By the late 19th Century, with the introduction of steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal, travel from one side of the globe to the other had halved to 4 - 6 weeks. The completion of the trans-Tasman telegraph line in the late 1870s linked New Zealand telegraphically with the rest of the World. A cross Pacific link was established in 1902. With the use of “telegraph boys” these developments meant that it was possible to get a message from one side of the world to the other within a few days.
A century after sailing for 3 or 4 months, air flight became possible. Travel time reduced considerably with a flight in 1961 taking 3 days with stops in Istanbul, Bombay, Singapore and Darwin. By then it was possible to send a message to the other side of the World by telephone making basic communication almost instantaneous. However, more substantial information (e.g. in the form of a book) still needed to be sent via air taking up to a week or two to arrive.
Airline speeds then quickened so that today (in the early part of the 21st Century) getting from New Zealand or Australia to Europe is often less than a day’s travel. Communication speed though, has rocketed. Email is only an instantaneous mouse-click away. Even documents the size of books or bigger are readily transmitted around the World via Internet, often transmitted in a matter of seconds.
Thus, in1850 the speed of travel and the speed of communication were approximately a 1:1 ratio. In the next century and a half speed of travel increased from 3 to 4 months to less than a day - a 12,000% increase. Pretty impressive! Not as impressive as communication though, with the speed of transmission getting faster by a staggering rate of 50,000,000% or more. In just 150 years the ratio between travel and communication has gone from 1:1 to at least 1:4200.
In other words, we are now communicating substantially quicker than we are physically moving. Yep, the pace of life is faster - its all getting a bit much. We’re being outstripped by communication.
Think too, of the amount of information that exists. In 2007 there were 6,580 daily newspapers in the World. Almost 800,000 new books are published each year. Even if you were able to read one book a day, just to get through one year’s worth of books would take almost 30 lifetimes. Even keeping up with the daily newspapers is beyond one person’s ability. Then there are scientific papers and articles. By the beginning of the 21st Century almost 700,000 were being published per year, an increase of 300,000 in just 20 years. And that’s just the printed medium.
The virtual medium, via the Internet, is even more information rich. Between 1995 and the middle of 2011 the number of registered domains on the Internet rose from a modest 15,000 to a staggering 350 million with 150,000 new URLs registered each day.
In 1970, Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “future shock” to describe our personal perception of all this as "too much change in too short a period of time". And that was over 40 years ago! Not only is life getting faster, it’s getting overwhelming. None of us can cope! And why should we? One of the benefits of being gregarious for us humans is that we can cooperate and work together, pooling our knowledge, skills and experience.
If the speed of information communication has increased markedly and the amount of information is enormous, what does this mean for our collective means of decision-making and problem solving?
Firstly, it means that we can no longer assume that the mechanisms that we used in the 19th and even the 20th Century remain reliable. Those mechanisms were based fundamentally on the idea that a few representatives could meet together, gather sufficient facts and opinions, discuss and deliberate and eventually arrive at conclusions that the rest of society (or the local community) would accept as good governance or management.
|Not much diversity here!|
That is but one reason for the need to look for alternative collective decision-making models. Later posts may address some of these other reasons. For now though, one of the enticing possibilities for an alternative model is that of sortition. Again though, an explanation of that model is for another post, although I have referred to the model in previous posts ("A Tick in the Box" and "Icelandic Example").
What is my purpose in posting this? Simply that it is time we gave some thought to how we make decisions not just what decisions we need to make and what those decisions should be.