Build a better playground

Where are we going? How do we understand human history? How do we understand our current trend, especially changes brought out by software and web?

There are a lot of economic theories. There are a lot of ideologies, religions based on whether human nature is selfish or altruistic. In China, in the recent decades, people realize the importance of self and the need to develop individuals. In the west, especially in the grassroots and non-profit communities, a lot of opinions are that the society should be built based on altruism. There are a lot of judgment on good and evil here.

What I am going to say can be summarized as: No good or evil. Just build a better playground.

When I look at human history, my understanding of the change of human society is towards building a better playground. In different historical time, different forces are at play, and in each period of time, one will become the dominate force.

In the post Major forces of human society and our time, I talked about how I see different forces in shaping human society. In my view, capital/money is only one of the forces, and economy alone doesn’t explain the way we organize ourselves in society, and it is less and less the dominant force as we progress along.

Two factors that motivate people to do things: doing things interesting and rewarding; making money.

If it is easier to survive pursuing your interest, if it is easier to pursue what you like, if it is easier to make money by actually doing best at what you like, it will change the rule of the game. The balancing will change. More and more people will choose to work for fun and fulfillment .

Also it is better to align forces and resources according to fun/play than to market. Free market align everything using money, arguing it is the best way to distribute resources. I would argue that maybe the best way is to align with playing, and the tech of our time already allows us to do so. At least, one tentative argument I think I can use is that if we align with fun/play, we don’t over produce a lot of things we don’t need.

In this view, historically speaking, capitalism might be a better playground compared with previous societies when it pushed the capital to the dominant position and play down the importance of the power of violence and privilege by birth. But as the capital became too powerful, it started suppressing the deeper values of human being such as playing, and started setting up barriers to block ordinary people from accessing the playground. In our time, the same (probably more important) as how the invention of printing technology transformed our civilization, the connectedness of people’s consciousness on the web and by software is going to break the barrier and build up a better playground. We can already see this in Silicon Valley. The current start-up culture is different from the 90s. At that time it is more the investors telling the entrepreneurs what they should do. Now it is more the investors listening to the entrepreneurs what they want to do. So we see the capital plays a lesser role now. We also see in the musical industry that the musicians powered by the web is more able to break the barrier set up by the record company and be able to PLAY the musics that they enjoy and do it the way they like. The same kind of things are also happening with citizen journalism, for example, ohmynews.

In the post Against-compulsory-schooling: from mass production to empowering individuals, I pointed out our age is the age of empowering individual professionals. In another post, I pointed out

“Coarse (, in his paper The Nature of the Firm , pointed out that the allocation of resource and labor in a firm are not free market based, but dictated by the boss (Note: mostly finance and business people). Coarse pointed out that the reason for the existence of the firm is to lower the cost of transaction in the market. Because of this dictatorship in the firm, individual professionals have to sacrifice their individual freedom and quite often their professionalism to the demand of finance/business people. Basically individual professionals are just employed by the finance/business people’s money machine (the business model).

In the post the python principle, I mentioned the python principle is the principle of playing, and how python built a good playground for software programming.

The key of the principle of playing is to build things that people can play with. Keeping this in mind, I can feel better how to build the playground.

For example, this article about google’s app engine, and this article about open ID, in my view, both are talking about reshuffling the fields towards a better playground. In the next few years, we should see a lot of reshuffling of the field (essentially this is the same as refactoring in software programming), and we should expect to see a better playground as the result.

With all the understanding above, now the issue is how do we build a better playground socially? More specifically, how do we apply python principle to society so we can have a better “programming” platform and it is easier for people to accomplish themselves? To me, software programming is not just programming with the computer. Instead, I view software programming a social thing, which means software, as well as various organizations play the same role of social components in a functioning society.

Like python, we need a flat learning curve. To achieve that, we need make things easily accessible, have layered complexity so people can play with it in each layer.

So when we are building something, we must be clear what we are building. Is it a tool, that can be used by all kinds of users? Or is it a platform, which serves a specific domain, but uses many existing tools?

(to be continued)


Below are some points regarding how to make it easy to play with (I will continuously make it more complete later):

Simple interface, people can get the brief info very quickly, and able to expand to more info quickly, people can browse, search, interact with it very easily, flat learning curve, layered complexity (people can always play on a higher level without knowing a great detail of lower level. People can also choose to play only on the lower level without too much concern with the upper level. So they can quickly figure out the lower level, and start to play on the upper level which is built on top of the lower level.).

Here is how we can apply it to community/organization (I will continuously make it more complete later):

Each member can equally contribute/participate, a flexible mechanism to browse and search for info, expressive representation of each member and his work, statistic and voting to reflect the real value of contribution.

Note: this essay needs to be continuously worked on. A lot of comments are very welcome.



Filed under Essay, Featured Essays, Grassroots

5 responses to “Build a better playground

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