Is the Wikileaks conflict leading us towards a better and more open future or can it result in the opposite?

The Wikileaks phenomenon in itself is nothing but the natural consequence of Moore's Law and the emergence of omnipresent and ubiquitous communication and data gathering technologies. It is an effect that is one interpretation of the concept of radical transparency , a situation when there doesn't exist any barriers for information anymore and where everything is potentially known by everyone.

What Wikileaks really is doing is showing the world a small and relatively isolated (!) glimpse of what radical transparency might mean for governments.

One thing to note is that in the not too distant future we can expect that radical transparency will spread to companies, corporations and basically all other organizations as well.

The bigger picture - towards a completely new society

But what does this mean in the long run?

To understand the bigger picture and where this might lead we also need to add another underlying driving force to the puzzle. The driving force is the result of two distinct human capabilities: our ability to communicate and our capacity to innovate and create tools and structures. When looking back in history with these glasses we can identify this key driving force behind almost all major reorganizations of human society.

With the innovation of many-to-many communication on an individual level it is very likely that we are at a stage of radically transforming human societies once more. If this is the case we are actually part of a shift that will transform our society in a much more fundamental way than the relatively recent change from a farming society into an industrial society. Maybe the shift from an oral society to a text based society will be a more adequate comparison. If we are going to judge from previous reorganizations of humanity we can conclude that the majority of today's institutions will become obsolete or at least altered in a fundamental way. Including the corporations, nation states and even our cherished model of democracy.

Wikileaks, together with other P2P-related effects, are then just the weak signals lightening the murky path towards a very different future.

How do we get to the future?

The reason for a fundamental shift lies in the conflict of three seemingly incompatible concepts

  • Static hierarchic structures
  • Democratic models of power organization
  • Radical transparency

Democracy and static hierarchies have been working together for the reason that communication have been organized according to a broadcasting model where you have a few dominant broadcasters and accordingly can contain the discussions and the perspectives to a certain degree within a community. If you add radical transparency this isn't possible anymore and a conflict between these three takes place. The core of the conflict has not so much to do with democracy as has with the other two because the nature of the conflict lies in the fundamental incompatibility between radical transparency and static hierarchic structures and it is quite possible that democracy will be the victim in this conflict (placing nuanced comments by e g Clay Shirky in the naïve and idealistic corner).

A couple of years ago I wrote a quick post about how this upcoming conflict between new ways of organizing driven by the Internet and many-to-many communications on one side, and the traditional static and mechanically based institutions (e g governments) built on a broadcasting communications model on the other.

This conflict could be played out in one of four scenarios describing the different structures of conflict this could result in.

The scenarios were:

  1. A smooth sail - governments will just fade away with very little conflict in order for new governing structures built on new communications technologies to take their place
  2. Back in line - governments around the world will see and understand the coming dangers and will together succeed in restricting the Internet so that all threats to the traditional institutions are controlled and contained - resulting in a drastically more restricted Internet than we have today
  3. Full scale war - the world will be divided between countries who have too much to lose from letting the power move down to the Internet grassroots and others who actually have become reliant on the existence of a free and open Internet - since communication is now as crucial for survival as food and water an armed conflict of gigantic scale will follow
  4. Many small wars in different areas at different times - the conflict will be prolonged and played out in arena by arena, and not fuel a full scale global conflict, but will result in slow but steady changes in area by area

Which scenario do Wikileaks indicate?

The scale of the current conflict around Wikileaks suggest that scenario 1 is already out of the question. Then we have the other three left.

The rapid escalation of the conflict and the direct involvement of so many actors due to the choice of diplomatic arena, could suggest that Wikileaks is the first step in the chain of events that will lead to scenario 3 - Full scale war.

The force and fury by which mainly the US Government is acting might suggest that we are heading towards scenario 2 - Back in line. Will the other governments across the globe also realize who the real enemy to their position of power is and close their ranks in order to succeed in defending the current power structures – regardless of the consequences for the Internet and sacrificing the fundamental constitutional rights on which the modern democracies are built?

Or maybe this current conflict will be contained and slowly fade out? It could the then lead us towards scenario 4 - Many small wars in different areas at different times...

Any comments on this?


Today FuturePundit reports about the decline in healthy life style in the US. chips-in-bowl.jpg

Investigators from the Department of Family Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston compared the results of two large-scale studies of the US population in 1988-1994 and in 2001-2006. In the intervening 18 years, the percentage of adults aged 40-74 years with a body mass index greater than 30 has increased from 28% to 36%; physical activity 12 times a month or more has decreased from 53% to 43%; smoking rates have not changed (26.9% to 26.1%); eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day has decreased from 42% to 26%; and moderate alcohol use has increased from 40% to 51%. The number of people adhering to all 5 healthy habits has decreased from 15% to 8%.

[From FuturePundit: Healthy Lifestyles On Decline In United States quoting the June 2009 issue of The American Journal of Medicine]

(In the light of new research one can of course wonder about the validity of the recommendations when i e fructose seems to be bad to your health rather than good.)

The important question for me as a futurist is to understand which are the major factors making this happen and what could potentially make it change?

Part of the explanation can be that we are more collectively adaptive beings than rational individuals. This is suggested by the experience of the vast majority of us share: most of us don't change our behavior even if our doctor tell us we will die early if we continue to live the way we do. To quote the book "Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life" (Alan Deutschman) we need both to reframe our conceptualization of our situation and move to a different social context which support the new behavior to actually change.

Another part of the explanation has most likely something to do with our resistance to change based on advices or recommendations because of our declining faith in authorities. A trend which is boosted by the exploding amount of new knowledge which increasingly is experienced as perspective changing and even contradictory. This is causing us to diminish the area of reference to one which we can understand i e to a more myopic and consistancy based view of truth which I usually refer to as truthiness - a truth which we feel in your stomach rather than looking up in a book (or on the net). The result is that our close environment (or even yourself) is the only frame of reference that you use to evaluate if a statement is true or not.

Both of these factors are suggesting that the key to behavioral change lies in the complex group logic - at a spiritual level - rather than at a rational psychological level.

In my head this refers me to what Axelrod wrote in his important book "The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition" where he used the concept of shadow of the future to explain why cooperation changed during different collective perspectives of the future. Some time ago I referred to that concept in order to blog about why we are becoming more violent, more careless and more likely to cheat (in Swedish). The basic idea about this is that if we are likely to have a future together, we are cooperating. But if we don't have a future together and are not likely to meet again, we tend to cheat on each other more.

Could it be, that if our collective view of the future - the shadow of the future - is playing a major role in explaining how we behave socially, it also has some explanatory power for how well we take care of ourselves? This would imply that this change towards unhealthy behavior is a social macro-group behavior which might continue until we change our view of the future, which to many citizens seems rather gloomy today.

Since I use this example in my scenario planning education almost every day I thought it might be appropriate to remind you of this scenario published by Peter Schwartz and Jay Ogilvy in their article Plotting Your Scenarios in the book Learning from the Future (eds Fahey and Randall).


It is said to have been developed in the 80:s in order to understand the uncertainties of the future of the american automotive market.

Searching Google I found out that this particular scenario cross is also referred in at least two other books:

Since what these scenarios described was two major uncertainties in the automotive market the conclusion was that efficiency and size/design of cars really are important i e lower fuel consumtion and more van/hybrid cars.

This process started, but came to an abrupt halt when the birth of the SUVs tricked the american automotive industry into that fuel and size weren't real issues. What was basically missed was that the relatively good economic era of the 1990s boosted a life style purchasing pattern that for some time supported large, safety focused cars signalling a active and individualistic life style. That basically made the automotive industry going back to sleep forgetting what they actually seemed to ahve realized during the short wake up periond in the 80:s

Just to some years later wake up to the bells of the real energy crisis boosted by a financial crisis and a global scale recession.

I don't know, but the word culling comes to mind...

What about the future of the automotive industry? It doesn't look good from an American (or Swedish) horizon, but where is all this going and how are we going to transport ourselves tomorrow??


Yesterday I held a speech at a local conference of entrepreneurship. As usual I talked about scenario planning and it's virtues of creating a better understanding of the business environment, especially when it comes to understanding the underlying driving forces shaping the environment as well as assessing the critical uncertainties of how these will play out.

I also met a former colleague from Volvo and we started to discuss the state of the automotive industry. Suddenly I found myself retelling some of the ideas about the future of the car industry and mobility I spoke about at Volvo almost 10 years ago. Thoughts I had a problem getting people to grasp then... but maybe something has happened since? These are a new remix version of what went on in our minds then, and what is occuring inside in my head these days.

Three futures of personal mobility

Today's car industry is since long stuck in a mature and until recently slowly, but now rapidly braking market. The key reason for this have been, and still is, the unwillingness/inability to reinvent the concept of the car to something else than a increasingly complex, functionality loaded, emotional, status-boosting and expensive entity.

A number of driving forces in the business environment coincide to create the business situation where this reinvention is absolutely necessary:

  • overall diminishing economic growth due the approaching maturity of the industrial markets slowly decrease the customers available money
  • the urbanization continues which
    - decrease the need for a car in daily life
    - increase the cost of land and thus the cost for owning/parking a car
    - increase the awareness of the air pollution as a problem
    - increase the traffic congestions
    - increase the number of people who have a different economic situation with an uneven income that is dependent on projects, cultural consumption and other idea driven short activities
  • increasing global awareness of the climate situation
  • increasing/uncertain cost of energy
  • people are experience, meaning and identity driven in a different way than before which makes them more discontinuous and unpredictable in their behavior and choices

A certain indicator of this development is the continuous increase in the use of bicycles and small personal motorized vehicles (e g mopeds) in modern cities. The situation have since 10+ years become more and more critical so the problem isn't new. What is starting to occur is that the automotive industry is running out of both buffered resources and there is still no signs of proactive ideas.

What we now can be almost certain of, judging from the period from the different crisis from 1972 until the present, is that the ideas and innovations with a potential to change the situation will not come from inside the automotive industry itself. But where will they come from?

Two major long term driving forces shaping the future entrepreneurial landscape seems to be:

Simpler functions are are on the rise, not increasingly complex services - In the area of Internet and Web 2.0 we seems to have found a really important insight, which is slowly finding its way to other areas. When decreasing the complexity in an offer, as well as the process paying for it, the potential for rapid success through a high market penetration seems much better. The important advantage is that you can still be rational and efficient on the inside without having to internalize the understanding of complex and continuously changing customer behavior. Reducing complexity in an offer means that there is a better chance of finding a more natural interface between customer logic and production logic. A really important achievement in an increasingly complex and transparent world. This means basically that instead of trying to increase the service content in order to increase the value of a service, many of the successful companies are actually doing the opposite and reducing the width of the service, but instead excel in providing a simplistic but high quality function with global reach.

The rise of low end and distributed innovation - Increasing abilities of innovation among the other 4 billion people is changing the focus of innovation from exclusive and advanced top end innovation, which describe the majority of development in the West, to inclusive low end innovation for the masses, which is what seems to emerge elsewhere. Companies are slowly starting to realize that in the low end of innovation lies both the future for the rest of the world, but also a pretty huge untapped market. One really interesting effect of this is that a lot of our advanced western innovations, which are adapted to our situation, will be re-innovated in other parts of the world and under completely different circumstances and cost pressure. And when people realize that great many of these new innovations solves basically the same problem as we have here, but to a fraction of the cost, we are going to import these in great quantities in about the same fashion we today import a lot of produced goods from the rest of the world.

We can talk about the last one in more general ways as the rise of mass-collaboration, mass-amateurization and mass-innovation as well, but for my purpose here this description level suits me.

Another development that could be mentioned here is the Open Source/Open Content/Open X development, but as I see it is just a way of organizing innovation which of course will have a huge impact on how the different innovations will be developed, but will make less of an impact on how the future of personal mobility will develop.

If we consider these driving forces as important, but yet uncertain in how the might impact the automotive industry, how will they play out. What might happen??

Scenario 1 - The car (industry) is slowing down - to crash

The legal system is reinforcing the inertia in the western traditional industrial mindset when it comes to change how we transport ourselves. In the rest of the world a vast palette of new low cost transport technologies are seeing the dawn of light. Many of them builds on the bicycle and different kinds of individual vehicles propelled by solar powered electricity. We in the west shows again that we are simply unable to adopt innovations coming from outside of our own ranks.

Due to no alternative working transportation solutions, people in the western cities are being forced to increasingly use their bicycles and public transportation systems. One reason is that many of them will not even own a car. This development will reveal a number of problems with our current city planning when it comes to both managing bicycles as well as public transportation.

The automotive industry will continue it's slide downward and will basically crash. Maybe some of the leftovers will be reconfigured to smaller companies selling their increasingly expensive cars in the rural and niche markets that will remain.

Scenario 2 - The low end reinvention of the car - "The car is dead! Long live the car!!"

In this scenario the car is reinvented through the innovation powers that rise among the other 4 billion. Instead of an expensive car that is intelligent and safe, the new car is small and comes in many (but smaller) varieties. Some of them will more resemble a concealed moped with place for one person, while others will have room for both a family and a few bags. The main point is that these vehicles are both light, simple and cheap to buy and drive. They will most likely also be very rugged to survive in a crowded city as well as adapted to small parking areas by being foldable in different ways.

The automotive industry at last realize that if the want to survive in the market of mobility, the will have to enter the new emerging market by buying moped manufacturers and invest in different innovation models and market in the developing world. It means that they will radically widen their view of what a vehicle is and by using what is left of their financial muscle they will have maybe have enough resources to invest in the development of these new cars. It will be bad, but they will at least have a plan and an industry to compete in!

Scenario 3 - Personal mobility is reinvented - mobility as function

In this world the concept of mobility is changed from being based on vehicles, on to other ways of moving people and goods. By taking the perspective of how functions (rather than products or services) can solve the problem of urban and trans-urban mobility in more efficient ways, the breakthrough comes from a completely other direction. Instead a vast numbers of new public transportation innovations see the light of day. Old science fiction ideas like moving sidewalks and different kinds of light and continuous train-like systems are being experimented with in different places.

Suddenly people understand that one of the major competitors to today's car manufacturers are companies like Otis, who have the advantage that they understand how to transport people both horizontally and vertically. By getting rid of the mental connection between mobility and owning/driving a vehicle and regard mobility as a function new possibilities of transportation is opened up.

Traditional car manufacturers realize that they have to engage in the development of transportation systems rather than vehicles. Cars will not disappear but will have a smaller market share and will be thought of as an urban complement to the integrated city system.

Kevin Kelly say something like this in the speech:

"The Internet's development is really amazing, but strangely enough, we are not amazed?"

Do we really understand what is going on?

The last time I wrote about Kevin Kelly in this forum was when he had been writing an interesting article in Wired about the future of Internet in 2005, 10 years after the year 1995 when Netscape went public – a pivotal year in computing and as I am arguing in human organization. When he spoke at TED last year he actually talked about the same subject but now called "Predicting the next 5,000 days of the web". Now it is a far better story, but it is essentially the same idea.

I encourage you to see this, but as fascinated you may be think of this:

Technology change is, if it is diffused to a certain level, an unstoppable transformational force. The relation between the different stages is of course very complex and usually nonlinearly directed in both ways. It is usually very difficult to predict what specific effects these transformation will have, but once the process have started, some effects are inevitable. This is especially true with technologies which change the way which individuals communicate, because it changes some of the fundamental capacities we have as humans, the ability to communicate, view ourselves and organize ourselves. The way we communicate basically constitutes what it is to be human. It follows a simple and elementary line of thought:


The problem why we don't see these changes immediately is that it takes some time to diffuse a technology or a set of technologies into our behavior so that it transforms e g our institutions and other structures. But that doesn't mean it is not happening.

A way to try to understand the different stages in which technologically induced change happens is to see the sequence of cause and effect over time:


When looking at Google and eBay I use to say that what we used to call Internet in the 1990:s (that is Web 1.0) is now changing the world at an economical level. The next step for that technology is soon the political/regulatory level. And then we have Web 2.0 and social computing as a new level of technology, not even talking about the Internet of Things when we connect billions of artifacts over the globe and let them talk between themselves.

Kelly naturally and wisely stops short of the post-technical changes in his speech, because it is enough to be flabbergasted about the Internet development in it's own terms – in technical terms by which we are used to talk about machines like computers. Enjoy!



Coming back from vacation a sieving through the mail box I found an article where scenario planning was mentioned in an interview with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the very interesting book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable"(Amazon UK). / "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" (Amazon US). Even if I don't totally agree with what claims in his book I totally agree that he is pointing at some terribly important issues which concerns everybody who deals with foresight and long range decision making. When it comes to scenario planning he is doing some implicit points in his book but in an interview in Condé Nast Portfolio he speaks up.

The thing you have to be aware of most obviously is scenario planning, because typically if you talk about scenarios, you'll overestimate the probability of these scenarios. If you examine them at the expense of those you don't examine, sometimes it has left a lot of people worse off, so scenario planning can be bad. I'll just take my track record. Those who did scenario planning have not fared better than those who did not do scenario planning. A lot of people have done some kind of "make-sense" type measures, and that has made them more vulnerable because they give the illusion of having done your job. This is the problem with risk management.

In my position of scenario planning consultant I can only agree. This is exactly why I try to end my courses and seminars by trying to underline the point that scenario planning is not a method in the traditional sense, but more of an art - a way of thinking that will broaden your thought patterns and open up your perceptions in order to be able to see things you otherwise wouldn't recognize.

This is exactly why attributing probabilities to the different scenarios is irrelevant - or even dangerous. I think that scenario planning should occur at an earlier stage of reflection when you are still aiming at understanding what is happening around you. First after the scenario process have sunken in you can revisit it and identify some important insights of the process.

If you treat scenario planning as a direct method for decision making the risk is obvious that either the result will be irrelevant and nobody listens or worse, that you succeed in creating a false sense of security. If you on the other hand put some effort to understand the result of a scenario process from a more reflective standpoint it can be an invaluable tool to widen the discussion and the collaborative reflection process within the organization.

My home town Göteborg is currently host for the 61st World Newspaper Congress & 15th World Editors Forum with the main theme: Newspapers: A Multi-Media, Growth Business. To me, who is working with strategy, technology related forecasting and scenario planning, it feels really weird. When I look at how technology development and diffusion mix with new emerging values and behavior I see a world where a large part of the population globally is constantly involved in a peer-to-peer information sharing process. Of course there are hubs of information gathering and spreading here and there, but they are not stable enough to build a static and hierarchic business model around.

We will of course see a myriad of floating dynamic businesses who is born and then dies, shrinks and grow. All with a pace of the changing interests and new possibilities. But not anything like today's media factories... That model basically died in 1995, when the new web technology boosted the new business models of either

  1. giving first to a lot of people, and then charging later and be rich if it hits the cord or
  2. selling exactly what people are willing to pay for to a price with a reasonable margin

When reading in today's local paper about the congress I was reminded of something Peter Schwartz and Paul Saffo were saying in a discussion in Davos in January 2008. I searched my hard drive to find it and then I found a link to an article describing it - "A Futurist Panel At The World Economic Forum Suggests Print Newspapers Will Cease By 2014 So Should We Start Packing Our Bags?". But didn't get the article, because I was stopped by a page looking like this:


I had apparently been choosing a link which went through a commercial site in the media industry who behaves exactly the way that makes the media industry business logic irrelevant to the new emerging business models. I was suddenly required to pay 2€ to see the article... The problem here is that I that I am not willing to pay (or go through the hazzle of paying) for a short article which I don't even know have any interesting content.

Since this example points the finger in the direction towards the death of the news based mass media factory in its current form it is not necessary to talk about the other levels of driving forces like: technology and the new emerging modern man changes the foundation of communications logic and make the broadcasting model irrelevant and soon extinct - at least the broadcasting business model - because in the new emerging world the value equation for anything with a distribution cost of close to zero is fundamentally changed.

When I think about these kinds of congresses I can't help thinking about how it might have looked at a congress in the ice distribution industry when the electricity and refrigerators were spreading in the homes in the beginning of the last century. I wonder if those venues had themes like: "Ice distribution - a High Tech, Growth Business"?


Today scientific knowledge is more popular among the public than ever. It is only underscored with the success of the vast number of magazines popularizing science and the growing numbers of public science fairs popping up everywhere (e g here in Göteborg the science fair Vetenskapsfestivalen occured last week). The increased educational levels, indisputable leaps in many scientific areas but also the increasing complexity, new challenges to humanity and the growing feeling of uncertainty and need for truths is really working in favor of a public interest in scientific knowledge. So far that's fine.

As many other development in recent times, this development is due to the driving force of technology a self reinforcing force causing it to grow exponentially in all directions. But technology doesn't just propel scientific development alone. It is also a major driving force behind the development and spread of all other kinds of knowledge. One effect is that technology together with increased wealth and educational levels have rendered science just one knowledge producing niche among many others. Sometimes we talk about our times as the age of the amateurs since most the resources and know-how formerly existing within the walls of certain institutions, now are flowing freely around the globe.

Another effect of technology is also the rise of the media society which have had a huge impact on our values and our view of ourselves and others. In a society where the majority of the population have a global world view, university degrees and knowledge worker positions people need to develop a strategy to cope with the flood of unrelated and usually inconsistent information.

The academic utopian idea about coping with this have to do with thorough analysis of the different sources of information followed by an evaluation of the underlying agenda of the sources in question. This is of course ridiculous in an everyday situation and what it all falls down to then is our basic demand for consistency.

But consistency on which level? Again our belief of individuals as rational agents make us think that it is consistency on the individual level. What I have observed is that in general this also is wrong. It rather seems to happens on the level that is more important to us in our daily life and probably in our long term survival as well: the group level. What this means is that whenever somebody tells us something, or we read something in an article, most of us feel an urge to test it with the group. The way we do this is usually mentioning it at the dinner table or drop it as a conversation piece during coffee break at work or around a café table.

What we do when we at an early stage in evaluation a certain piece of knowledge test it with the group is probably

  1. to test if we are in sync with the group and possibly adjust or assess our position in the social hierarchical ladder
  2. to test if somebody else have additional knowledge that could be helpful in the evaluation

Since we are social animals knowledge is sometimes considered important for group survival, but always raw material for group forming. What is really important in group forming what constitutes the group and what we say and how we express ourselves is extremely important markers in this continuously ongoing process.

The result is that today we have very different dinner conversations than our parents or grandparents had. In essence we talk about everything from the effects of a certain pharmaceutical drug, a new neurophysiological discovery to the diplomatic relations with China. Even if you don't have any knowledge of the subject we feel compelled to at least relate to it, and to take help of the community and form some kind of opinion about it, because otherwise we would risk losing our position in the social structure of the group.

What has really changed the last decades in the western world is that scientific and other advanced form of knowledge have seriously entered into our social structures and have become a raw material in the process of socializing and personal development.

We already know that scientific and other knowledge since decades have been tools in political processes. This shift in knowledge use happened as soon as new knowledge had national and military implication.

What we haven't realized yet is that exactly that transition have quite recently been happening on an individual level as well. So if the concept of truth have had it's challenges on political level the last centuries, it is probably just a breeze compared to what is currently happening. Today we live in a time when new communication technology is boosting increased knowledge and self actualization need of modern man; a time of a continuous redefinition of social patterns and creation/recombination of knowledge. Knowledge and have really become the raw material of our time and which in turn means that the concept of truth becomes being more and more obfuscated under layers of different agendas of social activity.

So just because scientific processes continue to produce knowledge and insights for the common good (or for commercial interest), it isn't necessary so that the status of science will remain. Rather the opposite. It is important to note that this is not because the scientists are doing things wrong, but because societies have succeeded in spreading knowledge and wealth and made us rise in the levels of Maslow pyramid of needs. On that level it is all about social hierarchies and inner feelings of the individual.

One of the important prodromes of this is the emergence of "science porn" which I think is an appropriate name for what is happening in many science fairs and popular science magazines. Not because it is bad, but because we consume it in unrelated fragments, it has mainly an individual or social function and it is a media substitute for the real thing which makes us feel as we are very knowledgeable and insightful ourselves.

What will happen in the future? I think it is quite clear that the serious knowledge processes like science is losing out unless they can provide real practical value. Companies who can argue that investment in research is part of their value creating process will of course thrive. The problem is the public funding of science. It is quite clear that when the scientific process loses it's public status as a method for producing interesting and relevant knowledge (not true!!) it will be losing out in favor of an emerging group of thinkers, amateur scientists and maybe even former professional scientist who find ways to fund their research through publishing books and articles that people in general want to read. And how much can a government spend on research when the common value of truths and knowledge in itself is declining?

The amateurization of knowledge production is spreading quickly and right now I can't see how science can survive in it's current form in the longer run. Bad organizations and structural inertia from which the universities in the western world is suffering from today is definitely not helping, but rather disguising the real reasons for the decline of science which is really coming from outside of science.


Laurent Haug quoted Ethan Zuckerman's point which is really worth repeating in forecasting and futurist circles. Since I am, at least partly, finding myself backing a bit to my original turf of technology forecasting this is a good reminder of a rule of thumb that I actually used as an argument for the future success of the Internet in the mid 1990:s.

"If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test - if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable."

[From Ethan Zuckerman's post …My heart’s in Accra » The Cute Cat Theory Talk at ETech]

One of the highlights of LIFT08 was the Asia track. First on stage was Marc Laperrouza who talked about the telecommunication situation in China. To summarize what I thought was most interesting (download PDF of presentation):

  • 59% of the world's 2,5 billion mobile phone users are in developing countries - it is the first time in history that a technology has more users in developing countries than in developed countries
  • 3 of the worlds 5 largest mobile phone operators are in China - the largest is China Mobile with 350 million users
  • Super Girl, the Chinese version of Pop Idol, received 800 million SMS votes - government reactions was to quickly apply severe restrictions to prevent something similar to happen again
  • mobile phones are e g used as tools for instant crowd shopping - a phenomenon which I in the late 1990:s thought was going to emerge faster in the West than it apparently did

Marc ended by quoting Wang Jianzhou, Chairman of the world's largest mobile phone operator China Mobile in Davos in January:

“We know who you are and also where you are!”

A comment that made the relation between technology and politics in China very clear to everybody.

Another interesting speaker was the South Korean researcher and consultant Heewon Kim who talked about social software spread in her home country. (her slides can be downloaded at LIFT_HeewonKim.pdf)

Interesting facts from her presentation was

  • South Korea have 37.89 million subscribers to Mobile Internet services with a usage rate of 43%
  • 20 million people = half of the number of citizens is members of the hugely successful Cyworld, the most successful virtual community sites in South Korea
  • Of the younger population 98% of the young people at the age of 20-30 are members = everybody
  • $260 000 worth of virtual items are sold every day in Cyworld

Heewon focused on the word "almost synchronous communication" to describe the common communication pattern, which means that you have access to status updates and messages all the time and can response immediately, but is not required to do so by the communication situation. It is basically the same kind of pattern that fits very well with MSN and SMS which is hugely spread among young kids in Europe, but not with ordinary phone calls (which is completely synchronous) and not mail and blogs (which are basically asynchronous). The mobile phones was the natural and always present tools which was able to support this mode of communication and Cyworld was of course extended to mobile phones anymore. The point with the emergence of almost synchronous communication seems to be that supports the emergence of real-time intimacy. (See also my earlier post about Consumers in a connected world)

Last on the Asian track was Gen Kanai, head of Mozilla in Japan.

What I though was most interesting and thought provoking in Gen's speech was his description on how bad the Open Source model really worked in Asia. Of course Gen didn't describe it as bad, that is my interpretation. E g during the Linux development the Asian participation was very low in Asia. There seemed to be few theories of why but cultural, language and educational barriers were discussed.

He also talked about good examples and mentioned Bhutan which is a really small country who have chosen Linux (Dzongkha Debian Linux) as their major operating system. It was developed during just 13 months and to a cost of about US$80.000.