The Longest Now

The weekend, synchrony, and collaboration
Thursday June 04th 2009, 8:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Let me amplify a bit the aside in my last post, because it is important.  To pull back from the week[end] for a moment, there are many universal elements to modern human culture which we take for granted, and even sometimes rail against, but rarely appreciate as one-time innovations.  Roughly in order of adoption:

apprenticeship, language, engineering, drawing, storytelling, astronomy, religion, music & art, holidays, government, law, agriculture, geometry, biology, architecture, education, currency, written language, geography, calendars, numerals, abstract mathematics, books, history, universities.

Many of these innovations have given rise to entire fields of study, so much so that I can more readily name the field than its founding innovation.  The ordering is just a guess in many cases, and of course the timeline varies by culture even after distinct societies meet.  I included some very specific innovations which seem so natural today that it is easy to forget how recently they were adopted by our civilization.

Privately, holidays and later calendars help to organize regular reflection and pause.  They improve the mindfulness of individual life, amplifying the impact of new discoveries and the capacity to change individual habits.  But the distributed effect of sharing this practice with others are more profound.
Locally, a day when everyone in a community can reliably be called on to gather free of oblgations for shared discussion and experiences is valuable for socializing new community-wide ideas and movements.  It naturally gives rise to reliable scheduled mass communication, as well as a forum in which to air one’s own ideas, concerns, complaints.   The ability to reflect and balance one’s own life is important to realizing individual potential, and the local social impact of making it inappropriate to work constantly limits the capacity for superiors to overwhelm the lives of those they support/command.

Regionally, sharing a calendar – including holidays and weekends, and more recently time of day – facilitates shared work across those regions.  People today recall the importance of accurate timekeeping to railroad optimization, but the basic principle works on scales of days as well.  War has often been a driving force behind innovation – the desire to rule larger empires inspiring formalization of things such as calendars that had been casual before.

As for global collaboration, specialization and productivity – the improvements possible are hard to calculate.  For a long time calendars were not synchronized across neighboring societies [consider the origins of the word Olympiad].  Lacking the societal architecture to support an Invisible Equilibrium covers more than just a certain type of Hand, as we do today, it is difficult to estimate what we do not have.  But try starting with the institutions above, include some more recent innovations such as asynchronous revision-preserving editing of global namespaces..   Treat them as points in a conceptual space, and generalize.  Your results will be as interesting as mine…

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Any break in our habits, whether a change of work, location, company or of many other things, serves to help us see our lives at a remove. We are all hyperopic to the extent that we see ourselves more clearly from a distance.

Comment by Daf 06.09.09 @ 3:38 pm

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