Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Sunday, March 13, 2005day link 

 New Civilization Network, 10 years
picture Today is the 10 year birthday of the New Civilization Network.

I suppose it is an impressive longevity for an online community. But I don't think I would have been surprised back then to know it would last more than 10 years. I would maybe be surprised to learn that it didn't really turn out as I imagined it. Then again, few things do. Groups of people tend to take on a life of their own.

Anyway, I hadn't really thought it through very much. I had identified some principles which I thought were key to growing a new kind of civilization from the bottom up. Oh, and they're still good. But I was probably greatly underestimating the amount of organization and effort that would be needed to do such a crazy and ambitious thing. And I failed to release a magical viral catalyst that would make it all just sort of organize itself.

Since sometime in 1994 I was running a mailing list called "Whole Systems", which was about systems thinking from a big picture perspective. It was a very active and stimulating place. But mostly people were talking and sharing ideas. So, I wanted to build something out of it that was more action oriented. So, all I really did was that a posted a message stating that intent. Which apparently hit a nerve, and it spread around quickly. So, within the week 100 people had joined. What exactly it was they had joined wasn't clear, but they were ready and inspired.

My vision was along the lines of a network of teams working on different important problems that needed to be solved to build a better civilization. A teamnet of self-selected teams who shared information and results. I imagined it as something that would self-organize and transform itself along the way. Nothing terribly wrong with that, other than that it isn't easy to start off like that. One can't just decree that that's how it is, even though I tried.

A sizable number of smart and inspiring people were attracted to that very loose vision, though. A veritable who's who of activists, explorers, visionaries, futurists, artists, inventors, leaders of organizations, etc. Just like I hoped for. That didn't mean that they knew how to work together, though. I had from an early point on asked people to fill in a myers-briggs type profile when they joined. Which showed that about half of these folks were visionary idealists. As compared with something like 3 percent in the general population. Which made it all very inspiring, but not particularly coherent or practical. Particularly when it turned out that many idealists really don't get along with each other, as they might have very strong, but conflicting, ideas about what needs to be done.

A vision of a new civilization is maybe inspiring, but vague. One can put all sorts of things under that heading. And I thought that was a feature rather than a flaw. I still do, in many ways. But it also means that people show up, and then find that they don't at all agree on the details. In principle that shouldn't matter, as the idea was that those folks who shared a specific aim or a specific approach would simply get together and do it that way, and if some other group wanted to do it differently, they'd just go do that. No need for everybody to agree on everything. A civilization isn't built out of uniform agreement on what it is. It is a collage of a diversity of currents that somehow get woven together.

But we're so used to living inside of organizations that share a coherent set of norms. So it turned out that some sorts of people simply wouldn't coexist with others. Like, the scientists just had no patience for having their project mentioned in the same listing as somebody working on astrology or healing or something. So, people would leave, or get into fights.

And, now, the idea was that these various teams would just pick their own mission and go to work. But most people didn't quite know how to do that, or they were sort of waiting for the master plan to be formed. And since I was the guy who started the thing, they were increasingly looking to me to come up with the plan. I was quite caught by surprise by that, as it hadn't at all been my intention to be some kind of leader who was calling the shots. On the contrary, I preferred being relatively invisible, and giving focus to the good things others were doing. That's of course all half impossible. How does one lead a new activity while being invisible. How does one organize a self-organizing network that will change the world. How does one best service a leaderless group that doesn't yet know what exactly to do.

The most vibrant period of time was probably while I regularly sent out various regular newsletters to the whole membership, with content aggregated from what people sent to me. Various news items, project updates, visions, and more. And each month I sent out the list of new members and what they said about themselves in their profiles. Which was always inspiring and illuminating, to see the diversity of activities and perspectives people were engaged in. All of it sort of created a shared atmosphere of constructive progress and sharing and networking. It also tied into various face-to-face activities, as people would meet, arrange events, etc. Like, the series of New Civilization Salons I organized in L.A. for years were consistently a great success. Typically around 100 folks at a time, and a combination of a networking event where everybody introduces themselves, and a party, with show and tell, performances, poetry, drumming, etc.

Oh, and a number of great projects almost happened along the way. Various ventures, plans, projects, activities. For a while it looked like some major funding would be available, and a group started constructing a framework for a New Civilization Foundation that would implement many projects.

Anyway, gradually, from a mixture of lack of tangible results, and bickering about details, most of the more prominent members that really were the target group, the ones passionately engaged in groundbreaking projects, drifted away along the way, as they didn't really have time for arguing about anything, as they had things to do.

Again, lots of stories to tell along the way, and various transformations, but still a continous flow of thousands of new members. Until, today, well, NCN is a website, with an assortment of community features. Weblogs, workgroups, chat rooms, etc. And it is a nice group of people who can be found there on a daily basis. Mostly to communicate and pursue their various interests, and to explore some of the dynamics that happen between people. It isn't to any great extent any network of teams building a new civilization. It is maybe a microcosm of some of the issues involved in building one. Which is all probably good, and I can't really complain about what it is. I sort of have to respect the path it takes. Which of course has a good deal to do with what I put on the website, and how I laid out the interactive features in the member area.

I have sort of shifted around between different views of it. Whether I should be happy or disappointed. Whether I should do it differently, whether I should just leave it alone. Whether I should take a lead again in trying to make it what it originally was meant to be. Or whether I should better support what it is today.

I don't really know. But, regardless, happy birthday, NCN! The future is still ahead of us.
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