Data is the currency of a new world order
Not obvious, except to the most observant, is the fact that we’re in the midst of the first furtive steps of what I sense to be no less than a quiet revolution — a shift to a New World Order of objectives and of the way we do things.
There is a perceptible wobble in the Old World Order’s top down vertical doctrine of large scale objectives, also known as “gigantism,” and of global mindsets, also known as “exceptionalism.” The stark difference makes the emergence of a bottom up, lateral, and egalitarian model all the more obvious.
One senses the wobble in the frantic clinging of everyone, from leaders to laborers, to formerly indomitable economic structures as they melt. The melting started when the production model of business got traded in for the shareholder value model a few decades ago and with it, alas, unemployment and other hardships we see growing today. The now infamous Game Stop incident — in which ordinary people without ties to Wall Street were able to manipulate an otherwise unremarkable stock to grow exponentially in price far beyond its true value, just like the billionaires do — is perhaps the most obvious and newest iteration of the phenomenon. Nevertheless, the Old World Order’s obsession with consumption and growth soldiers on.
Agriculture, industry, housing and development, healthcare, and governing stagnate in incommunicative silos, unresponsive to any but their own interests. We’re mired in a civilization of machine-made consequence, without which we convince ourselves we cannot function. So, with nonchalance, we belch self-destructive emissions at every commute.
Meanwhile, pressing issues become increasingly difficult to ignore: global warming; resource depletion right down to a water crisis. Anger and bloodshed.
So the New World Order’s opposite approach might be a knight in shining armor, a dynamic shift in objectives and in the way we do things, at last for the good.
The New World Order is a digital world of data. Data is power. Data is the new coin of the realm. The point has arrived when any individual with a smartphone or computer has the same access to data as the largest corporation or the most powerful government. Lateral unfettered access to data by ordinary people is transformative and egalitarian. Its peer-to-peer connectivity undermines the very necessity for vertical hierarchy — the inflexible foundation of the Old World Order.
The new necessity for digital connectivity is security and trust: security that one’s data won’t be stolen or compromised by a third party while in transit and trust that the party with whom one shares or trades data is authentic.
There are whole new vocabularies, unfamiliar to most of us: Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, Decentralized Financing (DeFi), the Exchange, the Internet of Things (IoT)… I attended webinars at Yale’s School of Business where I learned enough to understand the new vocabularies and concepts, but not enough fluency to jump in. Suffice it to say that these are part of a growing connected economy with which we should all become conversant if we want to overcome hierarchical barriers that hold us back, and that create the crises we face.
Users of the connected economy need only technical knowledge of systems, a head for new business objectives, and a Smartphone or computer.
Instead of a gargantuan database, blockchain is a database with the ability to transfer, store, or use very small to very large quantities of data securely between far-flung individuals. Data supports and guides financial transactions, group-thinking, hows and whys, consequences, products, services, etc. The technology is complicated, but the concept is simple. Small inputs from thousands of individuals free people from burdens that governments, corporations, and elite investment houses impose on themselves, locking most of us out. Lateral connectivity allows individuals to enter the fray and make a difference with limited assets.
Cryptocurrencies’ volatility and unfortunate association with the illicit world of the Dark Web promises to realign with constructive futures. Security-wise, cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin, are traceable, every penny tagged with identification. In layman’s terms, what Wikipedia did for the world of information, DeFi, Blockchain, etc. will do for the world of finance and then on to other things.
Pantera Capital explains more clearly:
Similar to how Wikipedia was the underpinning of a new information infrastructure, DeFi, Blockchain tech, and cryptocurrency are the underpinnings of a new financial infrastructure. The internet not only revolutionized access to content, but it also democratized the creation of that content. We believe that DeFi, Blockchain tech, and cryptocurrency will do the same but with financial markets.
The vision is that anyone, anywhere in the world, as long as they have a smartphone or a computer, can freely create or participate in new financial markets at a very low cost. Initially, this might sound like a wacky idea but imagine if someone told you at the early stages of the internet (say 1995) that encyclopedias would go away — in fact, there would be online versions that were edited by thousands of people around the world and that they would actually be more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica. That would have been viewed as a pretty crazy notion. But a similar type of revolution is beginning to happen now with finance.
If you take the efficiencies of Bitcoin, and the hundreds of other digital currencies, including the dollar — really just an IOU, not paper money — (low cost, frictionless, borderless, etc.) and apply it to other aspects of finance like lending/borrowing, exchange infrastructure, margin, etc. — that’s a very exciting concept. We’re just in the early innings of this now.
Add to DeFi the new generation, Gen Z (the Founders) born roughly 1995-2015. Besides being digital natives, the Founders share an uncanny parallel to computing’s amoral perspective. They’re not bogged down by the morality silos that keep the rest of us stuck in our tracks, stuck in our beliefs, blind to what’s really going on, blind to consequences.
The Founders stay clear of consumption, growth, and debt, to which they’re allergic after watching the previous generation, the Millennials, drowned in an insurmountable $1.7 trillion debt. Instead, the healthy face-to-face networks one finds living in the intimacy of old urbanism, like Boston’s North End, fosters the social integration in which Founders thrive. They communicate face-to-face. Often.
Right now, digital connectivity and intentionality seems limited to knowledge and finance, but one can easily imagine it infecting other domains.
Think of healthcare. The most important part of healthcare is diagnosis. The wrong diagnosis can lead to unanticipated outcomes, such as protracted complications, which are costly, making insurance unaffordable to those who most need it. Timothy Snyder writes of such consequences in Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary. According to Snyder, the U.S. ranks below 70 other countries in providing effective healthcare to the less advantaged, and below 40 other countries in providing effective healthcare to the advantaged. U.S. life expectancy peaked in 2014, declining ever since. If data could compress outcome with diagnosis, the results would correct U.S. healthcare trajectories, and make the cost of healthcare affordable.
New World mindsets can address major issues facing the planet. Still in its infancy, how this plays out has yet to be seen. Let’s hope for the best.
Robert Orr is the owner of Robert Orr and Associates, an architectural and town-planning firm based in New Haven.
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