It’s been quite a ride, I can tell you that. Touch and go, in fact. But it seems we might pull through not only as a species but as an actual cohesive global village. Keep evolving rather than hurtling down that previous path towards collapse and destruction.
With the crash of the global banking system in the wake of a collapse of overvalued stock prices and the increase in hostility between trading partners, we found ourselves in quite the pickle. Global trade closed down to a trickle partly due to nations no longer willing to part with resources without something tangible in return, having their own populations to feed, and partly due to such trade becoming increasingly more complicated, legally and financially. The value of resources such as food and energy quickly separated from their previous monetary value putting extreme stresses on most economies. It was a warning shot across the bow for sure, but a shot that could easily have sunk the entire ship.
Luckily, and in tandem with the by now quite apparent dysfunction and demise of this global system of extraction and dominance, new local solutions were forming. During the covid19 pandemic and global lockdowns which hit most communities quite badly, local groups of volunteers formed in order to offer what alleviation was available. Mainly providing food but over time other services. A spirit of helpfulness was kindled in many people who previously had no experience in volunteering. And, as it turns out, helping people create deeper connections and makes you happy.
At this point, a two-pronged path towards social change began to evolve. On the one hand, the tools of liquid democracy began to be used to discuss and vote on issues at the national and global level, showing wide enough support to begin to influence actual political power. Indeed, many new political parties were born through CoDo that pushed these issues in ways the existing parties were unable or unwilling to do. Liquid democracy was a powerful upgrade to the archaic systems that dominated all nations a mere 15 years ago. Once people had a taste of real influence and a clear alternative, there was no turning back. Changes supported by the vast majority could no longer be blocked by the minority with access to power, but new forms of debate also pushed the envelope on understanding the complexity of most issues. The results were a number of surprisingly balanced policies that alleviates much of the stress that a majority of people suffered under, which in turn reduced tension and avoided a lot of the predicted conflicts.
On the other hand, the focus on supporting communities through well-structured local initiatives created the social cohesion needed to muddle through the trying times that followed. The early Red Button Process, now a veritable rite of passage, led to a host of more or less successful initiatives that really began to empower communities and make use of the existing shared resources. Local food systems, local transportation initiatives, local volunteering pools and asset-sharing systems quickly evolved and spread throughout the network. As formal unemployment rose among all ages, and young people more than all other demographic groups, so did informal engagement on the community level. There was always something to do, someone to help and an easy way to connect those in need with those with time or other resources. The apathy, aimlessness, frustration and violence usually connected with large unemployment was replaced with a sense of community, purpose and empowerment. Many of these projects evolved into small community-owned businesses, a concept almost unheard of at that time but now rapidly becoming the dominant form of start-ups on the local level.
With the popularity of the network the Altruistic Wallet, originally designed as a tool to allocate surplus within the early network, became a stand-alone feature. Hardly any business today does not offer its customers some kind of kickback into their Altruistic Wallet, indeed some businesses dedicate as much as five per cent or more of their revenue to the system. An investment that for all intents and purposes seems to have paid off. The funds now available to civic and environmental projects, the efficiency by which they are allocated and the means by which they are followed up and evaluated, would have made the early users jaws drop. With political pressure, larger and larger shares of copyright and patent payments have now moved into this system, and the billionaires that do not allocate a serious amount of their fortune on projects within the system are met with broad scepticism and very little praise, to put things diplomatically. Those who could give of their surplus but chose not to do so, quickly become outsiders in this new ecosystem that is evolving.
It was in this space such collaborative efforts as CoDo began to get some traction. For the younger generations who had grown up with social media but had not lost their energy and will to create change, finding an alternative that connected them to other changemakers and projects to engage in proved to be a very good match. The network provided not only a deeper connection to their peers than traditional social media, it also provided a sense of agency in an ever more abstract and confusing world. It also allowed for connections between the generation as older members of the network could act as mentors and offer guidance so that the younger members could wield their energy more effectively.
Unsurprisingly, the first communities to make use of the network came from fairly organised areas such as the ecovillages, already having a network of volunteers but no really practical tools to organize and connect with each other. But the environmental and social justice movement soon followed, along with many other civic groups.
CoDo turned out to be a very useful tool to organize one’s own activities as well as connect these with the activities of adjacent groups. With early social media platforms losing members due to the limitations of their business models and making less sense to activists of all ages, CoDo became a welcome alternative providing useful and versatile tools for building community and connections. For a generation growing up with friends across the globe, the interface itself reinforced this global mindset. The externalities hidden away by the dominant economic paradigm began to show up quite clearly, which in turn began to affect consumption patterns among the members of the network.
Having a high trust ranking, that is, having spent a lot of one’s time in service to others and being appreciated by one’s peers for this has become a new kind of currency. Perhaps not always helpful, some people are not necessarily served by being served, so to speak, as some might be of more service to their own development by being of less service to everyone else, but a definitive cultural shift seems to be taking place. Status, once connected to wealth or cultural capital or shallow popularity is now far more focussed on what we do for others than on what trinkets we have amassed for ourselves. Successful projects managers with large Red Button processes under their belt have become akin to the sport and movie stars of before. It is perhaps not surprising that young people emulate them, and not to detract from previous choices of idols, the trend would seem to be a beneficial one. Indeed, “red buttoning” a task has become a popular term for a job well executed.
Though it is a standard today, it is also worth remembering that CoDo was one of the early decentralized platforms built on distributed and entirely independent nodes. Prior to this becoming the only rational way to do things, all communication over the world wide web was conducted through various large gatekeepers that had access to any and all data that they were the custodians and even legal owners of. These gatekeepers not only placed themselves between people but could also sever any relationships at will, a process that came to be known as “deplatforming”. With CoDo and other distributed networks where all connections were direct, without a third-party intermediary, such practices were impossible and are now, of course, ancient history. As is the apex position of these so-called social networks that once dominated peoples conversions, relationships, data streams and, in so many ways, lives.
Though being able to manage one’s own relationships and information flows without the nefarious manipulations of intermediaries seeking to capitalize on one’s attention, the most significant contribution of these new protocols of which CoDo was one of the trailblazers must be privacy. Having one’s own presence and being able to manage one’s own connections and relationships in the metaverse was a gamechanger, but being able to do so under the veil of end-to-end encryption had effects few anticipated at the time. With encrypted decentralized identity it suddenly became possible for the billions of people living under various forms of oppressive regimes to have private conversations. More than this, it became possible to organize themselves under the very noses of the authorities, private as well as governmental, that hereto had kept a close eye on such behaviour. Through these new encryption protocols, not even metadata could be gathered. The entire system became a black box where those on the outside were not even aware who was on the inside and if there was an inside at all.
Of course, this has been far from unproblematic. Arguments from the national security perspective that such technology will allow terrorists and potentially violent groupings to congregate freely are entirely valid. These protocols allow anyone and everyone to congregate freely, after all. However, there does not seem to have been an upswing in terrorist attacks, whereas the benefits of privacy for the global democracy movement and individual freedom in the deepest sense of the word cannot be denied. But then again, there are more ways than gathering metadata for third parties to peer inside the black box, which many less careful activists have experienced. “Be careful who you share your keys with” is a phrase that most of us are familiar with. I think we have all become far pickier about who we allow into our inner circles, both digitally and physically.
The past decade has been a turbulent one, there is no argument there. Perhaps we would have muddled through intact without such platforms as CoDo, but it is safe to say that it would have been a lot harder if we did not have the technology to come together and solve the problems we have faced. There are still many challenges facing us, both environmental and structural, but at least we are developing the tools to share the responsibility and contribute in a far more effective way to the solutions. We are a problem creating species as much as we are a problem solving one, but for perhaps the first time, the problems our solutions are giving rise to are being acknowledged and addressed as soon as they show up. Feedback loops that did not exist previously are now quite apparent through the open data networks and billions of data points informing the system as a whole. It is possible for us to see the error of our ways before they add us to the list of species that once were but now are extinct.
Though it is still too early to tell, I am carefully optimistic. The trajectory we are now on has at least a fighting chance to create a more fair civilisation where opportunity is more evenly distributed and that does not extract more than it gives back. In fact, it might even help to give back much of what we previously extracted and more. But this will be the job of the next generation, ours is merely to slow down and stop the deterioration we are currently presiding over. I have high hopes for the next generation though. I believe they will red button it in ways I can not even begin to imagine.