Blog for September 2022 Seminar : Conversational Leadership Café : Is this our Gutenberg moment !

This seminar was presented by David Gurteen who has been running Knowledge Cafés for 20 years. He has a growing interest in the power of conversation. He has written a blook on conversational leadership. He has researched, reflected upon and written about ‘conversations’. Conversation is a potentially powerful response to the problems that we face in the world.
Two questions : What are the roots of our problems ? What role does the individual and conversation play in responding to our problems ?

Now, when did Knowledge Management start ? Did it start in the 1990’s ?
No. it did not. It started 60,000 years ago with a ‘cognitive revolution’ which incorporated a great leap forward and a cultural big bang. Before the cognitive revolution humans evolved slowly. After the cognitive revolution anatomical evolution ceased and and we started to evolve culturally and linguistically. In the cognitive revolution we started to learn from each other through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission. As a result we could pass knowledge on from generation to generation. Thus we see the birth of Knowledge Management (KM). Summing it up :-
60,000 years Before the Christian Era (BCE) – Cognitive Revolution.
10,000 years BCE – Neolithic Revolution.
9,500 years BCE – First Cities.
4,000 years BCE – First Empire
3,500 years BCE – Invention of Writing
700 years BCE – First Library
470 years BCE – Socrates
476 years AD – Dark Ages
1,300 years AD – Renaissance
The Gutenberg printing press was invented in Germany in 1440.

History of Knowledge
1440 Printing Press
1500’s Protestant Revolution
1543 Copernican Revolution
1600 Scientific Revolution
1618 Thirty Years War
1650 Enlightenment
1760 First Industrial Revolution
1870 Second Industrial Revolution
1945 Information Revolution
2011 Industry 4.0

Going to the Information Revolution :-

1945 Early computers
1969 Internet
1981 IBM pc
1989 World Wide Web
2000 Social Media
2007 Smartphones
2011 Zoom

Looking at the impact of the web and social media as a paradigm – 1,2,3.

1) Read / write access to the world’s knowledge (the web/social media).
2) Ability to converse with anyone, anywhere in the world (social media/zoom).
3) Soon different languages will no longer be a barrier (language translation in real time).

So we have four Mega knowledge revolutions. Language led to the Cognitive Revolution. The invention of writing led to the First IT revolution. The Printing Press led to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
Is social media (Zoom) leading to yet another Knowledge Revolution ?

A better world

Problems – Capacity to respond
Hyperlinked Complex VUCA world – High degree of literacy / education
Disruptive technology – High degree of awareness / willingness
Global warming / pollution – Cognitive Surplus
Existential crisis – Conversation revolution

Is this our Gutenberg moment ?

The printing press led to the Protestant revolution which undermined the authority of the Catholic church which in turn led to the 30 years war.
But it also led to the Scientific Revolution and the enlightenment.

Social media is leading to a polarization of society and the undermining of the
authority of experts and many of our governmental institutions.
But maybe it is leading to a second Scientific revolution and enlightenment ?

Will social media have as great an impact on the world as the printing press ?

Gutenberg revolutionized the world. Is this our Gutenberg moment ?

Where each and everyone of us can share our knowledge and can converse and collaborate globally ?

We then split into two groups and had ‘conversation’ within our group .
Then the two groups assembled all together and we discussed our ideas in a conversational manner rather than the standard ‘feedback’ mode of behaviour.
These are the salient points made during that conversation which involved every participant. N.B. The points here summarise in a sentence or two what the individual participant said.

• Is it really a revolution if it affects only a part of the population ?
• Many people are excluded from this revolution by powerful people who exploit technology for their own ends.
• What are we not allowed to say on social media ? What are we being dislocated from ? How about ‘mindfulness’. Any technology that encourages you to go out into the world is good.
• It is a complex picture – Utopia or Dystopia.
• More like dystopia when a few financiers can speculate at the expense of everyone else.
• Religion aims at morality and better standards of behaviour. Can social media help us to become moral beings. Is ‘computing’ replacing monolithic religions.
• Small minorities can get a ‘very loud voice’ on social media.
• It is often about gender.
• Marshall McLuhan predicted the world wide web almost thirty years before it was invented. ‘The global village’. ‘The medium is the message’.
• Huge social changes are not done by majorities. Well organized minorities are the most influential.
• Most people in the world don’t live in democracies. What do people who live in non-democratic countries make of their world and what do they make of our world ?
• A sort of tribalism seems to have come back and it is evident in social media.
• ‘Hate speech’ comes from a few people piling into an issue. It is not a real discussion. If your comment gets more ‘likes’ than the original comment then you have won your argument. You have ‘ratioed’ the other person.
• It is difficult to have a conversation in ‘real time’. Real conversation is ‘nuanced’ – digital conversation is not.
• The whole issue of inclusion and accessibility being tackled by ‘a technology’ is difficult.
• There has been a rise in the use of voice messaging which has led to a rise in the use of texting to answer it. Some people are uncomfortable with talking so they rely on ‘CHAT’. This is where moderators are needed.
• Will Zoom be the driving force for this revolution ?
• Most teenagers in the USA cannot read cursive text, so they cannot read letters.
• What sort of future is there going to be for ‘the book’ ? Barrack Obama’s Presidential Library is going to be digital.
• Actually, digital books have ‘plateaued’ at 15% of the market. Books are still being published.
• One participant used a kindle for a few months and then went back to books.
• It is about ‘choice’. Some people cannot access books. Digital books can be used by poorly sighted people. Books will not go away.
• One participant preferred reading digital books on train journeys or when travelling away from home. She has joined Saffron Walden Library. She has read ‘Game of Thrones’ in book form and preferred it to the TV series.
• There is still the issue of book fines with library books. Two participants feel the pressure of reading a book quickly enough to avoid a fine on returning it to the library.
• One participant commended cafes which offer little magazines, poetry to their customers. Perhaps little art exhibitions. People are being reached in these environments.
• One participant has so many books (some of which he has not yet read) that he does not go to the library.
• ‘More of the same’ was one conclusion. We are experiencing ‘information overload’ once again. It is better to read a good novel than to consume ‘threads of information’.
• We all have different forms of ‘information consumption’. One participant subscribes to blogs and other things in magazines. He employs a ‘speed reader’ to flag what he is interested in.
• One participant uses podcasts. The best podcasts are ‘conversations’. This is a different experience from slagging people off on Twitter.
• ‘Little Discourse Project’ was mentioned. One participant attempted to define the spectrum of conversations online. This covered audio and visual. For example :- interviews, debates, podcasts. Polite / aggressive debates etc.
• Is this amazing technological revolution going to improve our world ? There is a desire within us to be taken away from ‘words’. We communicate on so many levels. We communicate via Art, Music. Also, by activities such as digging the garden, riding the bike, going to the Park.
• Everyone sees the home / office duality of working as a good thing. But are we getting out of the house enough ? Are we socialising enough ? Is this a bad thing for our mental health ?
• Yes, this is a ‘Gutenberg Moment’. However, although it may well be a good revolution in the long term so far as the short term is concerned there will be more ‘social turbulence’ and a regression to a form of tribalism or clique mentalities.
• What about the environment against which this revolution is taking place. How much real social interaction takes place in Britain’s towns and cities ? In places like Antwerp and the Netherlands they have a ‘mixed culture’ expressed partly in the built environment which works well. It fosters social interaction. We do not have that sort of built environment here.
• ‘Advertising’ was seen as part of the problem. Advertising helps perpetuate myths such as ‘the earth is not burning’; ‘biodiversity has not collapsed’.
• One participant pointed out that the Chinese government has managed to control the web and social media in China. Many outsiders thought that this was an impossible goal. So totalitarianism can operate within social media.
• We are talking about a tool – social media – it can either be a good tool or a bad tool.
• One participant talked about the very different story he heard from a Chinese guide about the Tienanmen Square protests.
• One participant talked about his parents information on the world way back in the 1950’s. No TV, no internet, no car. BBC Home Service (now Radio 4) and the ‘Daily Mirror’. Any book came from the library. TV came later. Advertising back then was ‘propaganda’. How much ‘power and control’ advertising executives had in those days. However, the internet has undermined this as everything these days is much more fragmented.
• So it is ‘Gutenberg moments’ not a ‘Gutenberg moment’. It consists of spontaneity, different revolutions, different scales and times.
• Scientifically, ‘moment’ has a meaning in physics. It means – mass (strength) x velocity and you apply it across the piece. How important is it ? and how is it changing ? An interesting analogy.

Finally, David Gurteen concluded that it had been an enjoyable session.

He also said that the group had understood how complex it is, how fragmented and difficult it all is and … where are we heading ?

Looking back on the session we were all ‘bubbling over with ideas’.

Resources :-

Grooming, gossip and the evolution of language. Robin Dunbar. Harvard University Press. 2020.
The Printing Press as an agent of change. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. Cambridge University Press. 1980.
Religion and the rise of Capitalism. R.H.Tawney. 1926 re-published by Verso World History Series. 2015.
The Real England. Paul Kingsworth. Granta Books. 2009.


RR 12/10/2022