Given all of the political upheaval around the world at the moment, much of it fueled or supported through social media and communications technology, it’s no wonder that news outlets are looking for experts to explain what’s happening. There is a Feb. 18th interview on the Wall Street Journal site with social media expert Clay Shirky: http://online.wsj.com/video/facebook-and-twitter-are-changing-the-middle-east/E0BAA515-5056-4F4A-AC5E-C684BADE46CA.html . This seems to have resulted from an article which he wrote for Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67038/clay-shirky/the-political-power-of-social-media. These led me back to talks he had done for TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html and http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_on_institutions_versus_collaboration.html.
There have long been discussions about whether systems are “real.” Some take the position that the universe we know is comprised of systems which we discover through recognition. Others claim that systems are only a way of seeing things – a particular set of concepts by which we describe reality, but which are arbitrary and completely subject to the interpretation of each observer.
My journey to understand the basic principles of systems began informally in the early 1980s, and more formally in 1995. Progressively, I have been drawn back to earlier and earlier writers. Bertalanffy’s General System Theory was published in 1969, though he was working on his alternatives to a “materialistic” explanation for biology as early as the 1920s.
Aside from all of the personal reasons that people do or don’t like President Barack Obama, his choice (or willingness, or apparent need) to intervene in systems at the highest levels has caused great consternation. Conservatives seem to see this as inappropriate or unnecessary government intervention. Liberals have been more supportive, but mostly about the expansion of services to the under-served, which could have been done in other ways without such large-scale change. So why take on such large and complex issues? Why not simply work incrementally with existing programs, as suggested by some in Washington?
The idea that people hold “mental models” of the world may seem trivial or obvious, or both. Everyone has a way of seeing the world, affected by the cultures and the families in which we were raised, our own experiences, our personalities, and so on. Mostly, they account for our individual differences; why some of us are conservative and others liberal; some more optimistic and others pessimistic; some risk-taking and others more reserved and cautious.