The World Mark Zuckerberg Would Love to Live In

What does it mean when a corporate titan, a master of the universe with oversized influence over the shape of the world we’re busy creating, writes a manifesto? What if he offers a vision of community that is as wholesome as apple-pie, that few could quibble with? How do we react to his grand vision that encompasses humanity across the entire planet?

Last week Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, who presides over a global network of around 1.9 billion people, posted something between corporate varnish and a heartfelt manifesto for creating a better world for everyone. Having reached the mountaintop of technological prowess, Zuckerberg, at the age of 32, asks the ultimate design question with whatever humility he can muster, “are we building the world we all want?”

Zuckerberg, at the age of 32, asks the ultimate design question with whatever humility he can muster, “are we building the world we all want?”

My interest was piqued. A few weeks ago I posted a manifesto of my own, a step in a project to foster a conversation around a similar design inquiry as the Zuckerberg question.

My question — what is the world we’re designing that we would truly love to live in?

The way I figure it is that we have reached the point where we can create just about anything we set our minds to. This kind of intentional creation is, in fact, what we call design. The main thing preventing us from building what some might call “paradise” and others could describe as “utopia” is that we’re having a hard time coming to agreement about what we actually intend — what kind of world we’d choose to live in. The typical forums for discussing this lofty but important question are politics, philosophy or religion. But this isn’t necessarily a political, philosophical or religious question. It is a creative one. The kind you pose at the outset of a challenge to design something better than what we already have. As in “design me a better car”. We know from design practice that what we ask for, how we state our intentions, can predicate what we get in the end. So, in a wider frame you might say “design me a better way to transport people short distances”. Or you could zoom way out and order up a design that “allows people to get wherever they want or need to be in the shortest time and the greatest opportunity for joy”. Design innovation is most assured when you name the desired end-state, and not the manner in which you might accomplish it.

Design innovation is most assured when you name the desired end-state, and not the manner in which you might accomplish it.

So, if we want to create a better world for us all to live in, best that we set our intentions clearly and precisely, rather than merely solving the many wicked problems that confront us today as we approach a global population of 8 billion people faced with planetary climate change, mass refugee migration, species extinction, poverty, global epidemics and a looming unemployment crisis as artificial intelligence, self driving vehicles and smart robots put millions of people out of remunerative work.

Mark Zuckerberg, perhaps unwittingly, heeded my call. He has set his, and Facebook’s, intention on supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged and inclusive community (which makes sense as he is in the networked community business). He suggests ways that Facebook could shape itself to realize this intention, but recognizes that even for a company approaching $400 billion in market value, this challenge is beyond their reach alone. “There are many of us who stand for bringing people together and connecting the world. I hope we have the focus to take the long view and build the new social infrastructure to create the world we want for generations to come”.

As welcome as Zuckerberg’s manifesto is, we can’t leave it to the titans of industry alone to envision and define the world we’d all love to live in. We need a global conversation with many voices.

As welcome as Zuckerberg’s manifesto is, we can’t leave it to the titans of industry alone to envision and define the world we’d all love to live in. We need a global conversation with many voices. We need a very particular kind of conversation.

This isn’t a conversation about technology per se, but about what it might provide. We already have plenty of prognostication about technologies that would be “cool”. User-centered-design is a practice that helps us specify what it is that we’d like those technologies do for us and the forms they might take. We are accustomed to talking about what the world is composed of — but not the nature of the world we intend to create, as a whole.

We need a conversation that begins with our humanity, and not technology, at the center of the frame — conversation about the longings of the heart, the imagination of our souls yearning for a world that we’ve only ever dared to call on in prayers, dreams, poems…and manifestos.

This conversation won’t come easily. We’ll need to overcome the habits of the head, the reluctance of our intellect to linger in the mystery of the unknown. To speak to what is in our hearts, we need to arrive with hearts that are open. We need to inform these discussion with what we know about technology without making them about technology. We need to ground in the practicalities of the world we know, yet soar to heights that the human spirit is capable of reaching for.

I invite you to join me and Mark Zuckerberg in this conversation.

And thousands of others who have dared to imagine a better world — to look beyond the technology we know, the limitations of our politics, the restrictions of contemporary economics, the fickleness of the marketplace, to the world our hearts know is possible, that our souls yearn for.

(Help me start a design conversation about the world we’d love to live in by sharing this article with anyone you know who has a vision or an opinion. I am gathering material — that I will present here from time to time — for a book that will be both manifesto and manifest for a better, more evolved, balanced, beautiful and humane world, by design).