Sunday, May 28, 2006

Wheat and greet

The invention of agriculture over 10,000 years ago spawned major changes for human societies, including:
  1. food surpluses
  2. the rise of large states & large-scale wars between them
  3. public servants & politicians
  4. vastly increased populations
Farming also allowed/forced people to settle in one place for significantly longer periods of time than had ever before been possible for hunter-gatherers. What had been small bands of hunters & collectors with populations likely numbering fewer than 100 became villages and then cities of thousands.

Compared to the gathering lifestyle, farming society brought people into contact with far more 'strangers', ie. those with whom they were not directly related or socially connected. Instead of dealing with the same small personal group from birth to death, the first farmers would have been constantly confronted with 'business partners' with whom they had no previous relationship. When dealing with these strangers , alternative mechanisms were necessary to replace trust based on personal experience - most notably money replacing mutual obligation and reputation replacing personal experience. The old traditions didn't scale.

As the Web becomes more about connecting people to people than people to data, we face the same challenge - just like those first agrarians we deal more and more with people with which we've never met before, and are unlikely to meet in the future. Whether it's a financial transaction or a romantic one, we need help in determining whether to proceed if we can't rely on trust based on personal experience (online or otherwise).

Agriculture emerged in the Fertile Crescent. It's doubtful that Iran and Iraq will be the centers of development of the mechanisms emerging to meet these requirements for online strangers.

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