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Flatland (novella), 1884
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Powers of 10 (video) 1968
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October 24, 2003

Latent Locality

The BBC previews iCan after 14 months of development.

Community depends on shared reality. We negotiate group subjectivity (relative to other groups), which then becomes objectivity (within our group). The temporal cycle is crucial, otherwise the path from subjectivity to objectivity continues inexorably to tradition and orthodoxy, where one "master reality" defines community instead of the reverse.

The governance structures (language-based codification of past experience, beliefs and wisdom) of communities need to engage in rapid evolution with social feedback, as local environments change independently within and without each community.

Rapid evolution of governance protocols is fueled by near-zero latencies of change in online spaces. People fall silent without notice. An influx of members doubles activity for one week. Leadership contests require neither months of coup-planning nor incitement to riot. Such logistically fluid cyberspaces tempt the optimistic "I Can" to seek retroactive pardon from the historical "We Don't".

Participatory governance requires that member inputs influence the evolution of the community, within a set of costs and benefits to members. At least one levering value of the community must be controlled by members, if a living medium and culture is to be birthed and sustained. Sans participatory governance, members will either rebel against a governance structure, seek remuneration, or abandon the space.

Technology generates novel social costs and benefits, at always-accelerating rates. Government is not yet equipped with a public policy platform to engage educated citizens with their elected apparatus, in that series of transactions that must synthesize navigation from novelty. At the edge of rapidity, each citizen is both sensor and sage.

Social animals can choose the freedom and loneliness of individualism, or they can share the captivity and support of their fellow animals. A nascent community centers members around a topic of agreement, but a maturing stage of that community's development is its dissolution into competing camps.

Sub-groups cannot emerge and establish their unique cultures and identities without the protective identity of a larger group. Disagreement is only meaningful within the context of an earlier agreement, e.g. the language used to disagree, or mutual residence in a geographical region.

Community is thus the symbolizing of peer-seeking attributes and self-identification, followed swiftly by disagreement and iteration.

Strong communities are those with social protocols that effectively model and nurture local relationships. Offline, we negotiate subjective conclusions from global cues. Online, social software make algebraic decisions from local and subjective cues. Members co-evolve with their community protocol for labelling reality and each other.

The magic of online community is that it exists purely as a collection of symbols. Low latency (it is easier to change symbols than reality) enables fast community evolution. But fast cars need good brakes. Symbolic fluidity conjures a mirror need for stability that is often filled by a local leader.

What is that leader's role? To introduce selective latency, sometimes exploiting technology's capacity for rapid change, at other times applying regulatory social friction to defuse technology's risk of destructive resonance.

Rapid evolution is the precursor to both group learning and social disaster. Community leaders must be local enough to tell the difference. At the upper limit of locality and lower limit of latency, citizens lead their neighbors.

Posted by dotpeople at October 24, 2003 04:55 PM