Chapter 19: Making the Future

make the future

The best way to predict the future is to create it.
– Peter F. Drucker 1

It used to be the case that great social change could come from the minds and determination of extraordinary individuals. Then everything changed. After the second industrial revolution, as societies increased in complexity, larger and larger investments were required to invent, experiment, and distribute the fruits of one’s ideas – until the amount of money necessary for making anything non-trivial happen became so massively gargantuan that only large corporations could afford it.

Today, we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution, one that takes the power back to the people – the makers, the hackers, the industrious inventors and creators that are quickly shaping the future. It is the emergence of the DIY (Do It Yourself) community of innovators that are building the physical, digital, and cultural tools for a new society. These silent heroes often do not have a name, or a face, but we are collectively eating the fruits of their work every day. And we can do so because they are building new things, writing code, creating beautiful works of art, and releasing them under Free/Open Source licences.

I believe we are at the dawn of a new civilisation.

1.1 Support Open Source Projects

Whenever I utter the words “Open Source”, people either do not know what they mean, or they think about software. “Isn’t that like the Linux thing?”. Sure. Linux, GNU, and thousands of other projects are Free and Open Source, but they are just an infinitesimal part of the whole.

Open Source is not just software. It is a philosophy. It's the idea that sharing is better than secrecy. It's the proof that cooperation is more effective than ruthless competition; and that by opening up the blueprints, the development of science, culture, the arts, and everything that is positive accelerates. It is possibly the most outstanding example of all human achievements, the light in the tunnel of our gloomy idiosyncrasies, a triumph of transcendence from our primitive condition. It is what gives me hope for the future of humanity, the reason I think we can evade the path of self-destruction, and move forward as a species.

Over the past 30 years, the Open Source philosophy has pervaded every aspect of our lives, and everything it has touched has been made better. It is an inconceivable force, inspiring millions of people to create positive change in the world. What may have started as ‘just software’2 moved on to virtually every other field of science, the arts, and even our culture at large. We have open hardware (e.g. Arduino, a microcontroller platform for hobbyists, artists and designers), open beverages (Open Cola and Open Beer!), open books, open films, open robotics, open design, open journalism, and even experiments of open governance.3

Open Source pioneer Linus Torvalds, father of Linux, famously said:4

“The future is Open Source everything.”

In order to understand what this means, we need to look no further than the pages of this very book you are holding right now. The development of ‘Robots will steal your job, but that is OK: how to survive the economic collapse and be happy’ was possible thanks to a crowdfunding campaign that I launched on a website. The software used to write the book was mostly Free and Open Source (FOSS), running on an operating system which heavily relies on FOSS to work.5 The very browser you used to find my book is probably FOSS, too. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, they are all FOSS. But also Wikipedia, Creative Commons, many Flickr photos and videos on YouTube and Vimeo are released under some sort of free/open licenses. More recently, there has been a wave of Open Source projects covering an incredibly broad spectrum, even including physical objects such as flashlights, sensors, bicycles, solar panels, and 3D printers.

Internet communities such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter are great places to start directly supporting Open Source projects that will help us to live a better life. The concept is simple. Somebody has a great idea that they would like to develop, they share it with the community and ask for a certain amount of money to complete or to continue the project. People who are interested pitch in, and get rewards for that. Over 90% of the money goes to the original artist/inventor, but what they create benefits the whole community. Many choose to release the source code/technical specifics to the public, Open Source.

This is a great way to support what you like, how you like. You can choose which projects to support, and the amount of money you want to pledge. It gives you a sense of fulfilment and power. It makes you feel part of a community of like-minded people. And most of all, it is fair. There are no under-the-table-games, no special interests, no bribing of government officials. It's meritocracy at its best.

To put things in perspective, Kickstarter is on track to distribute over $150 million dollars to its users’ projects in 2012, or more than the entire fiscal year 2012 budget for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), which was $146 million.6

We cannot expect governments to solve all of our problems. Of course, it would be nice if public money were spent wisely and on programmes that helped everyone, operating at maximum efficiency. But we all know that as much as we try, this often remains only wishful thinking. We must not lose faith in our governments completely, but we should not wait and pretend that some day everything will be magically fixed. We must take things in our own hands, and accelerate positive change.

My advice is to provide as much support as you can to Open Source projects that are fundamental to the development of humanity, such as Wikipedia, Creative Commons, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as many micro projects of your interest. Whatever you can donate will help. $50, $20, or even $1 can make the difference. It will not only help out the creator and the community at large, but also you directly. If you can reduce your dependence on money by utilising something that was created through an Open Source project, which you helped co-fund, you are in a satisfying position. Once something goes Open Source, it is available to the entire human race, forever. It is a win-win situation.

Now, to a more pragmatic approach. I can imagine you thinking “Yeah, this is all very nice, but I can’t live off Wikipedia”. Actually, I would object even to that (inexhaustible source of knowledge and references), but I get what you mean. Physical stuff? Things that you can use to live? Right. I will just give you one example, but there are many.

Marcin Jakubowski is an incredible man. There are plenty of people who talk about building a better world. Many have great ideas, too, futuristic visions of how the world could be, if we just wanted to. But one of them is actually building it. His goal: no less than creating a post-scarcity society, where people have to work only 1-2 hours per day to live, so that they can use the remaining time for higher purposes. He is building the foundation for the next paradigm in social evolution, and he is open-sourcing all of it. A visionary, but with solid grounding. The story is best told by Marcin himself, who spoke at TED in 2011. This talk has been watched more than 1.5 million times and it was translated in 41 languages.7

“I started a group called Open Source Ecology. We’ve identified the 50 most important machines that we think it takes for modern life to exist – things from tractors, bread ovens, circuit makers. Then we set out to create an Open Source, DIY, do it yourself version that anyone can build and maintain at a fraction of the cost. We call this the Global Village Construction Set.

So let me tell you a story. I finished my 20s with a Ph.D. in fusion energy, and I discovered I was useless. I had no practical skills. The world presented me with options, and I took them. I guess you can call it the consumer lifestyle. So I started a farm in Missouri and learned about the economics of farming. I bought a tractor – then it broke. I paid to get it repaired – then it broke again. Then pretty soon, I was broke too.

I realised that the truly appropriate, low-cost tools that I needed to start a sustainable farm and settlement just did not exist yet. I needed tools that were robust, modular, highly efficient and optimised, low-cost, made from local and recycled materials that would last a lifetime, not designed for obsolescence. I found that I would have to build them myself. So I did just that. And I tested them. And I found that industrial productivity can be achieved on a small scale.

So then I published the 3D designs, schematics, instructional videos and budgets on a wiki. Then contributors from all over the world began showing up, prototyping new machines during dedicated project visits. So far, we have prototyped eight of the 50 machines. And now the project is beginning to grow on its own.

We know that Open Source has succeeded with tools for managing knowledge and creativity. And the same is starting to happen with hardware too. We’re focusing on hardware because it is hardware that can change people’s lives in such tangible material ways. If we can lower the barriers to farming, building, manufacturing, then we can unleash just massive amounts of human potential.

That’s not only in the developing world. Our tools are being made for the American farmer, builder, entrepreneur, maker. We’ve seen lots of excitement from these people, who can now start a construction business, parts manufacturing, organic CSA or just selling power back to the grid. Our goal is a repository of published designs so clear, so complete, that a single burned DVD is effectively a civilisation starter kit.

I have planted a hundred trees in a day. I have pressed 5,000 bricks in one day from the dirt beneath my feet and built a tractor in six days. From what I have seen, this is only the beginning.

If this idea is truly sound, then the implications are significant. A greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chains, and a newly relevant DIY maker culture can hope to transcend artificial scarcity. We’re exploring the limits of what we all can do to make a better world with open hardware technology.“

Together, we can begin to transition towards of society of openness that benefits all, instead of one of secrecy that serves the powerful. Author Clay Shirky pointed out that Wikipedia represents the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. With 100 million hours of thought and collaboration we were able to create the largest and most complete encyclopaedia of all time, “a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing”.8 Compare that to television watching. Two hundred billion hours of television is watched, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, we have 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television, and 100 million hours (1 Wikipedia project) every weekend, simply watching the ads.9

Just think about what we could achieve if we were able to capture even a fraction of that time and use it for something useful. The possibilities are endless – together we can create a truly wonderful world.

It has already begun. Join in

1.2 Vote with your Wallet (not what you think)

We know that politics is largely influenced by big businesses, which have the power to lobby extensively. As far as I am concerned voting does not happen in the voting booth as much as it happens at the mall. If you think about it, you effectively have more voting power when you decide to buy something, because you influence businesses in their strategies, which in turn has an effect on politics. If there is one thing corporations understand it is profit, and more specifically the loss of profit. Walmart did not start its eco-business because they had a change of heart; suddenly wanting to help the environment, providing people healthier foods and better products. They did it because they saw a market there, a shift in interest from the public. If there is a market somewhere, somebody will fill that gap. Essentially, you really are voting with your wallet, every day of your life, you just didn?t notice.

Next time you go to the mall and pick something up, ask yourself if you really need it. Will it just give you temporary satisfaction, or will it really serve you well? Do you really need that 20th pair of jeans? What about the other 19? Are they not good enough? Then why did you buy them? Or did you like them at first, but then quickly changed your mind?

Get rid of things you do not need. Sell them on eBay, at the street market, give them away as presents, it doesn't matter. Buy smart (more on this later), and stop being a slave to the corporate machine, take back control over your life. They want us to think that freedom is the liberty to choose between two hundred brands of toothpaste.

Taste real freedom!

1.3 Work Less, be Self-Employed

Go back and have a glance at the last thirty pages or so. You might have noticed that they all had something in common. They were ideas on how to save money, but without having to sacrifice the things you liked. In fact, they might even help you to live healthier, less stressed, and happier lives. Add everything up and you will see that by following this advice you can save several thousands of dollars every year. This is money that you used to need, but you don't anymore. So what can you do with this extra money? You can be smart and spend it on things you will actually enjoy (see the chapter on how to spend smart), or you could be even smarter and see this as an opportunity to work less. That’s right. If you need less money, why not go part-time? Why not change job and do something that you really like, but that does not pay as much as the other (less satisfying) job? Having lessened the need for money in the first place, reducing the workweek could be the first step towards a more fulfilling and less stressful life.

This should be obvious by now, and it is not a radical idea. A group of economists at the British think tank New Economics Foundation (NEF) has recommended moving to a shorter workweek, publishing a report outlining the motivations and the general plan: “A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life”.10

The report continues:

“A much shorter working week would change the tempo of our lives, reshape habits and conventions, and profoundly alter the dominant cultures of western society. Arguments for a 21-hour week fall into three categories, reflecting three interdependent ‘economies’, or sources of wealth, derived from the natural resources of the planet, from human resources, assets and relationships, inherent in everyone’s everyday lives, and from markets. Our arguments are based on the premise that we must recognise and value all three economies and make sure they work together for sustainable social justice.

Safeguarding the natural resources of the planet. Moving towards a much shorter working week would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume. People may become less attached to carbon-intensive consumption and more attached to relationships, pastimes, and places that absorb less money and more time. It would help society to manage without carbon-intensive growth, release time for people to live more sustainably, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Social justice and well-being for all. A 21-hour ‘normal’ working week could help distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reducing ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time. It would make it possible for paid and unpaid work to be distributed more equally between women and men; for parents to spend more time with their children – and to spend that time differently; for people to delay retirement if they wanted to, and to have more time to care for others, to participate in local activities and to do other things of their choosing. Critically, it would enable the ‘core’ economy to flourish by making more and better use of unmodified human resources in defining and meeting individual and shared needs. It would free up time for people to act as equal partners, with professionals and other public service workers, in co-producing well-being.

A robust and prosperous economy. Shorter working hours could help to adapt the economy to the needs of society and the environment, rather than subjugating society and environment to the needs of the economy. Business would benefit from more women entering the workforce; from men leading more rounded, balanced lives; and from reductions in work-place stress associated with juggling paid employment and home-based responsibilities. It could also help to end credit-fueled growth, to develop a more resilient and adaptable economy, and to safeguard public resources for investment in a low-carbon industrial strategy and other measures to support a sustainable economy.”

Such an economy, one that approaches the steady-state advocated by Herman Daly and others, would also have the great value of being resilient and adaptable. There are many necessary conditions to achieve before the 21-hour workweek can be put into practice, and the report outlines a transition with lucidity and valuable insight. Simply reducing the workweek, ceteris paribus, could potentially backfire, as we have seen in previous experiments (France 2000-2008), there needs to be some adjustments to go along with it. People need time to adapt, so there should be a transitional period that lasts a few years, a guaranteed fair income, social norms and expectations must change, not to mention gender relationship. But above all, the overall culture must change. People need to see the merit and the need for a different system, so that they themselves will ask for it, instead of resisting it.

My advice to you would be to make a plan that, over the course of a few years, will allow you to transition towards a reduced workweek, or to a job that pays less but gives you more satisfaction. Escaping the labour-for-income trap is not an easy task, and should be taken seriously, or else you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation (especially if you have a family that depends on you for living). Use the resources in this book, begin exploring the new possibilities, and don't be afraid to ask for help from your friends, family, or even strangers. Once you begin to open up yourself to a different way of living, you will find whole communities of people willing to give advice.

This is your life. Live it to its fullest!

1.4 Don’t Be a Dick

This is a largely overlooked aspect of the world of activism. I have been involved with non-profit organisations and social movements for a long time. Having started a few of them myself, I know how painful it can be for those who are not active members to have somebody school them about how they should live their lives. There is nothing more infuriating than being told that everything you have been doing for your whole life is wrong, and that you should change it. Even if that were true – and is many cases is not – it still would be the wrong approach in getting them to join you.

First of all, it is a horrible communication strategy. Very few people are open-minded enough to challenge their own beliefs and the habits that have accompanied them for their entire lives, and discard them in a few seconds. And even in the rare event when that happens, it could have been achieved much more efficiently by utilising a different strategy, rather than making them feeling guilty and inadequate. It is hard enough to get by these days, the last thing people need is for some bourgeois self-righteous environmentalist to climb up the pedestal and start lecturing you. If you want people to join you, you must show the value of what you are proposing, and you must lead by example. I know, action is a lot harder than talking about stuff, and sometimes you may be overwhelmed by the events around you. It cannot be helped, we are inside a system, and in some way we have to work with the tools we have at our disposal to transition towards a better society. That, or isolating yourself from the rest of the world. I think the latter is a rather myopic and selfish way of responding to the problem, so I will focus on the former option.

We are running out of time, but that is no reason for hurrying and making a mess of things. Instead, we need to realise that we must find the most efficient and effective way in transitioning to the new system. Before you do anything, ask yourself the question: how effective is it? Think about the issue of meat consumption. Most vegans I know are quite vocal about their choice, and if that was the whole story it would not be much of an issue. The problem is that some of them are obnoxiously arrogant and violent in their approach. Those who disagree with them are seen as murderers, or looked upon with contempt, sometimes even disgust. Just by looking at vegan activists leaflets and websites you can spot the obvious scare tactics, trying to exploit the empathy of the viewer and spark an emotional reaction. If the goal is to scare, outrage, and distance people from you, this is certainly an effective way to achieve just that. If, on the other hand, your goal is to make people more conscious and aware of a particular problem, you might want to start by respecting them, and showing the merits of your way of living.

Again, ask yourself, is it easier to convert 10% of the people to eat no meat at all, or is it easier to convince 50% to eat less meat? The answer is very simple, and the concept is well developed by Graham Hill in his short book Weekday Vegetarian: Finally, a Palatable Solution and TED Talk Why I’m a weekday vegetarian.11 Imagine yourself being committed to the cause. At some point, you will look at your last hamburger, or your last steak, and you will know that you will not be having any more of those, forever. Many people are not quite ready for that. So what if you were to start a more gradual, easier approach? A weekday vegetarian seems like a more reasonable and palatable solution, one that most people would be willing to adopt, without having to drastically and dramatically change their habits. Yet, by cutting meat to only once or twice per week, you would have essentially reduced your meat consumption by 70-80%.

The same line of thinking works for every aspect of our lives. It is very difficult to be 100% consistent with your values, but you can strive for an honest, non-hypocritical way of living, without making yourself unbearable to live with.

Notes

1 This quote is attributed to Peter Drucker, but many people expressed similar ideas – Alan Curtis Kay at a 1971 meeting of PARC said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. More recently, Peter Diamandis is famous for his phrase: “The best way to predict the future is to make it yourself.”

2 Do not underestimate the importance of software. Most of the things that help us live better are software. Medical equipment, servers, personal computers, cellphones, electronics, street-lights, the Internet…think about how many things we take for granted, that could not exist without software.

3 Open Source. Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source

4 Can We Open Source Everything? The Future of the Open Philosophy. University of Cambridge.
http://www.sms.cam.ac.uk/media/517352;jsessionid=62FE4CCB3807753999235E2EA54E5009

5 LA TE X – a document preparation system.
http://www.latex-project.org/
Open at the source. Apple.
http://www.apple.com/opensource/

6 Kickstarter Expects To Provide More Funding To The Arts Than NEA, Carl Franzen, 2012.
http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/kickstarter-expects-to-provide-more-funding-to-the-arts-than-nea.php

7 Marcin Jakubowski: Open-sourced blueprints for civilization, Marcin Jakubowski. TED.
http://www.ted.com/talks/marcin_jakubowski.html

8 Jimmy Wales interviewed by Miller, Rob ‘Roblimo’. Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds, 2004. Slashdot.
http://slashdot.org/story/04/07/28/1351230/wikipedia-founder-jimmy-wales-responds

9 Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, Clay Shirky, 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-10-16.
http://replay.web.archive.org/20101016111844/http://www.herecomeseverybody.org//2008//04//looking-for-the-mouse.html

10 21 hours Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century, Anna Coote, Jane Franklin and Andrew Simms, 2010. new economics foundation.
http://neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/21_Hours.pdf

11 Graham Hill: Why I’m a weekday vegetarian, Graham Hill, 2010. TED.
http://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_weekday_vegetarian.html


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