Using Stories to Map the Future

We can use “facts – sentiment = story” to understand the past, and also understand where we might be headed. If we can imagine more than one scenario, we can apply probabilities to them each occurring. Don’t get your calculator out just yet (unless you really want to), but consider it as a thought experiment.

We want to think about what Tim O’Reilly calls a map of the future (see his book, WTF?: What’s the Future and Why it’s Up to Us), and list the driving variables that are carrying us forward on each path. The point is not to be “right,” but to increase our awareness of the direction we are headed in.

By adding sentiment, we also force ourselves to ask more than just, “what could happen,” and add “how are people going to feel/respond/react to it?”

When we think about Facebook and the congressional testimony specifically, we have to weigh these changing attitudes. We have to remember that it’s bigger than Mark Zuckerberg and the people of Congress, we’ve got society / the entire user-base in the mix as well.

Tim Wu (see his book, The Attention Merchants) tells the story of Parisian posters literally taking over the city until they figured out that there had to be reasonable limits on the method of advertising. There is a long history of the pendulum swinging between one extreme and then reverting back. It seems like we are reaching one of those points now.

It’s a good thing to know that history is full of these miscalculations, but it’s a really important thing to understand that only by examining and updating our inputs can we make the progress we want. My own worry with Congress is that they may not quite grasp the issue itself yet. For better or worse, Europe seems to have their act a bit more together. Interested people should watch the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as it is rolled out May 25, 2018. This may be a case of a country that the company does not call home having greater urgency to get something on the books (and less leniency).

If nothing else, the Facebook story makes for a great working example to talk about at work, or at home, since just about everyone has some experience with the company. It’s also a bit easier to tease the variables apart and argue both sides than the less tangible historical examples (meaning “should we go to war,” is less tangible than “how should companies be allowed to use my data” for most people to think about).

We are literally surrounded by stories every day. We should do our best to deconstruct them and understand if we like or dislike the path towards the future they are guiding us on. If we don’t like the path, then we have to ask what we can and should do about it.

We all share that responsibility. We can’t always control the facts, but we can all help to shape sentiment.

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