May 14, 2006

Best Do it So!

extropy.pngHere are my thoughts on the closing of Extropy institute.

I don't think we should feel sad about ending an institution. As human lifespans extend and society becomes more changing we will outlast more and more of our institutions. Most companies have a lifespan of 5-10 years, and a huge number of people live in nations that did not exist when they were born. That we will outgrow our organisations seems natural and a good sign - the reverse would be worrying (although of course there are long now organisations that are good too).

This is especially true when an organisation packs itself together and does a graceful shutdown. Times have changed, and the approach need to be changed. No irrational implosions or dissolutions, just the realisation that the kind of organisation that did much good at the start of the 90's might not be useful in the 00's.

I became a transhumanist after reading Wired's "Meet the Extropians" article. Sure, I had these ideas long before, but this was the first time I found a reference to a group of likeminded people. Thanks to the net, it was the start of my participation in the transhumanist community. The article also spurred a group of my friends to start first the mailinglist Omega (still going strong) and the Swedish transhumanist association (also closed).

As I see it, the first generation of transhumanist organisations were based on the implicit idea that their ideas were rare in society and there was a need for an internal forum to gather the interested, discuss them and work at making them slightly less foreign to the mainstream. This made them typical informal volunteer organisations, perfect for small movements (especially early net adopters) but highly dependent on individuals and somewhat unable to move outside the own core group. As transhumanism as an idea spread and became more recognized (if not accepted then at least regarded as a position in the debate), this kind of organisation can't keep up. There is a need for a formal structure, methods of media contacts and ways to link to other organisations and issues of importance. Many of the leading individuals also got truly started with time consuming but important careers and projects, leaving the informal organisations rather leaderless. This is how the second generation of transhumanist organisations emerged, with much stronger formal structure and less dependent on the unpaid volunteer/ambitious person approach. It is hard to turn an informal organisation, especially a settled one, into a formal one. Too many people have found their own odd memetic niches and attempts to streamline things will mean conflicts and quite likely the destruction of the useful network that makes up the organisation.

This is also why ExI is not really dead. The network of people in and around it is intact and still in communication. From this network it is possible to bootstrap new organisations that make sense in the present and near future. In fact, the closing is a good signal to get people to start building; sometimes there is too much a reliance on that old institutions ought to do things rather than that new institutions could do them. Some of the new will fail for their own reasons, some will succeed. But in the end they are just tools for ideas and people with vision. Even the best tool become worn or obsolete one day, and then it is time to replace it.

Posted by Anders3 at May 14, 2006 12:18 AM