Transdisciplinary Design

Communication Towers

Posted on December 20, 2011 | posted by:

Cooperation and collaboration has been a major force behind the advancement of man. From hunter-gatherer relationships to the division of labor, these splits have become ever more idiosyncratic. Just as the physical tools created or discovered by those early hunter-gatherers, these relationships have also become increasingly productive. A motivating story of collaboration on a large scale exists from ancient times—the city and tower of Babel. After the flood, say certain sources, Noah’s descendants—without the restrictions of language (communication) barriers—settled in an area called Shinar with the goal of building a tower to the heavens. Though archaeological research says it probably only reached around 300 feet, it was built several thousand years ago and was surely remarkable for its time. This and other civilizations did all of this without the technologies and communication infrastructures we now have. Yes, of course, these civilizations had many extreme pitfalls (as do ours now)—and they were often just for the exaltation of the leader—but very few projects today are as ambitious in scope and hope.

Over the last several decades the world has been evolving in an historically distinct way because of the growth and proliferation of the internet. By collating individuals with a common interest into a welcoming and organized structure, each is able to contribute to something that benefits their interests and helps their community as well. In recent years, the growth of open source projects have provided a structural conduit to harness both technology and the wealth of human power for a greater, but shared, good. Baldwin and Hippel (in “Modeling a Paradigm Shift”) describe these shared benefits: “Each of these incurs the cost of doing some fraction of the work but obtains the value of the entire design, including additions and improvements genereated by others. Other participants obtain private benefits such as learning, reputation, fun, etc that are not related to the project’s innovation outputs.”

As worldwide communities have formed around esoteric subjects with rapid feedback response, difficult problems have been solved that may have otherwise taken many years longer. The reduction in communication costs and delays has undoubtedly spurred a paradigm for a new era of collaborative effort. The difficulty, now, will be to sustain and expand upon these advantages that have been created. With the potential of the world working together there exists a great amount of untapped potential. The creation of global wonders of the contemporary world is not a pipe dream—as proved by the eradication of smallpox and the Large Hadron Collider (which will hopefully complete the particle model in coming years)—neither is it a necessity for these to be manifested as physical artifacts—we have reached a time in which our efforts will often be used to manipulate the systems we have already created.

Currently and culturally relevant, Occupy Wall Street has utilized these modes of communication as a method to spread their message and branding to a targeted audience quickly and cheaply. This has allowed the movement to grow monstrously—not only within New York, but also to other cities and countries.

Because of the importance of these new methods of communication in their ability to bring traditionally minor social concerns to the forethought of the larger majority, it is crucial to identify and protect the means by which this is made possible—the internet, I would say. Net Neutrality has become an interesting debate—generally placing large telecoms against individual content creators on the internet against each other. Individuals have been given a great power with the growth of the internet to spread a democratic (of sort) voice—[I feel it necessary to also briefly mention SOPA at this time, though its intentions are much different]. Attempts to hamper these voices continue consistently (just recall the kinds of laws that have been passed in recent years). Oh, and in case you’re not familiar with this debate, here’s the short of it and what you can do.