This is a contribution to an unconventional book project called “The Future We Deserve” – the brainchild of Vinay Gupta, funded via Kickstarter.

There are some dates that can only be pinpointed with hindsight. Peak oil was one. Earth Date Zero was another. Twenty years afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight, it stands proud – that point in time when a critical mass of people shifted their thinking to the new paradigm, when our relationship with information finally matured, our relationship with the material world altered, and the old ways began to seem foreign and somewhat inexplicable.

The shift in consciousness changed our relationships with each other, altered the assumptions we have about how we live our lives and, arguably, affected the very nature of what it is to be human. We believe it changed the future of the human race, for without that paradigm shift we had little chance of moving towards a sustainable future. After all – that’s why, world wide, people now count their dates from Earth Date Zero.

Previously people talked about an “information revolution”. They added websites and emailing to their existing organisational structures, some blogged and tweeted, but very few radically altered their way of doing things. Yet the evidence of deep change was all around.

Mobile phones for instance: the digital technology that rapidly encircled the globe. Young people went about things in a different way to their parents. They had been dubbed digital natives. They were comfortable with digital devices from the time they were toddlers. Their life style was new in ways that were partly trivial, but partly deeply significant. For instance, in their social lives: they were accustomed to set out with only a general objective (such as meeting up with a few friends and having a good time). They’d sort out the details by texting and talking as they went along. They didn’t need to arrange to “Meet under the clock at the station by 7:30 or we’ll go on without you,” as their parents or grandparents had done. They could update information and change plans as they went along. Old systems of organisation and planning were becoming redundant.

So now it’s Earth Date Twenty, and time to take stock. We confluence; we flow together; we swarm; we flock; we are individual but connected; we group together while interests and objectives overlap; we separate out again, go different ways, and regroup. In a way it is more chaotic, but it is also much more effective – and sustainable. Technology has moved on and we have things that people a couple of decades ago could hardly have imagined, and yet somehow, exactly twenty years ago, that critical mass of people did get the vision and make the shift.

What did they know? They had the basics of what they called Information and Communication Technology. They were getting better at leaving messages for people through voice-mails and video messaging. They talked about “the death of distance” and were aware of time-zones when they planned phone calls and online meetings. They had started to learn about simple time-shifting through their experiences of increasing viewer control over TV and video watching. Elementary group wisdom was beginning, and practical collaboration in the cloud. They were fighting battles against copyright and intellectual property legislation. They had started to recognise that things could spread virally instead of needing to “scale up”. Increasingly digital information was archived automatically as things went along, and was made publicly available. Digital footprints were everywhere. It was getting easier and easier to be included in things that were going on, instead of simply accepting (or refusing) what came from the top down.

Apparently, before Earth Date Zero, life was more private and isolated and individual. People were more competitive and secretive about what they were doing. There was a lack of collaboration and information sharing, which is hard to imagine today. It is said that even buyers and sellers usually didn’t communicate openly until it was too late to change anything – the product was made according to what the producer had guessed that potential buyers might be persuaded to purchase. It must have been a clumsy, crazy, wasteful system –but I guess things were different then, and people didn’t know any better.

Imagine a world where people couldn’t relate to information first and then sort out the material stuff later. How could such people possibly have lived their lives? No wonder they made such bad decisions and nearly wrecked the planet. I’m amazed they ever managed to organise anything in such an information-impoverished environment. I wonder if they had any idea what a barbaric system they were living in.