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New communications

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You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. – Buckminster Fuller

When Linda Watkins ran for mayor of our city of Carlton, Oregon, one of her top issues – as it was because it was a top issue for so many people in town – was communications, and the need to improve on it locally.

It was not only her perception; people in town brought it up on their own: They weren’t getting the word about what was going on in city hall, and they were concerned people in city hall too often didn’t hear from them – and they were right. Linda pledged a change in that, to open lines of communication. There were a number of reasons she won her race, but that call for openness was undoubtedly an important part of it.

In the case of Carlton, the diagnosis and prescription of the problem was actually clear. But the problem is regional and national too, and while the assessment of the problem may be easy enough to assemble – although it would be an extensive project – the solution will require some real innovation.

We have the dire need to invent a new world of communication if we are going to continue to govern ourselves.

In the case of Carlton, the biggest problem, albeit not the only one, was a lack of communication, a shortage of information flow. Rumor and misinformation has been in the mix, but not in a big way; those things haven’t been debilitating locally.

To a much greater extent regionally, and to a vastly greater extent nationally, it has been.

Regionally, in our states and in-state regions, we’ve seen the wholesale destruction of news media and other sources that for generations kept us apprised of what’s going on, what our public (and private) decision makers are doing, and what are the impact of their actions or lack of them. Those sources have been falling away. Newspapers, long the best sources of information, are shadows of their former selves. To too great a degree now, people rely on social media, which often is little better than the gossip mill.

Nationally, the problem is that we’re drowning in data, some of it superb but too much of it false and destructive – and too many of us have seemingly no ability to tell the useful from the useless or dangerous.

The quote from Bucky Fuller, which I ran across in a book of otherwise marginal worth, seemed precisely on point here: We need to invent something new that makes the old obsolete. We need an equivalent of a cell phone that made our old “telephones” obsolete.

And we need it soon. Our ability to run our own society is beginning to depend on it.
 

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