The Nature of the Future: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: April 16th, 2013 by bobmorris

Nature of FutureThe Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World
Marina Gorbis
Free Press/A Division of Simon & Schuster (2013)

How and why “we are infusing more and more of our economic transactions with social connectedness”

Why did Marina Gorbis write this book? Her core contention “is that the innovations rapidly emerging through socialstructing are not mere fringe developments but are the early manifestations of a new economy that will increasingly replace the institutional production we have come to rely on in so many areas of our lives. A number of industries are already being profoundly disrupted by the rise of socialstructing such as publishing and the music business. Over time this emerging socialstructed economy will likely become mainstream, but that might be a long-term process. I believe we can all benefit right now, though, by learning about the ways the new economy is rapidly evolving and by taking part in it.” Her book, then, offers a rigorous and comprehensive explanation of the aforementioned “ways” as well as well as her counsel as to how best to participate in the new economy.

As I began to read her book and then later while re-reading it prior to going to work on this review, I agreed with the subtitle that each of the nine chapters could be viewed — and probably should be viewed — as a “dispatch” from someone who has explored the socialstructured world. Others may think of Gorbis primarily as a futurist but I view her — as I also view others such as Kees van der Heijden, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, and Peter Schwartz — primarily as an anthropologist. In The Nature of the Future, she focuses on what she believes to be the most likely implications and consequences of the aforementioned “early manifestations of a new economy.” It is also possible to view her book as a map or, better yet, as a GPS by which to navigate the transition to the socialstructed world now underway. When embarked on this journey, Gorbis suggests, it is imperative to bring passion, self-direction, and social connectivity into all domains of our lives. I view them as the new currency, if not now then soon, or in years to come.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of the material that Gorbis examines:

o Opening Up Biology to the Masses (Pages 4-8)
o From The Margins to the Mainstream (15-19)
o Distributed Communications, Distributed Value Creation (23-25)
o Scale Disrupted (31-38)
o Beyond Money: New Forms of Exchange, New Kinds of Currency (46-53)
o Socialstructing Wealth (61-67)
o Socially Embedded Learning: Community as a Driver and Enabler of Learning (82-86)
o Open Data: Shifting Power from Elites to Citizens (102-106)
o Decision Support Tools: Better Decisions with Help from Algorithms (106-111)
o Lightweight Research Tools: Empowering Amateurs (127-131)
o The Body as a Complex System: Collaborating to Decode the Mysteries (156-161)
o Beyond Scenarios: Directions of Transformation (189-191)

Thoughtful readers will appreciate Gorbis’ brilliant coverage of various future scenaria for 2021: Free-Range Architecture (Pages 68-73), The New Agora (93-102), Open-Source Biology (120-124), Partnerships of Experts (148-154). With regard to the sociostructed future, she suggests “a world of unthinkable possibilities” as these scenaria suggest: Rebalancing – A New Symbiosis of Money and Sociostructs (175-182), The Social Currencies Economy — Turning Social into a Commodity (182-185), and Return of the Gift Society – Reintegrating Economics into Life (186-189). As she notes, “We created social technologies. Our next task is to create social organizations: systems for creating not merely goods but also meaning, purpose, and greater good.” Seth Godin calls them “tribes.” Paul Spiegelman and Bo Burlingham co-founded what has become the Inc. Small Giants Community.

Before concluding her book, Gorbis quotes a passage from a document formulated in 2007 that affirms the values of the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in its vision document: “Valuing open collaboration, independence, and the ability of anyone to rise to the endeavor , we draw on network leadership models that provide a platform for self-organizing structures. The value of these self-organizing structures is that they can act quickly, responsively, and creatively from the edges. The guiding concepts in this view of leadership are openness, self-election, continuous prototyping, robust platforms, and low coordination costs. Leadership skills focus on community building, consensus building, mediation, commitment, and humility.”

This statement could also serve as a vision document for our human race as we proceed into an uncertain, frequently perilous future in the months and years to come.

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