Again and again the same questions return, demanding an answer:
Why are institutions, everywhere, whether commercial, political and social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?
Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the institutions of which they are part?
Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?
The answer cannot be found without understanding compression of time and events. Some readers may recall the nineteen fifties when a check might take two weeks to find its way through the banking system. Bankers called it float. Today, most people are aware aware of the incredible speed and volatility with which money in the form of electronic date moves instantaneously throughout the world and the profound effect it has on us all. Money float has virtually disappeared.
However, we ignore vastly more important compression of time and events. Consider life itself. The first life forms appeared approximately 4.5 billion years ago. It took evolution about half that time, 2.2 billion years, to make the first tiny step from the non-nucleated cell to the nucleated cell. It took only half that time, a billion years, to create the first simple vertebrate, then only a half billion years to produce primitive fish and reptiles. Then, in only 200 million years, evolution produced dinosaurs, birds and complex plants, then mammals in only 100 million years.
Each change reducing by more than half the time required to produce the next exponential leap in the diversity and complexity of organisms, right on through to the creature writing this book. There is no reason to believe this exponential reduction of time to create more complex, diverse organisms will not continue. In fact, with the advent of genetic engineering, the time required for creation of new species may literally collapse into a matter of months, or even weeks.
The same pattern is apparent with respect to information. As the futurist James Burke pointed out, it took centuries for information about the smelting of ore to creep across a single continent and bring about the Iron Age. During the time of sailing ships, it took decades for that which became known, to become that which was shared. When man set foot on the moon, it was known and seen in every corner of the globe 1.4 seconds later. Yet that is hopelessly slow by today’s standards. Countless events anywhere can be heard and seen everywhere in micro seconds.
Even more important is the compression of scientific and technological float: the time between the discovery of new knowledge, the resultant technology, and its universal application. It took centuries one of the first bits of technology, the wheel, to gain universal acceptance. It took decades for the steam engine, electric light, and automobile. It took years for radio and television. Today, countless micro chip devices sweep around the earth like the light of the sun into universal use.
The same is true of culture. For the better part of recorded history, it took centuries for the customs of one culture to materially affect another. Today, that which becomes popular in one country can sweep through others within weeks. Nor is language an exception. Words from one language used to require generations to take root in another. Common words now emerge from the global culture simultaneously in all languages, while English is rapidly becoming a universal tongue, as anyone who has listened to pilots and controllers at any airport in the world is bound to note.
It is no different with space. Within a couple of long lifetimes we went from the speed of the horse to the speed of interstellar travel. Men and material now move in minutes where they used to move in months, while services based on information do so in a fraction of a second.
This endless compression of time between major change whether of life forms, money, information, technology, time, space, or anything else, can be combined and thought of as tremendous acceleration of change---the time between what was and what is to be---between past and future. Only a few generations ago, the present stretched relatively unaltered from a distant past into a dim future. Today, the past is ever less predictive, the future ever less predictable, and the present scarcely exists at all.
Everything is accelerating change, with one incredibly important exception. There has been no compression of institutional change. Although their size and power have vastly increased, although we constantly tinker with their form and change their labels, there has been no new, commonly accepted idea of societal organization since the concepts of corporation, nation-state and university emerged with the advent of the industrial revolution.
The simple fact is that we are attempting to manage the constantly changing, immensely more complex and diverse world of mind crafting with archaic, mechanistic, concepts of organization and management unique suited to an age which is dying, the industrial age of machine crafting. It is an exercise in futility.