main contributor to psychological stability everywhere on Earth until warfare and colonialism disrupted local cultures. In the last 500 years the entire fabric, including the ecosystems, has been damaged, or even shredded, throughout the industrialized and colonized worlds, and global climate change threatens to multiply the damage to ecosystems, which could be the final blow to most remaining rural and wild-land cultures. Yet the fundamental causes of the diversity of ecosystems remain -- climate, soil types, micro-nutrients, and interactions among the remaining species. These fundamentals create a relatively strong potential for rehabilitating habitats and either restoring species which are only locally extinct, or supporting (if necessary) a process of selection of alternatives to extinct species for the unoccupied ecological niches.

With the introduction of mobile smart-phones, and the web-server or local client-server model, it becomes possible to bring education and coordination resources to communities which can enable them to improve agricultural yields, and to level the playing field with buyers, who currently exploit them mercilessly, generally offering only what it actually costs to grow the crops, while the final selling price in a city might be 20 to 100 times the price paid for the crop. (This universal practice, exacerbated by colonialism, has broken rural economies around the world, and led to the unprecedented migrations to cities.)

The combination of smart-phones and servers can also display the surpluses and deficits of specific macro- and micro-nutrients, and plants and animals which can provide them, for each eco-region and ecosystem, and each community's traditional territorial boundaries, in a geographic information system which also supports digital earth imaging. This, coupled with a variety of computing services embedded in a knowledgebase, enables people to see their situation strategically, and form networks of support with people in other communities who see their own situations as related, so that they can mutually empower each other as agents of the Invisible Revolution, for the purpose of managing the relevant resources for the benefit of all.

This information, along with total needed and desired demand levels for each community, can also be entered into a computerized supply chain system, which can use algorithms, agreed upon by the communities involved, to help allocate surpluses a) to the closest point of deficit and b) farther as needed to ensure that all in the region are covered, with consideration for c) the most efficient and least costly logistics for distribution. The surplus over and above the amounts needed to meet these needs becomes available for sale to towns and cities, with sufficient economic strength to cut unscrupulous buyers out of the distribution chain, and demand fair prices which allow rebuilding rural economies.

The same information can be used to plan the overall stewardship of the eco-region, mapping information on where specific interventions are appropriate (e.g. non-disruptive for other species in the plant and animal micro-community) for increasing resource yields.

This approach decisively reduces the behavioral drivers for competition, by reducing the fundamental contribution of insecurity to seeing other as competitors for limited, important resources. Bucky Fuller wrote and talked about this -- it was his key mission.

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