Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Consultorium, Part II

Geosphere, Towers and World Game

The Consultorium, Part II

Enhancements for the Consultorium

Yesterday we described a room in the neighbourhood where residents decide where to place their living units, among other things, which I called the consultorium. Before, I had been calling it a "war room," inspired by the large operations rooms of Winston Churchill and his generals during the Second World War. In this huge space they did it all, laid out a grand strategy on several fronts, and even some tactics, for allied forces. Their display was as simple as you could ask for, they just pushed little models of ships and tanks around on a large table, with minions running around. 

This idea seems fraught with possibilities for our data rich time. I cannot understand why we sit behind our little computer monitors and do not try to do something big, collective and interactive like Churchill's war room. However, I did not like the war analogy, since the consultorium is designed to plan out the reverse of war and conflict.


In the second section of People without Borders I will go into detail about how the consultorium and its "cybernetic constitution" will reform democracy. Today I want to imagine some of the many technical additions that might aid users of the consultorium.

The Geosphere

Buckminster Fuller suggested several ideas that could supplement or even be incorporated into the structure of the consultorium. He came up with an electronic environment that he called the Geosphere. Essentially it would be a spherical television monitor for viewing an inventory of the world's resources. You could walk around and even inside this, "giant, 200-foot diameter sphere" that "will be a miniature earth -- the most accurate global representation of our planet ever to be realized." Its live data feed of the current state of the world allows users to interact with the data, like a spreadsheet performing "what if?" operations. This is similar to what climate scientists now are doing to see the effects of various emissions, soot, and other factors in climate change.

A geosphere would let all who visit see instantly the long term effects of any policy or course of action under consideration. In Fuller's words, it,

"would make it possible for humans to identify the true scale of themselves and their activities on this planet. Humans could thus comprehend much more readily that their personal survival problems (are) related intimately to all humanity's survival." (Fuller, R. Buckminster (1981). Critical Path. New York: St. Martin's Press. xxxiv-xxxv. ISBN 0312174888,

A geosphere of whatever size could display our entire world situation in a single glance, and prepare each and every one of us to defend our delicate planet in all our conversations and decisions.
I think that libraries should have at least two geospheres on their roof; one permanent, global geosphere to train the public in all that a world citizen needs to know, and another data sphere for other sorts of simulations and specialized interactive exhibits. This second, call it a datasphere, would be a place where the client walks in and sees a three dimensional Imax theatre in the round. Specialized dataspheres might travel around, moving from one library to the next. Similarly, museums might have their own kinds of dataspheres devoted to historical simulations.

In a hillside block project, the consultorium might have a resident geosphere hung right above the round table. It could be lowered from the ceiling, and retracted when not needed; or, alternatively, it might be blown up like a large balloon, and deflated into a small package when not in use. In the consultorium a geosphere could be made available before discussions begin, in order to put the present topic of deliberation into a planetary perspective. Even during meetings, participants might walk around the geosphere together, and climb into the sphere and ask questions together. When meetings are not going on, the geosphere could surround visitors with the complex data feeds of their community, and compare it with other, similar places around the planet. When a geosphere briefing is over the sphere could be either deflated into a small box or raised through the ceiling, leaving only the consultorium's round table.

Consultoria on High Towers

In a consultorium everything should be in accord with Comenius's vision of leaders bestriding the world, as if perched in a "high watchtower" well above the battlements of a castle. Perhaps this could be done literally. That is, place the consultorium high in the air so that the whole neighbourhood is visible in a single panorama outside large surrounding windows. Before consulting, members could survey their entire constituency from above.

Another idea is for the entire watchtower to have geospheres running down from top to bottom. The a block consultorium could brief members by moving from the top where it would see the buildings of its neighbourhood constituency directly, from above. Then it would moves down into a geosphere depicting the whole city, the region, the nation, the continent and finally the planet, each with data specially applied to whatever question they happen to be investigating. There would be no provincialism or NIMBYism in this neighbourhood!

The World Game

Another suggestion of Buckminster Fuller was a "world peace game," later shortened to World Game. This is a logistics simulation designed to involve young people in planning how to exploit, deploy and conserve world resources. The activity is perfectly designed to address the problem mentioned by Comenius, that everybody's business is nobody's business. It makes everybody's business somebody's business.

In the world game players are involved in a complex but engaging global simulation and, participants attest, the experience changes them forever. No longer do they see broad, complex interactions on our planet as a distant abstraction. It becomes their own property, a flower garden that we all must tend and grow to its maximum capacity. In Fuller's words,

"... World Game finds that the world's wealth and its medium of interchanges, i.e. the world's monetary accounting systems - have been divorced from one another... World Gaming requires progressive inventorying of condensed recalls of already introduced major concepts and their integration with one another, plus additional new concepts to produce newer and greater synergetic realization." (Critical Path)

What Fuller seems to be getting at here is very similar to Comenius's plan for world unification, that is, a sort of franchise system starting at the individual, going up from family, through to continents and ultimately the world government. Each level plays its own version of the world game, but it is always the same game since there is only one planet. Players of the game would capture all the "synergies" (a whole greater than its parts), but still be ready to work the local synergy of wherever they happen to be, in their own ROO "drawing board," in the family, household, neighbourhood, block, city, region, province, nation, continent or world consultorium.

I see the world game as a modernization of sports. As it is, sports are grossly obsolete and tend to do more harm than good. The elite sports we have today encourage obsessive practice with no effect on player's mortality or even the long-term quality of their lives or the communities in which they live. Today, sports are a confused medley of useless activities exploited for commercial profit, distracting millions of fans and viewers from what they should be doing, that is, participating and moving their own bodies.

In the beginning, sports trained the populace in skills that were needed at the time. In the Middle Ages, runners, archers and jousters learned skills needed for their country's defence. These activities were supported by the state in its own interest. Today we do not need millions of people trained to run, swim, kick balls or whatever the sport may be. We need new sports that encourage moderate activity balanced between physical and mental skills, activities that train the millions in lessons in synergy, lessons that Fuller's world game teaches. What we need are many similar sports to give many people the skills and confidence to stand up to the round table of a consultorium and make a meaningful contribution.


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