Open source software. Ecosystem services, distributed “smart” electrical grids, and sustainable economics. Collective intelligence, the Science Commons, and Wikipedia. What do all these have in common? They seem to represent a new ethos of “letting go” of centralized control—in project management, industrial and economic infrastructure, and culture. As both a science fiction writer and foresight analyst, I am exploring this new ethos, and have found a common conceptual metaphor that lets me think about them all as a single phenomenon. This is the metaphor of rewilding.
The original definition of “wild” was “self-willed.” In the early twenty-first century, we seem to be leaving behind a world where agents (governments, companies, people) willed changes on passive citizens, employees, and nature itself. We’re entering an era where we let some things be self-willed—everything from software projects to product distribution to government (2.0) to the mechanisms of education and scientific collaboration.
To “rewild” means to reintroduce a species back into its native habitat. By learning where we need to exercise control from outside a system, and where we can re-integrate ourselves in systems through relationships of trust with each other, with society, and with nature, we seem to be engaging in a rewilding project of sorts. But this time, the species that’s being rewilded is us.
Karl Schroeder is the author of ten science fiction novels and numerous short stories, as well as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Science Fiction, which he wrote with Cory Doctorow. He divides his time between writing fiction and consulting in the area of Strategic Foresight (technology foresight, chiefly in scenario design).
Mr. Schroeder lives in Toronto with his wife and daughter.
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