Reading David Brooks’ recent article “Flood the Zone” made me think of Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants.” The two big ideas I have taken from that book are that technology has a moral dimension and that technology follows biological patterns and act as an ecosystem:
” the sum of all these technologies form an interacting whole much like a technological ecosystem. “
He calls this ecosystem the “technium.”
“Much to our surprise the technium follows many of the same patterns that Darwin figured out life as a whole followed: a pattern he called evolution. The patterns of our inventions are not random. They are not just one thing after another.
The patterns by which living organisms mutate and diversify in evolution so resembles the way technological varieties transform over time, that we can think of the technium as the “seventh kingdom of life.” Technology is an extension and acceleration of the same forces of evolution that crafted the other six kingdoms of life.”
Brooks talks about “changing the ecosystem”:
“The list of factors that contribute to poverty could go on and on, and the interactions between them are infinite. Therefore, there is no single magic lever to pull to significantly reduce poverty. The only thing to do is change the whole ecosystem.
If poverty is a complex system of negative feedback loops, then you have to create an equally complex and diverse set of positive feedback loops. You have to flood the zone with as many good programs as you can find and fund and hope that somehow they will interact and reinforce each other community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood.”
He highlights the problem of creating services for people when you are not certain how they might respond, and his answer is to just create a lot of programs.
Eric Ries discuses this same problem in the “The Lean Startup” but instead of social programs he is trying to build products and services to sell to people. Perhaps the “lessons” he has learned trying to create companies that sell products and services might be applicable to create successful social programs and the policy that funds it.