Consensus cosmogony

16.39, Monday 2 Feb 2015

Back in the golden age of pulp science fiction - the 1950s - there was an accepted view of what the future looked like. Wikipedia gives the run down as part of the article on Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire:

  1. The initial exploration, colonization, and exploitation of the solar system
  2. The first flights to the stars
  3. The rise of a Galactic Empire [with optional aliens]
  4. The Galactic Empire at its height
  5. The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire
  6. The Galactic Dark Ages [far future barbarism… a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away]
  7. The Galactic Renaissance
  8. The Challenge To God by transcending matter and morphing into beings of pure energy, the end of time, and the investigation of the beginnings of new universes

GIVEN THIS, you, a reader, could situate yourself in the future – you knew where a given story fit in.

The Western was not a genre – it was a consensus cosmogony.

What’s special about the sci-fi future history is that the Space Race fit in: We weren’t just going into orbit and going to the Moon… we were taking the first step on Noble Eightfold Path to human occupation of the galaxy.

So we have all kinds of consensus understandings of what the future looks like, how we’ll get there, and what the first steps are. When consensus is strong, it’s an almighty power for coordination. For pulling in the same direction.

Or the picture is one of doom. I grew up in the waning years of the Cold War; I knew I’d one day live in a post-apocalypse nuclear wasteland. We have a different consensus on the end of the world now: the jackpot, the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, but a world in which the oligarchs survive in a brave new world transformed by nanobots, clean energy, new drugs.

I think Silicon Valley is a consensus cosmogony. Part of the consensus is that geography matters. My weakly-held hunch: That’s why it’s so hard to make small-s silicon small-v valleys elsewhere, ones that share that ambition and the success.

(The Californian Ideology.)

I’m glad I stumbled across the term cosmogony because it gives a name to what I do when I find myself in a new organisation, socio-economic network, consultancy gig, value chain, whatever. I call it mapping or orienting, but really I’m not doing that. I’m looking for something:

What is the consensus cosmogony of the Internet of Things? What is its future? What does the consensus understand are the first steps?

I’m not trying to figure out the rights and wrongs. I’m just trying to understand the grain of what we understand and what we expect.

More posts tagged:
Follow-up posts: