The Everything manifesto: A thought experiment for the next billion seconds
The following manifesto is an introduction to ‘The Weirdness of Interdependencies’, the research theme for the upcoming edition of IAM Weekend (March 19–21, 2020. Barcelona) that will focus on how organisation and citizens can address the weird implications of the design, mythologies and usages of the internet(s) and digital technologies in the environmental emergency. Join us
📃 Intro: What is “Everything”?
📃 Part 1: What is a billion?
📃 Part 2: A billion (everything) question
📃 Part 3: Changing “climate change”
📃 Part 4: A call for ‘designers’
📃 Part 5: The ten hypothetical questions
📃 Part 6: The five key values
📃 Part 7: A cosmic reflection
Intro: What is Everything?
Let’s start with Everything. It may sound vague, but the meaning of everything is deeply beautiful and interesting.
According to Wikipedia, Everything is…
“Everything (or every thing) is all that exists; the opposite of nothing, or its complement. It is the totality of things relevant to some subject matter. Without expressed or implied limits, it may refer to anything.
The Universe is everything that exists theoretically, though a multiverse may exist according to theoretical cosmology predictions. It may refer to an anthropocentric worldview, or the sum of human experience, history, and the human condition in general.
Every object and entity is a part of everything, including all physical bodies and in some cases all abstract objects.”
The “Everything” in the Everything manifesto refers to the pale blue dot. Our home. Planet Earth. Including both the physical cosmic body and our collective perception of it as a fragile living organism.
The Everything manifesto is a collection of proposals for changing humans complicated relationship with change. Each proposal is framed as a hypothetical question to use and debrief our collective imaginations, because hypotheticals are a fascinating way to learn how to think and can help us better understand something as complex as reality, by dealing with the powerful concept of “what if”.
There is a beautiful question encoded in hypotheticals:
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF THE WORLD WAS DIFFERENT?
While hypotheticals can help organisations understand risks and opportunities, develop roadmaps and strategies, they can also help citizens understand why things happen or how complex things work.
Hypotheticals make visible possible worlds and worlds of possibilities, creating playgrounds where we can exercise both our imagination and skepticism. Rendering forests where much needed solidarity and collective critical hope can be cultivated today, tomorrow, during the next billion seconds and beyond.
Part 1: What is a billion?
Let’s take a second to reflect on what a billion seconds is. The concept of billions is usually reserved for money, but what about time?
The perception of a billion seconds can feel quite abstract, until we realise that the population of Planet Earth will get very close to 10 billion humans in approximately one billion seconds from now! (around 2050)
Which means nothing compared to the 10,000 trillion ants or 3 trillion trees existing today, but means everything when you look at the scale of the ‘Big Tech’ corporations shaping the digital economy by using the “break things and move fast” ethos to break “things” like democracy and move “fast” to avoid taxes and lobby against privacy or antitrust laws.
Their scale matters even more when we define corporations as Facebook or Google as what they are: the largest big data extraction (and media) companies in the world.
FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE ARE BIG DATA EXTRACTION COMPANIES
This means that their apps use screens, cameras and sensors on billions of devices to pull out data from all kind of digitised individual and collective human behaviour, extracting value from the face, time, attention, data, emails and social networks of more than 2 billion people, and use extraordinary computing power to process it, mix it with other metadata, finding patterns monetised through data-driven advertising and design algorithms that end up deciding what news appears on your feed, what video you watch, what book you buy or what party you vote.
Big data extraction is hypernormalised with the toxic guise of being a social network, social media or an innocent search engine. They extract value from our social networks, the digital manifestation of our personal relationships, and sell their products as tools to manipulate social media, shaping the perception of reality for billions, with all sorts of consequences.
Facebook, for example, has a market cap of more than $500 billion dollars, but that’s “nothing” compared to the almost $900 billion dollars cap of their biggest rival in big data extraction, Alphabet, the holding company that owns the most popular search engine, browser, video platform, email service, mobile operating system, app marketplace, maps, each with over a billion users, which is also selling now data extraction devices for your home.
With market capitalisations fluctuating near the $1 trillion dollars line, other big data extraction players as Amazon, Apple or Microsoft, are reaching market values similar to the GDP of a country as Spain and more interestingly, surpassing the GDP of Saudi Arabia, which demonstrates that big data extraction is becoming as profitable as oil extraction (or not?), an industry that all these big players are also automating.
The complex and invisible connections between these two worlds are key for our thought experiment, as understanding the scale of a billion seconds can help us reveal the interrelationships between time, money, power and energy — an essential thing for the purpose of the Everything manifesto.
Part 2: A billion (Everything) question
Talking about big data, we have a BIG question:
What happens when billions of humans, spend billions of seconds using billions of smartphones, concentrating money and power in the hands of a few billionaires who run corporations that manufacture billions of devices made of rare minerals used to extract and process billions of data points in data centers that consume billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity generating billions of tons of carbon emissions?
If we add the average time spent by every human on their phones each day, almost 7 hours (25,200 seconds) according to a recent report, on average humans spend everyday a total of 63 billion seconds using phones, multiplying the increasing wealth inequality, the energy consumption, carbon emissions and power concentration with the time, attention, money and data extracted from individual and collective human behaviour.
The scale of internet usage can make music videos as “Despacito” very dirty. Not only referring to the misogynistic lyrics and moves of Daddy Yankee but also to the carbon emissions caused when billions watch videos on YouTube. The use of online video is unsustainable and this is why the carbon transition think-tank The Shift Project is calling for digital sobriety.
As this revealing 2018 article on Nature.com explores, “electricity use by ICT could exceed 20% of the global total by the time a child born today reaches her teens, with data centres using more than one-third of that”. Also, the massive environmental impact of emerging tech sectors as artificial intelligence or cryptocurrencies is making the problem worse.
While the number and size of data centers in the world are multiplying every year, another recent WTFact, recently revealed by Quartz, illustrates the growing scale of inequality in the big data extraction business: the lowest paid full-time worker at Amazon would need more than 4 million years to match Bezos fortune, who is 55 years old!
WHAT IF WE COLLECTIVELY DECIDED TO SPEND OUR TIME, ATTENTION, MONEY AND USE DATA IN A DIFFERENT WAY?
First we need to understand how we got here by challenging the methodologies and narratives that are augmenting the individualism of our modern society of the spectacle and feeding the toxicity of the digital economy with user-centered designs for selfish desires and other “move fast and break things” manifestations as the lean startups or hackathons.
Along with the paradoxical human-centered narratives cultivated in Silicon Valley, as “let’s conquer Mars”, “let’s invest in unicorns”, “let’s work hard and forever”, the idea of teaching humans how to code and machines how to learn, instead of learning how to think critically, is perverting the mental capacity needed to anticipate how the use of fluffy metaphors as “the cloud” and empty mottos as “changing the world” can change the world for the worse and for the many.
Part 3: Changing “Climate Change”
It is time to challenge the most popular change! “Climate change”. An unfortunately narrow name to describe the multidimensional network of challenges we’re facing and their increasing complexity, scale and speed of change.
WHAT IF WE CHANGE “CLIMATE CHANGE” TO “ENVIRONMENTAL EMERGENCY”?
To better understand why, as other organisations, IAM is changing the language on climate matters using the term “environmental emergency” instead of “climate change”, let’s take a look at how the Extinction Rebellion group breaks down an emergency that goes far beyond a “climate change” in 10 fact-based and interconnected threats to life in Planet Earth:
After breaking the emergency down, is it responsible to keep calling this just a “climate change”?
We cannot understand and address problems properly if they are not well formulated, and simple solutions for complex problems and make the problems worse. “Climate change” is not something “happening” to humans. It is not an “enemy we need to fight”, or “declare war” against.
We, humans, are causing it with the toxic scale of our tragic lifestyle choices and referring to an environmental emergency of this scale as “climate change” is worse than a bad idea.
Hiring Sophia, an anthropocentric robotic puppet, to sell bottled water.
Giving Sophia a citizenship of a country known for enslaving women or media portraying it and other robots as ‘artificial intelligence’, when there is not even consensus on what intelligence is.
Misunderstanding the emergency as “climate change” is a dangerous idea. It’s also as misleading as misunderstanding a serious fever with a temperature change (when the actual disease is a virus), or misunderstanding a network of data centers as a “cloud” or Facebook as a “social network”.
ORGANISATIONS AND CITIZENS NEED TO CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF CHANGE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH “CLIMATE CHANGE”.
The Everything manifesto is a proposal of direction for that change. Because “changing the world” is just an empty promise without a visible direction. This is why to formulate a much more actionable mindset, we can prioritise, understand and address this as what it is: a complex emergency.
Part 4: A call for ‘designers’
The Everything manifesto is a call for organisations, designers and citizens around the planet who are shaping and participating in the digital economy. We consider this is a strategic ecosystem to address the emergency for three reasons:
👍 digital transformations are happening across different sectors,
✌️ digital tools are very well suited to issues of scale and complexity
👌 and as we already mentioned, the scale of impact, responsibility and resources in this ecosystem is huge.
It’s also worth clarifying what kind of ‘designers’ we are referring to. We are defining ‘designers’ as anyone using decision-making approach or any particular set of tools or techniques to solve a problem.
Because in a way, many people are already using design tools and approaches unconsciously, beyond titles or labels, and we can use a broader, slightly provocative and more practical definition of who a designer is, especially because in the internet age our identities are less and less defined by those labels and more by what we do and what we can do.
THIS MANIFESTO IS A META-BRIEF TO DESIGN TOOLS AND REDESIGN SYSTEMS
Tools and systems for better decision-making rather than a brief to design simple solutions. It is a call to design collectively and collaboratively for the emergence of the many thoughtful solutions that the emergency demands in trans- and interdisciplinary ways for supranational contexts, in light of the borderless nature of the challenges we are facing.
Part 5: The ten hypothetical questions
The overarching question that this manifesto responds to is:
HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS, DESIGNERS AND CITIZENS IMPROVE THE INTERRELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN HUMANS AND EVERYTHING?
Using the following ten hypothetical questions, we propose alternative ways organisations from private, public, academic and civic sectors can redesign how humans relate to Planet Earth through ten interconnected concepts:
E 🌀 Identity
V 🌀 Time
E 🌀 Problems
R 🌀 Scale
Y 🌀 Growth
T 🌀 Energy
H 🌀 Business models
I 🌀 Decisions
N 🌀 Learning
G 🌀 Design
E 🌀 Identity
What if we go beyond static binary mindsets and then understand human identities as dynamic and fluid spectra?
V 🌀 Time
What if we go beyond the obsession for nowness, newness, and short-termness and then apply long-term thinking to better understand and anticipate the social, ethical, and ecological implications of the ways we are using the internet(s)?
E 🌀 Problems
What if we go beyond solutionism and making everything easy, simple, fast by default and then make visible the unpleasant consequences of the vast social and technological systems and infrastructures that make everyday computing possible, embracing the natural and challenging beauty of complex systems with accountability?
R 🌀 Scale
What if we go beyond using the invisible algorithms connecting billions of black mirrors and black boxes to make billions for a few billionaires, and then explore, anticipate and understand the ethical implications that shaping reality for billions of humans has, with an equivalent scale of responsibility?
Y 🌀 Growth
What if we go beyond becoming growth, progress and productivity fans and then start adopting alternative ways to define success such as their contribution to societal wellbeing and sustainable prosperity?
T 🌀 Energy
What if we go beyond producing devices with built-in obsolescence and ignoring the scale of the energy consumption that interconnected physical infrastructures enabling digital platforms and services demand, and then exponentially reduce their e-waste, natural resources consumption and carbon emissions?
H 🌀 Business models
What if we go beyond abusing opaque business models that commodify citizens’ time, attention and data, risking individual and collective privacy and then implement ethical, transparent and fair alternatives, delivering real value to society?
I 🌀 Decisions
What if we go beyond understanding humans only as consumers or users, and then design for and with citizens who have rights and duties, promoting digital literacy, tolerance and solidarity and enabling everyone to make better and more conscious decisions individually and collectively?
N 🌀 Learning
What if we go beyond the obsolete industrial approach to education and then cultivate the potential of life-long learning with collective critical hope at its core
G 🌀 Design
What if we go beyond the selfishness of human-centered-design methodologies and singularity mindsets, aiming then for holistic Earth-driven-design approaches that lead to plurality and solidarity?
Ultimately, the purpose of these questions is not to find the correct answers but instead to try to formulate better questions based on the thought experiments each one suggests, and to use them as tools to understand EVERYTHING better.
Part 6: The five key values
The direction of change that this thought experiment states follows a set of 5 key values we all need to design and redesign for:
🎯 responsibility & accountability
🎯 empathy & tolerance
Design for Humbleness
As XR states in their emergency declaration “to try to understand the full implications, we need to think holistically and have a humble attitude.” An emergency is not something humans can solve but instead something we need to address. There is a big difference between designing precautions than designing solutions.
The planet is not something we can “save” but it is EVERYTHING we should care about, being aware that humans are just a small part of this living cosmic body.
We especially need to take care of our collective imaginations and protect them from the toxicity of the “Conquering Mars” narratives promoted by Elon Musk, who is already intoxicating the air, the oceans and our minds with rocket fuel.
Design for Responsibility & Accountability
The current messages and individual actions towards the emergency are based on guilt and fear, leading to passiveness and lack of engagement. Instead, we can have a responsible attitude towards production and consumption, and hold each other accountable.
LET THE FEAR OF LETTING FEAR DICTATE THE FUTURES OF THE PLANET DICTATE THE FUTURES OF THE PLANET
If we start thinking of ourselves as citizens instead of users or consumers, as interdependent instead of self-sufficient, we will quickly realise that individual action is not enough. As designer Jussi Pasanen expands in this article:
Not only is individual action insufficient — it can even be counterproductive. This is what happens when the energy we expend on individual change is energy away from organising, demanding and agitating for system change.
While we could say that humans species are guilty for “climate change”, it can be healthier and more actionable to say that we are all responsible. Also, this responsibility does not need to be equally distributed among billions of humans. Citizens can continue using governments, laws and taxes to hold the top polluters and the big data extraction billionaires accountable, while holding each other accountable of our daily choices.
Design for Plurality
As Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan said in a post-technological prayer during the opening ceremony of IAM Weekend 18:
“WHEN WE HEAR “THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR”, LET US REMEMBER: THE PLURALITY IS HERE”
Design for plurality is designing against the polarisation of societies, by dissolving the binarism of “us vs. them” and questioning other obsolete dualities and false dichotomies dividing everything including:
❌ rural / urban
❌ work / life
❌ old / young
❌ men / women
❌ left / right
❌ good / bad
❌ rich / poor
❌ human / nonhuman
❌ indigenous knowledge / scientific knowledge
❌ nature / culture
Design for Empathy & Tolerance
The growing spread of disinformation and broken sense of time, can also make the emergency worse but digital technologies can instead be used to reduce the emotional, temporal and spatial distance that we have from the emergency and those who are already suffering the consequences, especially in the Global South, where the countries that are least responsible for causing climate change are the ones suffering most from its effects.
Listening to and engaging with those who have different political ideologies, even if we disagree, is essential. Quoting the Caribbean poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant, it is a good time to “look at difference, differently”, developing nationalism-free identities, looking at the world as archipelagos of interconnected islands that only work as a whole, where the connections between the islands are the most important thing.
Glissant also left us the concept of mondialité or ‘worldmentality’, which reformulates being a ‘citizen of the world’ as a state of mind that recalibrates our existence as at the same level as animals, plants and the Planet as a whole.
In this mode of thinking, the ‘difference’ between humans and ‘the others’ is redefined as a relationship of “fluid frontiers” that positively embraces the mixing of people and cultures which ultimately lead to the formation of new identities, instead of borders that create territories to be discovered or conquered.
Design for Solidarity
This is probably the most important value, and what makes the difference while addressing any kind of emergency. Solidarity requires collective agreement and mutual support making visible the interdependencies between humans and our coexistence with other living beings.
Just imagine what would happen if mobile apps used by billions were designed for solidarity instead of being designed for addiction and data extraction?
This direction of change can also be an opportunity to set the foundations of systemic transitions for the next decades in terms of the relationship of organisations with:
🌈 Progress: from prioritising GDP or shareholder profit to societal well-being
🌈 Leadership: from less masculine to more feminine values
🌈 People: from the individuality users to collectiveness of citizens
THE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO IS A DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCIES
The Everything manifesto is not only a declaration of environmental emergency but also a declaration of interdependencies, created by upgrading, updating, expanding and augmenting existing protocols as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and by understanding better our interrelationships with Everything and the duties that we all have, as we collectively learn how to use the internet(s) to become citizens of Planet Earth.
Part 7: A final reflection
As a final act of this thought experiment, we invite you to reflect for a few minutes while listening to this excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot, inspired by an image taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990, almost one billion seconds ago.
Let’s remember we are in the same boat, and that is why Everything 🌍 matters.
Written by IAM co-founders, Lucy Black-Swan & Andres Colmenares
Original version published here IAM-internet.com/everything on November 5th, 2019
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Kindly proofread by Anna Dorothea Ker
📆 December 6 @ Social Service Club Salon / Copenhagen
📆 December 10 @ New York (venue TBA)
📆 December 12 @ San Francisco (venue TBA)
📆 January 17–18, 2020 @ SPACE10 Delhi
📆 March 19–21, 2020 @ IAM Weekend 2020 / Barcelona
For presentation requests of ‘The Everything Manifesto’ in events, schools or companies please contact us.
📆 November 9 @ MELBA Design Festival / Sofia
📆 November 8 @ ADCE* Festival / Barcelona
📆 October 17 @ Primer Conference EU / Madrid
In the next months we will work with different collaborators and communities around the planet to translate this manifesto in as many languages as possible. If you are interested in helping out let us know.
Everythons are a subversion of the traditional hackathon event format, designed as a collective learning experience using hypothetical questions to develop useful fiction stories about the next billion seconds, following methodologies where participants practice consensus decision making, share reflections and other collaborative approaches with a high level of engagement.
We will soon announce the first Everythons. If you want to learn more about how to co-host an Everython in your organisation, please get in touch.
Tools for organisations
Our creative foresight & strategic design consultancy, IAM Futures, is working and partnering with organisations willing to share, use and translate the questions and directions collected in this manifesto into actions, tools and initiatives, inside companies and also engaging with different communities.
For more info please contact us.
Call for proposals
The Everything manifesto will guide the agenda of IAM for 2020 and the next decade, starting with the 6th edition of our annual event, IAM Weekend 2020 in Barcelona. Learn more about the call for proposals.