Readers of this blog know how much promise we at IISC see in networks to bring about greater depth and breadth of change in our country and communities. At the same time, we do not see networks as a panacea. In fact, there are good reasons to be vigilant about “net work” to ensure that it does not exacerbate the very conditions we are trying to remedy, especially when it comes to social inequities.
We have previously referenced the report from the Aspen Institute, The Power Curve Society, which considers the broad implications of a globally networked economy that allows greater ease of transactions. In this technologically accelerated economy, the report states, wealth increasingly and problematically concentrates in the hands of a few rather than spreading itself out across the larger population. This seems to be a natural emergent phenomenon of not just the unchecked networked economy but of many networks. As Kim Taipale notes, this is a paradoxical result of “network effects,” –
“Freedom results in inequality. That is, the more freedom there is in a system, the more unequal the outcomes become.”
This is because of something known as the “power-law distribution” that takes hold on open platforms, as wealth flows to the “super-nodes,” a phenomenon sometimes called “preferential attachment.” Read More
“Wealth and income distribution no longer resemble a familiar ‘bell curve’ in which the bulk of the wealth accrue to a large middle class. Instead, the networked economy seems to be producing a ‘power-curve’ distribution, sometimes known as a ‘winner-take-all’ economy.”
– David Bollier, from “The Power Curve Society”
As is no doubt evident from past posts on this blog, we at IISC are enthusiastic about networks and their potential to create more equitable, healthy, thriving and sustainable communities. We do not, however, subscribe to the belief that network approaches in and of themselves guarantee the kinds of just and humanizing opportunities and outcomes we seek. We do encounter people who hold up networks as a sort of panacea, hoping that in an age of more distributed technology and open source approaches to problems and solutions, we will achieve some kind of democratic ideal that has to this point eluded us. That there is promise is evident in many stories that we have heard, witnessed, and shared on this site. That there is reason to be vigilant is also illustrated in the many signs of an ever-growing and highly racialized gap between rich and poor in this country and a continued reluctance on the part of many to look at these glaring inequities or the systems that perpetuate them. Read More
David brings particular skill and experience in teaching about and mapping systemic dynamics as they play out at different levels. In June, he gave a wonderful overview of systems thinking to the System Design Team, which included an introduction to the iceberg diagram (see below) that helps people get from more superficial and tactical questions to deeper systemic points of leverage, including awareness of one’s own unwitting contribution to dynamics that yield outcomes that are undesirable or in some sense not optimal. Part of the shift we experienced over the course of these conversations was the understanding that “the system” is not out there, but as Yaneer Bar-Yam says, is “the way we work together.” Read More