Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Dave quotes MacArthur and says, "I shall return." I'll use a more modern quote... "I'll be back." Thank you Silicon Valley for getting me buzzed again. I will definitely be back soon. (I'll throw another party too.) In his latest essay, Dave says, "These days the Japanese are our friends. Partners in economic misery. Moore's Law continues to rage, but somehow our economies are stuck. I think I know why, it's because intellectually we have gotten lazy." I'm on my way back to Japan today. I will try to wake everyone up and start a buzz there too.

Lets wake up and move on.

Just had drinks (diet coke) with Kim Polese. She says, "The buzz is back." I agree. People are buzzing in Silicon Valley and you can feel it.

Dee Hock, the founder of VISA and well known for his work on leadership and "chaordics" wrote me an very thoughtful email in response to my emergent democracy paper. He talks about blogging, the Internet, VISA, culture, democracy, power, corporations, leadership and many issues that are relevant to our current discussion.

Dee Hock
From: Dee Hock Date: Sat Mar 8, 2003 1:46:34 PM US/Pacific To: Subject: Blogging, and your paper related thereto.


How nice to hear from you and how kind of you to take time to send your paper on Blogging, a singularly uncharming term, but none the less interesting. I have read it several times with considerable interest, for it deals with a number of subjects in which I am deeply interested, such as democracy, scaling, the failure of the Internet to fulfill its promise, and the ability to perceive and honor differences without losing perspective of the parts as inseparable from one another and from the whole. To distinguish without dividing is a state of mind badly needed in the world today.

As you may know, I have been arguing for a decade that the Internet was fatally flawed and would go the way of the telegraph, telephone, radio and television as far as its promise of elevating ideas and discourse, advancing democracy, enhancing liberty or facilitating economic and political justice. I have lived long enough to remember the claims that were made at the advent of radio and television, and read enough of the history of the telegraph and telephone to realize that the claims made by the messiahs of those forms of communication were not dissimilar from the claims made by aficionados of the Internet. The reason, from my perspective, is not complicated.

Culture brings us together, usually at a very small scale through mutual belief, trust and common interest. It educes, not compels, behavior. Culture codified is law. It is as inevitable as the day the night that as scale increases, law increases. Law enforced is government. Government does not, in the main, educe behavior, but compels it. Democratic or otherwise, rarely, very rarely, does any concentration of power or wealth desire to see subjects well informed, truly educated, their privacy ensured or their discourse uninhibited. Those are the very things that power and wealth fear most. Old forms of government have every reason to operate in secret, while denying just that privilege to subjects. The people are to be minutely scrutinized while power is to be free of examination.

Unless new cultures are able to consciously visualize, create and implement new forms of governance (remember, that means the codification and regulation of its new relationships and values), the old forms of corporate and political governance will assert themselves, penetrate the new culture and turn it to the same old ends. The Internet culture was too enthralled by new toys to pay attention to such mundane matters as governance. It failed to "Institutionalize its deinstitutionalization." That is, the architects of the Internet failed utterly to see the need for a new form of commercial and political organization that emulated and capitalized on the principles inherent in its technology. structure and capacity. It is, therefor, completely unable to deal with its own excesses, to enhance the quality of its communication or to resist the onslaughts of commercialization. The evidence is everywhere about. I gave up arguing such things with Internet aficionados several years ago, for the vast majority were so intoxicated by their new toys that they defended its emergence and lack of governance with zealotry bordering on religious. Do you think many have sobered up enough to raise their heads from computer screens and enlarge their perspective?

The failure of democracy to scale is also not complicated to understand. The founding fathers of this country, the "egalitie, fraternitie and libertie" of France and most other liberals that moved society toward freedom and liberty in the 1700's could not have been expected to visualize the growth of populations, radical evolution of science, vast increases of technology and incredible increases in mobility of information, money, goods, services and people. Nor could they know or visualize the topography of countries such as the United States, Canada and China, or continents such as Africa, Northern Europe, Russia or Latin America. They laid out such vast topography to the best of their ability on grids that bore no resemblance to the reality of the environment or to the huge increases in scale of population commerce and government. In the main, they did not foresee a need for the right to self-organize -- to adjust scale and degrees of separation as such increases occurred. At every scale, organizations were vested with the power to prevent smaller scales from forming and thus distributing power. That which was properly within scale for the time and technology rapidly became out of scale as everything increased in size and complexity and our power to interfere with nature mushroomed.

They were giants for their time, but their time has come and gone. Except for a notable few, one of whom was Abraham Lincoln, they could not imagine that corporations, once a creature of nation states, would so expand while ridding themselves of social responsibility to the point they could hold virtually any government to ransom for the priviledge of their presence. Today, nation states and elected politicians are more creatures of corporations than corporations are creatures of nation states. Unfortunately, while it was democracy and liberty corporations needed to reach their present dominance, in the main, their governance is the antithesis of democratic, free and just. I do not think it bodes well for the future of democracy.

It is futile to directly challenge such institutions, political or commercial, for they have an oligopoly on power, money and instruments of compulsion. Nor do they hesitate to use them if threatened. However, they will prove to be vulnerable, rusted out hulks if confronted with new and better ideas of organization which transcend and enfold them. Ideas that excite the very people they expect to remain passive. What they cannot resist is the searchlight of informed public opinion. Once the public begins to withdraw relevance from them they are helpless, as Gandhi so ably demonstrated in India. While I don't begin to understand Blogging, your paper set something turning in the back of my mind that whispers it may be one of the keys to the puzzle.

I wonder if you realize that a dozen or two people like yourself with the right combination of communication, technological and organizational skills could design and implement a global government without the consent of any present form of organization and provide it with the neural network to insure its success. A government that could continually evolve to ensure that no matter affecting the public good or the health of the planet fails to be disclosed, examined and understood. Or that any existing organization could escape being confronted with synthesized opinions and alternatives that would swiftly emerge. Such an organization based on rights of participation and withdrawal and consent of the participants could be something entirely new in this tired world. Now that would be something truly worthy of the best within us and the best among us. And a great deal of fun in the bargain! It would, in the fullest sense, be far from democratic since the Internet remains largely a tool of the privileged and technologically savvy. That, we can hope, will change in time. One must always begin somewhere, remembering that the sages tell us our responsibility is to succeed in the world as we find it if it is ever to become the world we wish it to be.

Please accept my apologies for this over-long reply to your message. Young people have their desires, middle aged people have their enterprises and old men have their dreams. My son, Steven, now fifty, and I have been working for some time on these ideas as well as with new concepts of organization in such industries as health care and food systems. We realize, as Machiavelli pointed out, that nothing is more hazardous or uncertain of success than to take the lead in a new order of things. The time has passed when I am capable of leading such an effort, but were it to begin you may be certain I would not miss the party.

With all best wishes and appreciation that you would take time to share your thoughts,

Dee Hock

PS: I have attached a file that will give you a picture of "blogging" called Visa. At the heart of it is a communication network linked in an unimaginable number of ways. Consider that a resident of a small town in Japan can appear at random anywhere on the globe, say a resort hotel in Venice. He presents his card to the cashier who swipes it through a terminal providing information which excites a neuron of code in the terminal to recognizes this information will be exciting to a neuron of code in the computer of the hotel and passes it along. The neuron of code in the hotel computer recognizes the message will be exciting to a neuron of code in the computer of Bank America d Italia in Rome, which enrolled the merchant and holds its bank account, and passes it along. There, another neuron of code is excited to realize the message will excite a neuron of code in the central computer of the Visa European center in Blasingame England. That computer recognizes the message will excite code in the central computer of Visa in San Mateo California which realizes the message will excite a neuron of code in the computer of the Asia Pacific Region in Japan, which recognizes it will excite a neuron of code in the central computer of Sumitomo Bank where another neuron of code recognizes that it will excite code in the Branch of the Bank with issued the card to its customer and holds his bank account. That neuron recognizes that its response will be exciting to the chain in reverse order and instantly provides information of acceptance or rejection. Along the path, other neurons of code are excited to provide language translation, currency conversion and net settlement between the parties at a system wide agreed rate, protection from fraud and counterfeiting and a host of other activities. Every neuron trusts the other neurons to perform in an acceptable manner which results in the trust between cardholder and merchant that is essential to the functioning of the system. Multiply this single transaction by twenty thousand banks, 220 countries, millions of merchant locations and more than a billion card holders and you have a whole hell of a lot of excitement. Imagine what such a system would look like if its currency were ideas and concepts rather than money. Is this what you mean by blogging?

Had dinner last night with Robert Scoble, Maryam, and Dave Winer at Dave's favorite Thai restaurant. Really fun discussion, albeit a bit geeky. Dave explained that Robert was a "local boy" who grew up in Silicon Valley. Through the dinner, I could tell that Robert was very proud of Silicon Valley. The dynamic between Dave and Robert was great and very educational for me in understanding the spirit of Silicon Valley.

After dinner, Robert took me to see the "birthplace of Silicon Valley." As the plaque says, it was the garage where Hewlett and Packard started their business instead of going to the East Coast to work for a big company. The plaque mentions Dr. Terman, a Stanford University professor who encouraged his students to set up their own companies instead of going to work for big East Coast firms. The plaque was in front of a rather ordinary house and it took us a while to find it. ;-)

From left to right: John Vasconcellos, Brian Murphy, Mitch Saunders, Susan Hoffman
California State Senator John Vasconcellos is an old friend and my mentor on many issues. He helped make self-esteem an important part of modern politics and is currently working on the Politics of Trust. When I am trying to think of new things, I often go to him for advice. I assumed he would know something about democracy so I sent him my emergent democracy paper and asked him for his thoughts.

He invited a few of his friends, Mitch Saunders, Brian Murphy and Susan Hoffman to join us in a brainstorming session of emergent democracy.

The discussion was quite fascinating. We started talking about the republic and representative democracy. It was pointed out (sorry, I took notes, but not always about who said what....) that the republic was not formed for the sake of efficiency but out of a more elitist attitude that certain people were more fit to govern and that it would be impossible for an uneducated mob to rule. In that sense, it really wasn't just a more efficient democracy. I asked John what he thought about the current representative democracy and he said, "not functioning well, but functioning barely". He said the people are "so busy, distracted and spoiled". I agreed with them that a direct democracy in our current environment was not feasible, but that maybe our thoughts on emergent democracy might, in the short term, be a great tool for supporting a the "not functioning well, but functioning barely" representative democracy that we have today.

I think we all agreed that weblogs could support change through a competition of ideas. It was mentioned maybe we should also think a bit about the formation of ideas as well.

I expressed a point that Antoin made earlier about the dissemination of ideas only being half of the problem and that execution was key. We talked about leadership. Mitch is a leadership consultant/coach, having coached some of the most impressive people I know of. We talked about trust and self-esteem and how to activate people into becoming more active citizens and how to grow good leaders. I talked about Liz Fine who wrote that the web opened her eyes and that she has become addicted to research and questioning what is put in front of her. I explained how that "conversational" nature of weblogs was a key element of activation. Once activated, I think many people can grow to become leaders so that we don't have to rely so much on professional politicians whose power spans generations and where politics is more about power for the sake of power and less about "representation."

We talked about the target for the paper. John suggested that the paper should target, me, the toolmakers and then the outside. I talked a bit about how many of the problems with the Net today is because the toolmakers didn't have a vision that included some of the problems that would come up such as spam, security and privacy. I said that I would like to engage the toolmakers to think about democracy as the tools are developed and that the Net can so easily cause harm and the architecture of the tools can have an effect on the future of democracy. We agreed that the next version of the paper should probably present more of a balanced view including the risks of emergence and the Net such as emergent terrorism or dumb mobs and explore how tools might encourage good over bad.