[permaculture] "The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World." by Marina Gorbis - Putting the Social Back Into Our Economy - Social Capital

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Tue Apr 9 11:23:38 EDT 2013

[What a find, previously communalism, now social capital, nurturing the
future. LL]

"The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World." by
Marina Gorbis - Putting the Social Back Into Our Economy

*Marina Gorbis is executive director of Institute for the Future, a
non-profit thinktank

**Putting the Social Back Into Our Economy
by Marina Gorbis*

"My mother never heard the term social capital, but she knew its value
well. In the Soviet Union, where she lived and where I grew up, no one
could survive without it, and she leveraged her social capital on a daily
basis. It enabled her to provide a decent life for her family, even though
she was a widow without much money, excluded from the privileged class of
the Communist Party. We never worried about having enough food. My sister
and I always wore fashionable clothes (at least by Soviet standards). We
took music and dance lessons. We went to the symphony, attended good
schools, and spent summers by the Black Sea. In short, we enjoyed a
lifestyle that seemed well beyond our means.

How was my mother able to provide all these things on the meager salary of
a physician in a government-run clinic in Odessa, Ukraine? Social
connections were a powerful currency that flowed through her network of
friends and acquaintances, giving her access to many goods and services and
enabling our comfortable, if not luxurious, lifestyle. Even when no meat
could be found in any store in the city, my mother was able to get it,
along with a wealth of other hard-to-find foods, from the director of the
supermarket who was the husband of a close colleague of hers. I was
accepted into music school because my mother treated the director of the
school in her off-hours. We were able to get Western medicines because a
friend was the head of a large local pharmacy.

Our apartment was always filled with people my mother was counseling,
diagnosing, treating, and prescribing medicines for. No money ever changed
hands; that was too risky. She had lived through the era of Stalin’s
purges, and the memory of his fabricated charges against Jewish doctors,
who he claimed were trying to poison the Soviet leadership, was still vivid
in her mind. She was too afraid to build a private underground medical
practice. “With my luck, I would be the first to be caught,” she would say
with a nervous laugh.

All those people who regularly visited us, or whose houses she visited to
provide care, were my mom’s substitute for money, providing not only food,
medicines, and clothes but also intangibles of information, services, and
emotional support. When my mother died shortly after emigrating to the
United States in 1990, the only material possessions she left me and my
sister were her wedding ring, some books, and a few pieces of clothing. But
she also left thousands of grateful friends and former patients whose lives
she had touched.

Our story was not unique. All around us, amid empty stores, low salaries,
dismal productivity numbers, and fraying infrastructure, people seemed to
live normal middle-class lives. An economist would have had a hard time
explaining our lifestyle by analyzing economic statistics or walking around
the stores and markets in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, visitors
to the Soviet Union always marveled at the gap between what they saw in
state stores— shelves empty or filled with things no one wanted—and what
they saw in people’s homes: nice furnishings and tables filled with food.

What filled the gap? A vast informal economy driven by human relationships,
dense networks of social connections through which people traded resources
and created value. The Soviet people didn’t plot how they would build these
networks. No one was teaching them how to maximize their connections the
way social marketers eagerly teach us today. Their networks evolved
naturally, out of necessity, that was the only way to survive. Today, all
around the world, we are seeing a new kind of network or
relationship-driven economics emerging, with individuals joining forces
sometimes to fill the gaps left by existing institutions — corporations,
governments, educational establishments—and sometimes creating new
products, services, and knowledge that no institution is able to provide.
Empowered by computing and communication technologies that have been
steadily building village-like networks on a global scale, we are infusing
more and more of our economic transactions with social connectedness.

The new technologies are inherently social and personal. They help us
create communities around interests, identities, and common personal
challenges. They allow us to gain direct access to a worldwide community of
others. And they take anonymity out of our economic transactions. We can
assess those we don’t know by checking their reputations as buyers and
sellers on eBay or by following their Twitter streams. We can look up their
friends on Facebook and watch their YouTube videos. We can easily get
people’s advice on where to find the best shoemaker in Brazil, the best
programmer in India, and the best apple farmer in our local community. We
no longer have to rely on bankers or venture capitalists as the only
sources of funding for our ideas. We can raise funds directly from
individuals, most of whom we don’t even know, through websites like Grow VC
and Kickstarter, which allow people to post descriptions of their projects
and generate donations, investments, or loans.

We are moving away from the dominance of the depersonalized world of
institutional production and creating a new economy around social
connections and social rewards—a process I call socialstructing. Others
have referred to this model of production as social, commons-based, or
peer-to-peer. Not only is this new social economy bringing with it an
unprecedented level of familiarity and connectedness to both our global and
our local economic exchanges, but it is also changing every domain of our
lives, from finance to education and health. It is rapidly ushering in a
vast array of new opportunities for us to pursue our passions, create new
types of businesses and charitable organizations, redefine the nature of
work, and address a wide range of problems that the prevailing formal
economy has neglected, if not caused.

Socialstructing is in fact enabling not only a new kind of global economy
but a new kind of society, in which amplified individuals— individuals
empowered with technologies and the collective intelligence of others in
their social network—can take on many functions that previously only large
organizations could perform, often more efficiently, at lower cost or no
cost at all, and with much greater ease. Socialstructing is opening up a
world of what my colleagues Jacques Vallée and Bob Johansen describe as the
world of impossible futures, a world in which a large software firm can be
displaced by weekend software hackers, and rapidly orchestrated social
movements can bring down governments in a matter of weeks. The changes are
exciting and unpredictable. They threaten many established institutions and
offer a wealth of opportunities for individuals to empower themselves, find
rich new connections, and tap into a fast-evolving set of new resources in
everything from health care to education and science.

Much has been written about how technology distances us from the benefits
of face-to-face communication and quality social time. I think those are
important concerns. But while the quality of our face-to-face interactions
is changing, the countervailing force of socialstructing is connecting us
at levels never seen before, opening up new opportunities to create, learn,
and share. Consider the following examples of amplified individual who are
pioneering this transformation."

Marina Gorbis. Copyright (c) 2013 by Marina Gorbis. Reprinted by
permission of Simon and Schuster, Inc. *

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