Progress Trap – Digital Coup

Change is a constant in our lives: if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it is that things around us will change. But what about us; how much do we change? And how much of our change is conscious? Do we want to change, and what causes us to change?

If I asked you to change you would likely meet my request with resistance—you would want to know why. If I provided a reason, you might subsequently offer a counter argument, justifying your current state of being, and defending it against an external imposition. After all, who am I, to ask you to change? What authority do I possess that allows me to make such claims? And in addition to the problem surrounding the origins of the request for change, is not change difficult? Furthermore, can the outcomes be guaranteed?

This series of imaginative questioning is one way of thinking about what is often called a “progress trap.” Why is it a “trap”?: because the status quo—a state of being, a set of ideas or practices, etc.—carries a great deal of weight. The way things are today has a certain amount of momentum that carries it forward into tomorrow. The gravity of convention, so to speak, anchors it in our assumptions, assessments, and thereby in our minds. While we may pay lip service to the idea of progress—for who doesn’t long for improvement?—we are nevertheless faced with great obstacles, risks, and challenges in actually pursuing progress. And we are reluctant to follow others who hold out the promise of progress when it risks disrupting the apple cart of our lives; that is, when we are called to change.

Yet, is it not our duty to change, to seek betterment, to strive for what is greater—or for the good at large? Surely, all human beings desire what is good by nature, as philosophers like Aristotle have long acknowledged. Do we not therefore have a responsibility to pursue it? Consider that the word “responsibility” carries the implication of a response, and the sense of obligation: we are answerable for our selves and our fellows, by virtue of the fact that we not only know we are, but we are conscious of the fact that we can be otherwise. In a word: we are the beings that not only can change, but are aware that we can change—both internally and externally—and consequently, we have a responsibility to initiate change for the better. This is the obligation of being; of human being.

Nevertheless, we find much resistance to change. There are many pressures generating the momentum of the status quo; many factors and people adding their weight to the gravity of convention. Reasoned argument is not always successful in persuading individuals to change, or even to live up to their responsibilities and obligations. And without widespread societal change, progress remains trapped; it is but pockets of change, rather than progress for all. In our interconnected world today, we hear about global threats, or social calamities that will impact all of us. Contrarily, many theorize that there will be a “tipping point” or a point of “singularity,” whereby humanity will undergo universal change. But thus far, the present moment outweighs future considerations, and these theories are imaginative longings.

So, what is to be done? How can one initiate change and convince others of the new direction? A tool is required. But not just any ordinary tool, rather a tool wrapped in an idea: an ideational tool. We need to tool up our ideas. By designing an idea so powerful that it will capture the imagination of individuals and the collective, we are granted access to the openness of change: reaching the imagination is key to unlocking the problem of “why change?” Getting out of the progress trap requires that one not act alone, but that we work together. And we are brought together by our ideas and our imaginations. With a tool that incorporates both—one sufficiently basic so that all can access and use it, but one sufficiently powerful so as to effectuate the change desired—the roadblock of convention can be dismantled. The combination of simplicity and ubiquity, mixed with the prospect of genuine results, the perceived difficulty of great change will fall away.

In sum, the change we are talking about is nothing short of a cultural shift and an overhaul of the current democratic structure. Overcoming the progress trap that limits this change hinges on the design of a tool—a tool that embodies an idea and inspires the imagination. Once demonstrated to be just such a tool to many, and the tool’s power is revealed in its capabilities for large groups to see, the desire for the good will join hands with a sense of responsibility to realize change for the better; life will otherwise be incomplete without the new tool. Once the tool becomes integrated into everyday practice and thought, daily usage and language, people will come to expect it and need it. Thus, the digital coup will be complete.