Friday, March 12, 2010

The global Gov2.0 community and the speed of information

My first global conference this morning - featured speakers were:

There were more than 300 attendees (all virtual) from Australia, Mexico, USA, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Israel, UK, India, Singapore Taiwan, Netherlands, Lebanon, Georgia, Romania and Kuwait - possibly other countries as well.

The content of the presentations was great (should be online at the conference site shortly), and the chat stream was a useful and interesting adjunct to the event. My comments will be at the FutureGov blog shortly.

At the end of the three hours I was excited and had a bundle of new ideas; but I was also left with a sense of disconnection or disembodiedness - a bit like jet lag. which is what this post is about.

My thoughts went to an article written by Ian Illich in 1973 - Energy and Equity. The article was about the way mankind moves around the planet, and the energy deficit created by industrialisation.

"Man, unaided by any tool, gets around quite efficiently. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer in ten minutes by expending 0.75 calories. Man on his feet is thermodynamically more efficient than any motorized vehicle and most animals. Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well."

The article argues that other forms of transport are use less energy and create more inequity:
"More energy fed into the transportation system means that more people move faster over a greater range in the course of every day. Everybody’s daily radius expands at the expense of being able to drop in on an acquaintance or walk through the park on the way to work. Extremes of privilege are created at the cost of universal enslavement."

As one reviewer noted, "The result, worldwide, would be a postindustrial economy of 'modern subsistence'-from which Illich regrets the Chinese are deviating though he appears to have hopes for the Cambodians. Therein, of course, lies the difficulty: notwithstanding Illich's disclaimers, an authoritarian pall hangs over his proposals--along with a religious asceticism/quietism." Which is not a great outcome.

Nevertheless, at the time the essay was published I thought there was an important truth buried in the essay - about the impact on individuals of modern mass transport.  I developed the idea of a psychic deficit caused by high speed travel, that meant the body needed time, after a high speed journey to readjust to the destination state. Rather like the deep sea diver needs to pause periodically for decompression to avoid the bends, so the body needs to readjust after air-travel to "allow the electrons to catch up".

So I found myself thinking at the end of a three hour global conference, do we need to give time for ideas to settle, when they are zapping round the world like electrons in the Hadron Collider, and give our brains time to absorb the ideas. Of course we need time to absorb ideas and integrate them into our personal mental models - that is what sleep and dreams are for; but do we need more time if the ideas have travelled longer distances, or pinged around in cyberspace, than if they shared at same location - in a face to face conversation?

Maybe I am too old to be a digital native?