The Design Economy: How to Meet the Challenges of the Next Economic Era
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Joe Costello, author of the new book Of, By, For: The New Politics of Money, Debt & Democracy, has a message for America: our political economy must be democratically reformed. As we confront a moment of massive historical change, Costello explores, among other things, how electronic information technologies are transforming industrial economies. He explains how the understanding of this shaping process, or design, can help us meet the challenge of the next economic era. Hint: We're going to have to wake up to our power as citizens to get there.
The following is an excerpt from Of, By, For: The Politics of Money, Debt & Democracy, by Joe Costello (SmashWords, 2012).
"The ordinary person senses the greatness of the odds against him even without thought or analysis, and he adapts his attitudes unconsciously. A huge passivity has settled on industrial society. For people carried about in mechanical vehicles, earning their living by waiting on machines, listening much of the waking day to canned music, watching packaged movie entertainment and capsulated news, for such people it would require an exceptional degree of awareness and an especial heroism of effort to be anything but supine consumers of processed goods." -- Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man
Humanity's great agrarian era produced agrarian government systems, economies, and cultures. Human life and human identity derived overwhelmingly from the processes of farming. The much shorter two-centuries old industrial era redefined life. The processes of production and consumption became the overwhelming dual identities of individuals and our institutions that evolved to foster the processes of unlimited industrial growth. As we move into the design economy, increasingly the most imperative questions will be what are the roles, identities, institutions, and processes of design.
Design has been part of human history before the beginning of civilization. It has at times played an instrumental role with the designing of hunting tools, farming implements, and industrial technologies. However today, information, the raw material of design, is becoming not simply ubiquitous but fundamental to every aspect of human life. For example, with our knowledge of DNA comes the ability to manipulate the very information codes of life itself.
Presently, many of the processes of design - the creation of information, its editing communication, and finally decision making for its utilization - are in turns both centralized and insufficient. We need to evolve our institutions, organizations, and individual roles to understand that design is increasingly the primary value of political economy, ultimately creating a value shift from industrialization's quantitative value of infinite growth based on unlimited production and consumption to design's more qualitative values of participation, efficiency, elegance, and enough.
If we look at the processes of design today, we see rapid change. Companies, governments, NGOs, and individuals each year produce an exponentially greater amount of information. In the distribution and communication of information, paper is in great decline as electronic media explodes. Creation and communication of news and public affairs, once the exclusive domain of print, was supplanted by electronic broadcast media by the mid-20th century, and is now rapidly being replaced by the networked microprocessor, creating both a plethora of real and potentially valuable information, but also an unprecedented amount of noise, with little or no value. Noise grows as what could be useful information is communicated with no ability for the individual or organization to place it in meaningful context.
Yet, even the gaining of valuable information is hamstrung in utilization as the decision making for political economy remains tremendously centralized. Much of the wealth, and thus the economic decision making of the nation is concentrated in the Fortune 500. At the same time, over the past century as government power became more greatly centralized in Washington DC, political decision making became further and further removed from state, localities and the citizen. As previously noted, information both for consumer purposes and electoral decisions - the only direct role citizens have in political decision making - is overwhelmingly manipulative and based on primal motivations, not the rational decision making necessary for civilized design.