05 September 2008

Social Invention as the Most Important Future Trend

A $20 bill is worth exactly $20 for no other reason than this: we all agree that it is worth $20. As soon as we stopped agreeing that it was worth $20, it would no longer be worth $20.

This is an oddity of social reality. Its medium is not wood or metal but consensus.

One day, everyone agrees that a certain amount of gold is worth $20. The next day, everyone agrees that mere paper will be worth $20. This is called progress.

Social invention and progress

Even little children know stories about technological invention. They know that inventions like the cell phone allow them to text incessantly and cars can take you places, if only you can coerce an adult into giving you a ride.

Yet even adults rarely think about the fact that social inventions are also essential to progress. (Perhaps one of the reasons they rarely think about social inventions is that they can't just focus on texting but also have to drive.) Like the microwave oven, churches, banks, and corporations made this a different world. Although his life was rough, early man never had to stifle a yawn in church, bounce a check, or stare at the clock waiting for 5:00.

Although the car was invented in the 1800s, today's cars are vastly different than those early models. Now that scenery is covered in billboards, car occupants need DVD players. Most every invention evolves.

This same thing is true of the bank, the corporation, the nation-state or any social invention. Even dance moves change and evolve once they are invented - or perhaps it is just aging bodies that make it look this way.

Social Invention by Accident

We've been intentional about technological invention. Corporations budget for it and assign project teams to make them happen. By contrast, social inventions come from entrepreneurs and revolutionaries - from outside the system. Social invention gets little support. People seem to think that the social inventions through which we work and govern will not change, in stark contrast to their expectations of technological inventions. This will soon change.

In the economy just emerging, social innovation will become as common as technological innovation We might find this disorienting but our grandchildren will think it normal. New ways to learn, to work, even new ways to worship will be invented and evolve at unprecedented rates.

Social invention will be to the next economy what industrial inventions were to capitalism. The pace of social evolution and the rate of social invention will rapidly increase in the next few decades. No social trend will have more sweeping impact or do more to change the daily lives of people.

Next, I'll talk about consensus trance as an obstacle to social invention and progress.

Want to know more about social reality?
The Construction of Social Reality, by John Searle
Reality Isn't What it Used to Be, by Walter Truett Anderson

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