Moving from Transactional to Intentional Cultures

The Preface Story…

And The Post:

When teachers and students are seen as sellers and consumers that’s transactional culture.

When the people in local government and in a city are seen as service providers and consumers, that’s transactional culture.

In the U.S. since the Reaganite 1980s the U.S. became a largely transactional culture. Today the language of much innovation, design thinking, service design, etc. is still thoroughly colonized with this hyper-corporate transactional hollowed out reduction.

Intentional communities care about broader and deeper impacts in the way our short brilliant lives are lived. The Net and a desire to renew local and longer lasting values is allowing the deliberative space and speed to spread a renewal of more intentional community living. From the rise of Meetup groups and Twitter leading to the addition of the words meetup and tweetup to the Oxford English dictionary, to collectives united by all sorts of shared values, to hyper local community groups, and more… the pattern isn’t just about making, hacking, or meeting up… more deeply it’s about an explicit awareness of intention.

Any sort of viable future for everyone will not be centered on efficient transactional cultures, so if you start noticing this in your work and conversations speak up and turn to those you’re with and ask, how can we find and meet the deeper intentions people have about life today and in the future? How can we organize and work on *that*?


(Photo: Park surveillance camera, McGolrick park, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY, 2014)

Know Your Watershed, Mapping Rivers, Mapping Our Commons

Mississippi river upstream sources
Part of my childhood was spent living just a mile from the Mississippi up around Minneapolis.  Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

Fresh water is more valuable than oil because humanity can live without one of these. There’s something about mapping water, about mapping rivers, that resonates so well with our online hyper connected lives. Maybe it’s because we take water for granted almost as much as we take all of our social connectedness for granted.

Maps used to be very powerful during the so-called age of discovery when sailing ship design and technology was considered to be cutting edge, when surveying the world was celebrated as a great human achievement even though the purpose was largely focused on exploitation of people and their lands. Mapping then was a tool for innovations in what is possible by regimes focused on greed.

"Americae Nova Tabula" by Hondius in 1640.
Americae Nova Tabula” created by Hondius 11 human generations ago  (in 1640)

In today’s geospatial digital mapping the question we should be asking is, as with any technology, who is making it and for whom? As with the Internet itself much of the mapping technology has come from military usage, and much of the power in mapping today is held by the credit card and banking systems that are tracking our spending in great detail to optimize methods for encouraging further spending and debt. So many of these maps are made by the already very powerful for the increasingly more powerful.

Hudson river upstream sources
I live in NYC, along the estuary portion of the Hudson river. NYC’s water source is under threat of fracking. Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

This is why it’s refreshing to see maps like this National Atlas Streamer Map created by the National Geospatial Program of the U.S. Geological Survey that provide some service for all of those organizing to protect freshwater for future generations by fighting the selling off of land rights for fracking, and fighting against policies that enable land usage for industrial petrochemical farming and its toxic effects on our world. It’s maps like these that we should be most excited about that should be celebrated, maps like these can better help preserve and protect the commons that we all share. Check it out, pick a place in the US that you know and care for and look at all of the rivers connection.

Renewing Networks: Egypt & “Losing Control”

(Image: “Thursday 10 February 2011 – Day 17 Al Qasr Al Aini Street, Cairo as doctors and nurses walk peacefully on one side of the street, others take video from mobile phones in the other side of the street.” photo by sierragoddess. cc-by-nd)

A lot of the recent talk about what’s going on in Tunisia and Egypt, about organizing today, digital media, anxieties about political organizational transitions… this all reminds me of this passage:

“Losing control is more important than trying to gain it. One distinguishing characteristic of the digital world is that power is being pushed to the edges away from organizations and towards people. This shift is good for organizations that need to engage many people in their work; yet to successfully power the edges, organizations have to be willing to lose control.

“Losing control” is a frightening phrase; it connotes flying through space without a parachute or a net. In this respect, social media are kryptonite for people who feel a need to control their efforts too tightly. But the reality in our connected world is that spending energy trying to control what other people do and say is counterproductive.

Organizations still need to be intentional about their efforts, they still need messages and plans, but they also have to expect that people and organizations in their ecosystem will march to their own drummers. More important, imperfectly coordinated efforts can be enormously successful, even exhilarating, as they unfold in unexpected ways.

Only by letting go and throwing off the yoke of control can organizations unleash the power and creativity of many people to do amazing things on their behalf. …”

— Beth Kanter & Allison Fine, The Networked Nonprofit

Some group of outside commentators frame changes like this as “chaos” or fog. But isn’t change the norm in life, and stability the exception often accomplished via some spectrum of repression? As the pre-Platonic adage goes, we never walk through the same stream twice. Where are we? We’re in an “unscripted time,” as Harvey Sarles has said in his essay “Responses To Change“— “a moment in history in which our ideas of the future seem really murky, unclear, unsure”— and what some in grappling with this recognition over the past 30 years have labeled: The Third Wave, The Aquarian Conspiracy, Blessed Unrest, or the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

Those involved in the the Egyptian and Tunisian protests are operating with a new spirit— the spirit of this age we’re in— and are doing amazing work to accomplish simple goals that have been articulated widely and for some time… a social code perhaps most eloquently documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adapted and focused in on for local context. Some people focus on freedom to communicate, or freedom from want, or freedom of representative choice, or all of this and more.  How we’re doing this now has augmented, morphed, or in many ways is renewing long standing ways of human association that have been repressed via the narrow abstraction of printed words.

“Leaderless organization” is another phrase for networks. “Chaos” as used today is another word for networks, often used by idealist print-centered minds who’ve yet to reboot their awareness with actual human communication reality.

What can an organization learn from these recent events? The value of articulating outcomes and improving skills in sharing them, to then learn and co-create with like-minded peers… that’s the positive phrasing of what is meant by “losing control.”

That shock we feel over and over these days?
Sparks from reconnecting networks of human trust.

6 Questions For Our Social Networked Globe

Paul Hawken asks 6 great questions in his book “Blessed Unrest”.

  • “At what point in the future will the existence of 2 million, 3 million, or even 5 million citizen-led organizations shift our awareness to the possibility that we will have fundamentally changed the way human beings govern and organize themselves on earth?
  • What are the characteristics of leadership required when power arises instead of descends?
  • What would a democracy look like that was not ruled by a dominant minority?
  • What would a world feel like that created solutions to our problems from the ground up?
  • What if we are entering a transitional phase of human development where what “works” is invisible because most heads are turned to the past?
  • What if some very basic values are being reinstilled worldwide and are fostering complex social webs of meaning that represent the future of government?

These are but a few of the questions collectively posed by a movement that has yet to recognize it is a movement.”

He’s coming from his survey of the global and distributed environmental movement and his book is aimed at this diverse audience, but these questions are equally apt for the Gov 2.0/Civic 2.0 movement, or the Placemaking movement in urban planning, or the Ed 2.0 movement in education, etc.

From where I stand his observations three years since publication resonate even stronger.

The sheer size of the current paradigm shift can numb or make us cynical in the face of the parallel massive consolidations of power by those who already have too much. But take time to recognize the size of this massive change, understand this evolution, then get engaged with this world of ours and help figure out how to best live together. Get inspired…

Follow… Me – Nationalism Diminishes In The Global Human Net

Bandera americana, pin para solapa, photo by Daquella manera
Photo by Daquella manera

Tim O’Reilly said the following about Obama’s use of social media in a recent Q&A on one of IBM’s business marketing sites.

“Clearly there are some new channels for outreach and new channels for listening to what people are telling you. Barack Obama built a really effective platform with mybarackobama.com—and it is really important to understand that it was a social media platform. If you went there you could set up your own blog, you could set up your own events, you could run a fund-raiser, so it was really a platform for organizing. In some ways you would have to say that mybarackobama.com was the most successful start-up of the last couple of years. After all, they raised $100 million dollars and then used it to take over the world’s largest company.”

Putting aside O’Reilly’s corporatist metaphors for another time, from what little I know Obama ran a “50 state” campaign, in pursuit of taking the national office. He and Axelrod used a social platform to run a state-based strategy, with a national effect as a result.  What else do we mean when we say that “all politics are local”?

I keep observing how we’re increasingly living in a more tribal environment, or in socio-political terms a more republic/state/city/group-centered game, rather than the federalist/nationalist game.  Maybe the republic of farmers that Thomas Jefferson envisioned have not turned out to plant seeds so much as grow code, media, music, global networks that are actually small networks (regional or niche subject based) of interested people…. growing consciousness.

I don’t have research citations to satisfy the quantitative appetite, just a gut feeling from the sieve-like life I eek out. This gut feeling though seems non-trivial.  In my own trans-cultured experience (family histories with so much restless seeming immigration & colonialism, mixing, new world, old world, indigenous) and in academic media work I’ve been reading, what I keep hearing/feeling is that nations are really artificial, concepts, more than deep social human realities.  This matters a lot, we need to build social media environments that resonate with the reality of human experience, not ones based on artificial/ideal/false notions that came from the past if we are to make the epic changes needed now in the face of global environmental challenges of extreme proportion.

“Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar” - Marshall McLuhan
“Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar”  –Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

Mass use of movable type helped homogenize culture. (Marshall McLuhan and others have talked at length about this.) Distribution of cheaply reproduced printed texts was instrumental in making a preferred language dialect and accent normative and other dialects or accents “lesser”, etc. Easy enough to do when people were ruled by texts and submitted themselves to texts via unquestioning belief, and looking at history this happened all too quickly– only 16 human generations since Gutenberg… and we each directly know 2 to 3 prior generations.

Today, now that we’re clearly moving away from print-centered environments, and into multimedia centered modes (with massive generational tripping along the way; just look at the publishing industry), we’re arriving again at more oral centered environments (as Lance Strate mentioned recently), we’re more tribal… clear shiboleths abound in our network-converged global culture, and are continually created as people evolve them to maintain each tribe.  McLuhan’s conservative side in part feared the tribe I think, but today we see that we’re waking up to a new paradigm based on observing our social selves, together, in ways that only the social web makes visible, reintroducing us to our selves. Following flags seem less important than following friends. Yet big questions remain. How do we make the big changes needed to mend the gap between the reality of our crumbling health & environment and the unsustainable & depletist nationalist dreams we’ve been stuck in for far too long? How can we re-connect?