Imagine it’s the year 2050 and a vibrant, high-tech global economy is thriving. We made the transition away from fossil fuels. Our cities are designed around regional security and multi-layered resilience. Prosperity is widespread and capitalism has taken a new form that promotes human well-being as its modus operandi. In other words, we’ve transitioned to a configuration of sustainability and relative stability on a planetary scale.
How did we get here? It took a revolution.
But how did a movement comprised of rogue thinkers displace the existing powers that be? I’d like to suggest that the great 20th Century futurist, Buckminster Fuller, captured it in his assertion that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
What if we were to take him literally and envision a parallel universe of global collaboration, one that has its own monetary currency, systems of governance, rules and agendas. Could such a system be built on a planetary scale to syphon economic productivity away from the existing model?
I want to suggest that this sci-fi future may be closer than we think. We’ve already got SEVERAL parallel universes of global collaboration. Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and the Linux Operating System are all global platforms for collaboration with their own social order. Online games like World of Warcraft and the Gears of War series invite people to explore an alternate reality with hundreds of thousands of other people in real time. And we’re just scratching the surface of what these social technologies are capable of.
So what if the revolution takes place in a parallel universe? Here’s how it could happen:
Systems of virtual reality have been built on new capabilities from mobile technologies, distributed computing, and online gaming. This makes it possible for large numbers of people to operate in a virtual world that encompasses the real one. Alternate currencies and new management tools allow for the emergence of a new social order that syphons resources away from the old economy.
Writers like Cory Doctorow and Daniel Suarez have written several books that explore how weaknesses in cyber security enable entirely new forms of guerilla warfare and economic production. (I especially recommend For the Win by Doctorow and Daemon followed by Freedom by Suarez for the interested reader.) They offer a new way forward as technology outpaces the authoritarian systems of control that held democracies in check throughout history.
The futurist, Jane McGonigal, offers a vision for deploying alternate reality games to solve real-world problems. We are entering a new era of possibilities. And the timing is just right. It is increasingly clear to mindful observers that our current economic and political systems are grossly inadequate for the challenges confronting 21st Century humanity. The consolidation of wealth, combined with a frightening brittleness in supports undergirding the global economy (financial meltdown anyone?) and an onslaught of environmental and humanitarian crises makes it essential that we transition to integrated systems of regional resilience.
So what if the revolution takes place in an alternate reality? Is that how the social movements of the world break out of their silos and finally converge? Perhaps it is the way forward that has eluded the Boomer generation. And just maybe the Millennials will be up to the task that lays at their feet.
As for myself, I remain hopeful yet doggedly concerned about the challenges that stand ahead of us. What do you think? Can alternate reality gaming lead us to a new world that is real, viable, and designed to last?
Only the future will tell.