John Lobell addresses how new technology changes our consciousness, which in turn leads to cultural paradigm shifts. He received his degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and is a professor of architecture at Pratt Institute. His interests include creativity, architecture, cultural theory, consciousness, mythology, and movies. He has lectured throughout the world and is the author of numerous articles and several books.
Our world is no longer what we have thought it to be, and a new world is struggling to be born.
Visionary Creatives are driven to bring this new world to all of us.
1st June 2012

Creativity and The Real Meaning of Facebook

posted in Uncategorized |

Over the past few weeks we have seen extensive news coverage of the badly handled Facebook initial public stock offering. What we have not seen is discussions of what Facebook means.

Facebook is involved in the creation of a new… a new what? A new industry? How about a new way of being in the world?

In my book, Visionary Creativity, I write: “Visionary Creatives feel that our world is no longer what we have thought it to be and that a new world is struggling to be born. They wonder what is wrong with others that they do not also feel this and they are driven to produce work that will help others feel what they feel. As Shelley wrote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

Notice the use of the word, “poet.” Look at business management books. Look at articles on Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Steve Jobs. You won’t find the word “poet.” It makes business people queasy. But in my forthcoming book on business, Visionary Creativity in Business: The Vital Importance of Pattern Recognition, I show its importance.

Think of the centralized, command controlled network of the original AT&T, then the decentralized Internet, and then our migration into the cloud. It was an intuitive feel for the migration to cloud that led to Zuckerberg’s success with Facebook. An “in-tuneness” with this cultural “pattern change” is central to Facebook’s sucess. Of course strategy, execution, etc. are important, but it won’t help to have the right strategy and execution about the wrong understanding of the patterns of our emerging culture. Building a new centrally switched telephone company in the era of Skype internet telephony is not going to succeed no matter how well executed.

For example, Skype uses peer-to-peer decentralized networking, and let’s your computer do the work. It costs Skype about 1 cent for every new user. Vonage, also providing Internet telephony, uses central switching through their servers, and it costs Vonage about $9 for every new user. Which one do you think is going to be around in five years?

What are the patterns of our emerging culture? Describing them takes entire sections of my two Visionary Creativity books, but very briefly, a lack of fixed frames of reference, vastness, interpenetrating networks, simple genomic rules building rich complexity, and a blurring of the line between the virtual and the real.

Zuckerberg recognizes that we are more than our bodies, minds, and souls. We are also our roles, relationships, friends, papers, photos, memories, etc. Our identities began migrating outside of our skins as soon as we started making art, and the pace of that migration increased with writing and again with printing. But the pace greatly accelerated in the late nineteenth century as we began to weave an electric net of telegraph and telephone networks around our planet, and that migration of our identities outside of ourselves exploded with the Internet as we deposited vast parts of ourselves in networked server farms around the world, known as the cloud.

Facebook both adopted and extended our putting more and more of ourselves—our profiles, papers, personal updates, photographs, music, preferences, and other material for their friends to see—into the cloud, facilitating the sharing of this material, facilitating our migration from inside our skins out to the electronic cloud, thus destroying the individual psychological Self of the humanist world and opening us up to a new and still unfolding world.

This destruction of the old pattern and creation of the new pattern is the role of the Visionary Creative, and the reason the Visionary Creative is both celebrated and feared. The vociferous objections to the Internet in general and Facebook in particular regarding privacy are actually reactions to the ongoing destruction of the private psychological Self that had been a function of the previous cultural pattern. Such changes are always threatening.

Zuckerberg at Facebook, Page and Brin at Google, and Jobs at Apple did not just execute better than their competitors. What they did was feel that our world is no longer what we have thought it to be, and they experienced a new, networked, world struggling to be born. They wondered what was wrong with others that they do not also feel this and they were driven to develop technologies and start companies that would bring to others what they were experiencing. Just as the poet or painter or moviemaker “legislates” a new world with poetry, painting, or movies, Zuckerberg, Page, Brin, Jobs, etc. are doing so with technologies and companies.

Cloud computing means that what we have called “privacy,” the right to be secure we demanded for our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” during the print era, will lose its meaning. Privacy dissolves. Seventeen years before Zuckerberg was born, McLuhan wrote:

“The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions—the patterns of mechanistic technologies—are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval… that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of earlier ‘mistakes.’”

As the online gadget review Web site, Gizmodo, said, “… your entire existence, Facebook-ified. It’s terrifyingly amazing.”

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  1. 1 On June 13th, 2012, Peter Mackey said:

    I agree that sensing emerging patterns is a key to survival, if not fantastic success, in the digital age. (Or are we by now “post-digital”? Maybe my own pattern sensors are a bit dusty.) If you havent read Jeff Hawkin’s’ “On Intelligence”, I’d recommend it. Part of his discourse on the basis of human intelligence involves the fantastic ability our neocortex has for matching patterns — in a very non-algorithmic fashion, by the way.

    As for the Zuck, I’m no expert on his motivations, but I’d guess they were less than visionary, perhaps more about using the tools at hand for selfish ends (and which, yes, then tapped into the ‘net-enabled tribal passions that apparently many find inescapable).

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