“An Army of Davids : How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths” (Glenn Reynolds)
I couldn’t put the book down. I started reading it as we left the Richmond airport. Laurie couldn’t sleep because I constantly nudged her and said, “Listen to this.” I skipped our lunch in Chicago so I could keep reading. By the time we arrived in Denver, I had finished it. It’s one of those books that you say, “Darn, I wish there were more.” It’s also one of those books that seems to explain everything–why people gather at coffee houses, why bloggers are keeping presidents and journalists honest, why the passengers of United 93 took back their plane, why I can’t imagine retiring, why it’s so hard to stop terrorism, why I just might make it to space before I die, etc. etc.
Reynolds’ point is fairly simple. Technology is empowering ordinary people in all sorts of ways. It’s creating an army of Davids, who are competing with the Goliaths in almost every field. In the future, Reynolds argues, the efforts of individuals and small groups, acting sometimes on their own and sometimes in informal cooperation with others, are likely to make a bigger difference than they’ve made in centuries. In other words, individuals are getting more and more powerful. With the current rate of technological progress, individuals will one day “possess powers once thought available only to nation-states, superheroes, or gods.”
Now, my point is not to wonder whether technology is a “glorious good” or a new “hideous strength” (a C.S. Lewis reference to the Tower of Babel). Reynolds seems to lean toward the former. Lewis might have feared the latter.
But in thinking of movement building, I found several of Reynolds’ observations “spot on.”
1. A Pack, Not a Herd
Societies that encourage open communication, quick thinking, decentralization and broad dispersal of skills–along with a sense of individual responsibility–have enormous structural advantage as opposed to societies that don’t. Authoritative societies view citizens as a herd, not a a pack. They see ordinary people as sheep, with themselves in the role of the shepherd.
Now, in my own words, “Movement building societies make everyone a real or potential shepherd. They turn the herd into a pack.”
2. Horizontal Knowledge
Eric Hoffer once said that “nothing is so unsettling to a social order as the presence of a mass of scribes without suitable employment and an acknowledged status.” Reynolds argues that the decentralization of information–reflected in the internet and expressed in part by the blogging phenomenon–has turned “the media into the we-dia.”
Such a decentralization allows a kind of horizontal knowledge to develop. Vertical knowledge is knowledge communicated from “one to the many.” Horizontal knowledge is “communication among individuals, who may or may not know each other, but are loosely coordinated by their involvement with something, or someone, of mutual interests. And it’s extremely powerful, because it makes people much smarter.”
It seems to me, that movements also depend upon the energy and the message of the cause of Christ embraced by a “mass of scribes” who make everyone smarter. Movements expand as influencers increase, as horizontal communication devleops. As we seek to empower multiplying leaders (2 Timothy 2:2), we create masses of influencers. It’s chaotic, it’s organic. But nothing may halt the progress of movement building more than vertical control and procedural bureaucracy.
3. Small is the New Big
As Reynolds argues, it is The Davids of this world that are suddenly making a huge economic and social impact. New technologies enable the small guys to matter more and more. They give the individual the power to change our world.
To build movements everywhere, we should perhaps embrace the trend toward what futurists call Singularity. Singularity is the point at which technological change has become so great that it’s hard for people to predict what would come next. There are certainly ethical questions to ask in a world where technology might make us all think we are “supermen”–the Tower of Babel problem. But there might also be questions to ask in which technology might help us expand the kingdom, restore justice, make beauty, heal sickness, eliminate poverty, reverse the lies of the Evil one.