The ship, the anchor and the Fusion Age future: a story about innovation, frustration, resistance, and moving ahead
“They’re not like us, they must be wrong.”
“You don’t have a right to feel that way, I do.”
“We are by rights the ones to run things. We were raised/educated to do this. Sit down. We’re in control.”
Whoever told us that evolution was a straight line, linear progression, logical-marching-forward process had not absorbed the lessons of history… or biology. Or navigation.
Like most cultural and economic evolutions, the one we are in right now is being powered by a tight intertwining of technological change and cultural change. And one doesn’t have to observe its motion long to see that ship of this evolution is on a pretty clear course. We can’t see what its destination looks like yet, but for the changes in how we work and communicate and learn are pushing us pretty steadily in a particular direction. We can see that in the growing strength of Fusion Age undercurrents that are increasingly rising to the surface and the fact that short term political and cultural battles aren’t fundamentally changing its course. If you’ve ever been on the water and seen a tanker or a cruise ship or a container vessel bearing down on you, you understand the purposefulness of that motion, and how hard it is to change its course once it has gotten underway.
But the Fusion Age ship is dragging an anchor. The anchor that it is dragging is tied on with a dense knot of unspoken, long-unexamined assumptions about how the world is supposed to work and how different kinds of people are supposed to behave.
As sailors know, the problem when you drag your anchor is that you move toward the the place you’re trying to get to with incredible slowness. And sometimes the anchor catches on something underwater, and the tension can damage your boat.
But in a lot of cases, the worst damage is done under the water, as the anchor dredges through plants and animal habitats and tears at a fragile ecosystem that we can’t see at that moment.
The Fusion Age forces that are unfolding at an accelerating pace around us — of decentralized, unmediated communication, of the necessity of diversity to find solutions that can actually work, of decentralized informal power — are demanding humankind to take on fundamentally different ways of thinking and working. We see that in everything from online organization of massive protests to anonymous hackers. It looks like a mess at this point, because they represent a break from the long-accepted ways of doing things. Some of it is still experimental. Some of it goes badly wrong. But you don’t have to be able to look back very far to see that some very fundamental things are changing in terms of who has a voice.
In the way that anchors do, people and organizations that benefited from the old ways dig into the bottom — sometimes with good intentions, sometimes cynically, sometimes passively, sometimes actively, sometimes honestly, sometimes deceitfully.
But the anchor does not change the direction of the boat. The anchor cannot control the mechanism of the steering, because that falls outside of its reach. It can only gum up the progress.
But that does not mean that the anchor can be ignored.
In the process of being dragged, the anchor damages those who are not on the boat. The old model calls that damage (passingly, as almost a footnote to its devotion to the Invisible Hand economic theory), an Externality.
Collateral Damage. It falls outside of the basic anchor-boat interaction. Ignored.
But we know that this damage cannot be ignored — that harming it will create other effects that jeopardize even those comfortable on the boat. It might not know what exactly those effects are, but it knows that they will happen, because that is the nature of a connected, interdependent, diversity-dependent world. And so we cannot ignore the damage that the anchor can cause to others who may not yet see the boat or fully perceive where it is going. We have to try to haul up the anchor, no matter how much it resists.
There’s intrinsic potential value to the anchor — in a storm, sometimes you drag an anchor on purpose to give the boat some more stability. Without an anchor, the boat would find it much harder to stop and reconsider its direction. But if it’s not used carefully, the anchor damages more than it helps.
If we are aware of the Fusion Age changes around us, and we are trying to move intelligently and purposefully and beneficially into it, we risk fouling on our own anchors — our own unexamined assumptions, social role expectations, fear of the future. And our institutions — from local boards to federal legislators, run the same risk.
Perhaps some people and organizations are not ready to haul in their anchor — and some of them may even be digging it in harder to try to stop change that they don’t want. Maybe they can manage to stop the boat for the short term, and think, for a time, that they have “won” against the forces that they don’t understand and don’t want. And in the process, they will probably hurt an enormous amount of the world, and that damage will linger.
But the boat is where the power to move forward lies. And history shows us that a messy and deeply painful process often accompanies that forward motion. And sometimes the boat slides back for a little bit, as the combination of a rogue wave and the anchor push the boat in the opposite direction from where it’s going.
But very few ships sink because of a dragged anchor.
The best thing we can do is become the most skillful pilots we can. If we know how and we have the fortitude to stick to what we have learned about sailing, even in the face of wind and waves around us that call us back to the old anchor fears and assumptions, then eventually, the anchor will give up its resistance — either because the knot finally breaks, or because it winches back into its resting place on the boat. Because the anchor — carefulness of change, remembrance of the advantages of the old ways — has its place on the boat, too.
Just not in the cockpit.