Ben Hammersley at Lift 11: Pyramids and Sheets.

February 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Ben Hammersley is the editor of The Journal of Post-Digital Geopolitics and a speaker from the recent Lift conference in Geneva, on top of many other impressive accomplishments. His full presentation from Lift 11 is available to view online (which I highly recommend), but below is my overall takeaway.

Lift11 was a “conference about current and emerging usage of digital technologies such as online communities, social media and casual games. Participants come to better understand the challenges and opportunities presented by digital technologies, and meet the people who drive these innovations.” Appropriately, one of the early quotes from Hammersley’s presentation is:

For the past decade or so, we’ve had conference after conference after conference talking about innovation: “We’ve got to be innovative, we’ve got to think in a new way, we’ve got to think outside the box.” Telling someone to be innovative is like telling someone to be funny: it’s really hard. It doesn’t kind of work. (10:40)

Hammersley points out that our youngest generations don’t understand this call to innovative action, because that’s already “the thing that they do” (3:30). So the alleged innovation problem is really a translation problem between two generations that each have different cognitive frameworks. His main argument is that older generations (which include many current leader throughout the world) understand social entities and power structures through pyramidal hierarchies while younger generations think of people as being in more democratic “sheets” or “networks” — or “communities of choice,” as Global Trends puts it. As a note: Hammersley never specifically defines what he means by “old” and “young,” but don’t let the generalizations distract you from the wonderful core content of his talk.

One of Hammersley’s more poignant supporting arguments, in my opinion, is the example of anti-terrorism efforts (13:20 and again at 15:30). Older generations will say “shoot the leader, and everybody else will go away,” demonstrating a lack of understanding that contemporary social entities (including those of our enemies) no longer rely on pyramid power structures. If a single person goes down, there are plenty of others ready to reconfigure themselves and continue on. Or in other words, “it’s very very difficult to shoot a hashtag” (14:20). Communication gaps about concepts like these are what leads Hammersley to repeatedly urge the audience to better explain new ideas to older generations (instead of complaining when the untranslated ideas seem to fall on deaf ears).

During the final Q&A of the presentation, Hammersley mentions how many contemporary networks attain greater relevancy by more directly impacting the individual, in some cases because they are local rather than multi-national (21:45). But his major overarching observation is that geographic boundaries created a thousand years ago, when “it was hard to get on a horse and go further than ‘that'” (8:00), no longer define individual cultures. Instead, they are increasingly becoming non-geographic “diasporas of interest” (11:15).

February 15’s daily design idea is one of Hammersley’s concluding thoughts: “Our primary problem isn’t to encourage innovation. Our primary problem is to translate it.” (18:45)

Photos from Lift 11 collection on Flickr, taken by Ivo Näpflin.
The video of Ben Hammersley‘s presentation at Lift 11 is located here.
Thanks to Andrew for turning me on to Hammersley’s work.

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