My friend and colleague John Seely Brown gave a speech yesterday that really lifted my spirits. He said we are in a Cambrian Moment with a whole new tool set consisting of Cloud Computing; Graphic processing chips/systems;Social Networks; Big Data Analytics engines that allow us to do extremely granular sentiment analysis; The rise of the second screen and the Ubiquitous computing environment that John and his colleagues at Xerox PARC described in 1991; Transmedia and its many logics; 5D Immersive Design. As John said, “each one of these is a big deal, but together they create awesome opportunities and also awesome disruptions.”
Unlike JSB, I am only an aspiring polymath, and so I had to research the Cambrian explosion that John uses as his metaphor for our current moment. The Cambrian Explosion was the sudden appearance around 530 million years ago of a huge number of forms of animal life. In other words an explosion of evolutionary progress.
Now I had been prepared for this burst of optimism late last week by a visit from our erstwhile correspondent Alex Bowles. Like John, Alex was brimming over with evolutionary optimism. He felt that technology (many of them on John’s list) would lead us to a new age of transparency where bad actors would have a hard time hiding from the 99%.That our ability to literally “see” how much carbon was pouring out the smokestacks of Koch Industries, would embarrass even the most heartless oligarch into cleaning up his mess.
As readers of this blog well know, I have been saying since 2007 that we are in an Interregnum, a period where “the old is dying, and the new cannot yet be born”. It could be that JSB’s Cambrian Moment signals the end of the Interregnum. At the Lab I run, the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, we have been working on most of the technologies on JSB’s list and I would say we lead the field in three of his categories: Transmedia, Big Data Analytics and the Second Screen. But our challenge is to move beyond technology and create context for these new tools. As John said in his Stanford Commencement address
We are now, again, in a moment where we need to think of world building but now of a new kind. It is a moment that is not only about making amazing things. Perhaps, also, for the first time we can make contexts as easily as we make content/things. And as all of you here know, shaping contexts allows the emergence of meaning in powerful new ways – for better or for worse. But in addition to having a new arsenal of tools for shaping meaning we now have ways to create a networked imagination – one that emerges around joint action.
Well I hope JSB is right. That this sudden Cambrian explosion of new capabilities will lift us out of this paralyzing Interregnum. If he is right, I think a lot of the new ideas will come out of what my Dean, Ernest Wilson calls The Quad; creative partnerships between public, private, civil and academic sectors. If we take our task of world building seriously, the next few decades could be amazing.