The very first post on Continuations explained that I think of myself as a technology optimist. Thanks to Steven Johnson’s new book Future Perfect I can now proudly add a second label to that: peer progressive. In Future Perfect, Steven describes a position that overcomes the traditional liberal - conservative divide by embracing the power of networks. As Steven points out, not all of these networks are Internet based, but the Internet has greatly facilitated the creation of networks. That has been central to our investment thesis at Union Square Ventures (and we make a couple of appearances in the book — directly and through portfolio companies).
This is a particularly important book as we are entering yet another election in which the positions seem to be defined as big government versus markets. Steven does a terrific job showing that this is a false dichotomy. Government can be a great facilitator of networks and peer networks are closer to the ideal of markets that Hayek described than many of the current commercial markets (which are often dominated by a few very large companies). It is worth remembering that the government was in fact critical to the creation of the Internet in the first place through the work of Darpa and the formation of Arpanet, the Internet’s predecessor.
Here is a short video of Steven describing the book:
Future Perfect should be mandatory reading for all politicians. Anyone operating a startup on the Internet though will also greatly benefit from understanding the peer progressive agenda. As an added bonus, the opening chapter provides a wonderful rebuttal of Peter Thiel’s claim that we haven’t seen much progress.