Johnson leads off talking about his new book and explaining his path from science writer to political writer. In 2001, he wrote a book called Emergence, which focused on bottom-up, emergent systems, a survey of organizations without traditional leaders and hierarchies, which solve complex problems. The book includes discussions of ants, the commenting system on Slashdot, Jane Jacobs’s reflections on functioning communities, and ended with a brief nod towards WTO protest movements, movements without a clear leader or figurehead.
It wasn’t really a book on politics. But he started reading lots of blog posts from Joi Ito on the idea of “emergent democracy”, how projects like open source software might influence political systems. Steven felt a kinship between the ideas he was working on with emergence and those Joi and others were identifying in politics. His new book, “Future Perfect”, takes these questions on directly.
Steven explains that we, as a society, seem to have agreed that there are a few basic ways of organizing human beings. We point to these methods with little explanation: the state, the market, the corporation. It’s possible that there’s a new organizing approach, neither a traditional state or a traditional market. It’s a peer network.
These networks are decentralized, distributed and highly collaborative. And they’ve had impact trying to solve a large number of problems, often with a great deal of success. Steven acknowledges that it sounds like he’s describing a basketweaving commune in Mendicino County, but then offers us some significantly more practical solutions.
Kickstarter is a good example of this, Steven tells us. It’s not trying to solve political problems, but trying to crowdfund artistic projects. In the process, it’s diversify the number of people interested in supporting creative work, and it’s on track this year to distribute more money than the National Endowment of the Arts this year.