Day after day, people previously unknown enter my living room via television news and online newspapers, spelling out what to think and what to be outraged about. For ever engaged with commenting on the most recent latest news, in rapid succession “the economy”, disasters, politics, wars and sometimes even a “soft news” item such as sports, most often football or a seemingly remarkable activity of some possibly even not unknown celebrity, are oozed in our general direction. More than a century after the invention of public relations, it appears the ideas and techniques of Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays have all but disappeared. While the internet is flooded with astroturf to try create the impression of grassroots to jumpstarts a viral marketing campaign, many a manager has spent some potential quality time on studying the works of a thousand and one management gurus, some Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” mixed with some Machiavellian posturing, and to top it off, a finishing of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
The Italian word “furbo” signifies mental sharpness as well as cunning, and just like the English “clever” does not equate to intelligence or the power of reason, but to the ability of being shrewd, sly as a fox. While Bernays laid out ingenious plans on manipulating public opinion for political and commercial reasons, Ivy Lee advocated honest communications together with positive action instead of putting “lipstick on a pig”. Although both approaches are actively participating in shaping the news, irrespective of any artificial intent, surely the way of trickery has a tendency to “go viral”. Two observations from the past spring to mind here; Mark Twain’s “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” and Nietzsche’s “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”. It may be obvious what the risk is involved with trying to blind the public eye, even when the latter is wearing blinders. But what happens if someone was not lying but their truth has become outdated? What happens if things done with the best of intentions turn out to have negative side effects, such DDT which saved millions of lives due to avoiding starvation, but at the same time lies at the cause of chronic toxicity leading to diabetes, cancer and even affect semen quality. Likewise wheat and refined sugar provided food and nutrition for the world but also cause chronic infections, which lead to obesity, cancer, arthritis, depression. Modern sweeteners even cause age-related diabetes with people in their twenties, while recent research also suggests Alzheimer’s disease is caused by chronic inflammation in a way that has the researchers label it as “brain diabetes”. Surely poisoning humanity was not a top-listed objective when anti-cholesterol-ism became an influential meme within our culture industry. Even more painful to confront is the 1985 Live Aid initiative where people stood up to gather funds to do something about Ethiopian famine, and with a global audience of some 1.9 billion people nearly $ 300 million was collected. As it turns out much of the money was used to wage six more years of war, killing about as many people as were saved by the aid, while most of the food was left rotting in the harbor. What exactly happened is still unsure and controversial, but at least it did cause foreign aid to be taken a lot more serious than before. One has to admire Geldof for his courage to keep going and create meaning where there was none. He might as well have written a song title “I Don’t Like The Rest Of The Week Either” and withdraw into obscurity.
Many such ambiguities lay at the roots of many an oligarchy, likely amplified by the use of game theory in strategic human resource development. Contrary to what is now known, game theory assumes people’s actions are entirely motived by rational self-interest. While even the hero from “Beautiful Mind”, John Nash, has further nuanced his early work in such a sense that he is essentially stating that game theory only works if one sticks to the rules of the game, it does not seem that these and other findings which support innate altruism have found their way into the economical sciences and organizational psychology yet. In other words, decades of management training have been acting on the wrong assumptions of what makes humans human, promoting an unhealthy sense that one’s best interests are at odds with nearly everyone else’s, which has led to both learned helplessness and learned egotism with the very people who were supposed to enable and support others in doing their best. Luckily life isn’t all that black and white, but when only 10% of people need to belief some meme for it to regarded as common sense, it should be clear that we have not fostered our cultural hegemony to live up to its potential. While organizational hierarchies already have a tendency towards a “rule by the few” due to delegation and thus specialization in the information, control and work flows, on top of that we get shared secrecy as a sort of corporate or private “reputation management”.
One such uneasy inconvenience concerns modern financial trade. Most trades have become automated and are done by computers which can perform tens of thousands of trades per second. Eventhough these so-called derivatives do not involve buying real, physical goods and thus have no direct impact on a good’s price, the indirect effects on the perceived value of goods are still unclear. Derivatives are “mark to model” instead of “mark to market” where valuation is determined by financial models rather than by being based on the current market price. Arguably “the market” is a model as well with idealizations of its own, yet derivatives make it possible to assign monetary value to e.g. the weather, war and peace, interest rates or currency exchange rates and it allows anticipatory adjustments to changes in supply and demand so to more effectively deal with systemic delays. For example a cold winter involves increased demand for heating oil and wood, which ideally need to be prepared, distributed and purchased on beforehand, especially when situations are so extreme normal means transportation become impossible. By using derivatives it becomes possible to finance such initiatives upfront, in a similar way as an insurance company compensates for the risk of a loss. When derivatives were standardized and introduced in 1973 at the Chicago Board of Trade they were a real improvement. Nowadays, nearly forty years later the world seems caught up in a web spun by derivatives, a self-sustaining race condition which nobody intended or even understands all that well.
In 1976 the New York Stock Exchange introduced the fully automated Designated Order Turnaround system to electronically route smaller orders, and in 1978 the Intermarket Trading System was adopted to provide an electronic link between the NYSE and competing exchanges, enabling brokers to access all markets. Those were real improvements at the time, providing much better accuracy and security. But we are now three and a half decades further, and technology has dramatically improved over that time. Not only do we have the several ‘laws’ that continue to accurately predict the major technological trends a study published in December 2010 of the “President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology” demonstrated a speed gain from algorithmic improvement of a factor 43.000, benchmarked over a fifteen year period for production planning tasks. This indicates a doubling in efficiency every year due to ingenuity. So we get the following ‘laws’:
1. Moore’s: Doubling of affordable processing power every two years.
2. Nielsen’s: Doubling of high-end network connection speed every 21 months.
3. Kryder’s: Doubling of affordable magnetic storage density every year.
4. Grosh’s: Computer performance increases as the square of the costs.
5. Ingenuity: Algorithmic improvement doubles efficiency every year.
In 35 years this means programs are some 30 billion times more efficient, with an increase in processing power nearly 200.000 times, on a network which is a million times faster while possibly dealing with several billion times more data, and all this for less costs than the investments done in the 1970’s. Considering the influence algorithmic improvement alone already, a computerized process that took a year back in 1976 can be done in a thousandth of a second in 2011, and on top of that we get all the improvements of computer hardware which also reduce a day’s work to a sub-second bleep. Even when using an electronic trading platform, on a per-second basis more trade is being done now than on a whole day in the year 2000. However fast it may be speed continues to be imperative as the result often translates in a win-lose situation where a stock may not be available anymore if one is just a fraction too slow.
During the last ten years the yearly derivative trade surpassed the value of all the world’s goods and services trade, as well as the entire world’s wealth, and with an annual yield averaging 30% per year for the last decade, derivative trade appears to be more lucrative than most other forms of business. Surely it is more profitable than the much advocated angel funding for start-up businesses where the large majority of institutional investors actually perform worse than pure chance, and this has worsened during the last decade. And with the ongoing crisis where risk-averse policies at retail banking cause every prudent midlevel bureaucrat to inflate their sense of importance by enforcing surreal requirements that no real person or small company can adhere to, one has to wonder where do these investors get the acumen and common sense that make them so profitable on the trading places? If large funds are so bad at judging the evolutionary potential of a start-up, how come they do continue to perform well with stock exchange? Evidently some very smart people have specialized in quantitative analysis, but “business intelligence” and “decision support systems” emerged in the early 1960’s already and matured during the 1980’s so what can it be that makes specifically modern trading so profitable? One has to wonder what one is actually trading in such a short amount of time, or more specific, what is it that initiates a trade event? Clearly in most cases the goods themselves are not being traded anymore, but mere information that is in some way related to it. Yet, it cannot only be the motions on the trading platform itself, as this will quickly lead to a series of collective deadlocks with one trader waiting for the other and vice versa. Also, it cannot be limited to the publication of corporate financial results and governmental key statistics, or any analytics coming from rating agencies, as for anyone willing to pay for a number of subscription fees this sort of information is freely available, and any differences in interpretation would quickly even out in a collective steady state, which, as a predictable pattern in the trading platform’s motions, can be detected and compensated for. It seems to be both, and a little more, investors appear to initiate trading based on the latest information and try to utilize the resulting dynamics before things die down again. Investors appear to be trading the news.
Eventhough in Europe and the USA the middle class has been shrinking while the lower classes have experienced wage repression since the early 1980’s, with the rise of the BRIC countries the global middle class has been growing significantly resulting in an increase in global consumption and global capital as every developing country hurries onward to a Western standard of living with comparable levels of prosperity. But even when focusing on a few bright spots such as China’s rise to being the world’s leading economy, along with wealth concentration, that only accounts for half of the 30% annual yield of derivative trade. How come the derivatives market has grown to some 30 times the size of the world economy, or more than 10 times the world’s wealth? How can there be more money than there is money? Undeniably, certain qualities are unquantifiable but it is doubtful that derivative trade is a manifested token of appreciation. Something doesn’t add up, and it appears to be the news.
In the idealized world of ‘the market’ information, money, goods and services flow freely and instantaneous, all consumers always know everything about everything, even the likely outcome of all future events, and will always make the best rational decision concerning buying something. On a global level supply and demand will always self-organize to reach an equilibrium state through an emergent spontaneous order. In normal systems however, the information flow often acts in support of the control flow so that processes acting on the resources happen when they should, the information flow about the system resource flows act as a regulation mechanism. But in a system as “the news” it is difficult to disentangle the meta-relation of information about information, just like the value of money is effectively expressed in terms of money, making it its own self-referencing nested complement. In other words, money is used to describe the value of just about everything, but the value of money itself can only be meaningfully expressed in terms of the ‘everything’ it values. Likewise, with “the news” a level of irreducible complexity is reached, with a fundamental ambiguity of multi-interpretable events. Not only do automated trading systems primarily use physics-based simplifications to construct an idealized picture of the world, so to be able to react as quickly as possible to any changes to the news, but it does so with events of irreducible complexity, events which are in the process of happening, events of which the consequences may only become clear decades from now. Eventhough an individual investor may compensate for the price changes due to their own actions, can they compensate for the indirect changes in the resulting actions of other investors if they don’t know the intricacies of their trading systems? On top of that, investor’s actions are reflected in the changes on the trading price on the exchange platforms which are reported in the news, both in a general manner or sometimes highlighting individual cases. Here, with two seemingly uncontrollable indirect feedback loops, we get to the core of how, in an indirect manner, a seemingly objective means of passive investment has started shaping the course of events and sometimes even dictating it. However ingenious these trading systems themselves are designed, consider for instance how awe-inspiring clever DNA is constructed and then consider that humans share half their DNA with bananas, then how smart are they really? We may be ruled by ants. If you ever wondered why ‘the market’ seems to act like Wile E. Coyote on steroids, this may be why.
Derivative trade allows an investor to be more profitable by dealing with the impression of some good becoming scarce or abundance than the actual event happening. As most traders keep an eye on each other whatever one investor does is mirrored by the others, and they start acting in a collective manner, a swarm ball, and beyond a 10% adoption rate any speculation quickly becomes “common sense”. Even if dealing with impressions and trying to compensate for indirect observer effects (as with front page news getting more attention making it front page news) these memes or factoids are propagated through the news and simply become the new norm. That is, if 90% of investors speculate a rise in the oil price, this turn drives up the price, because people expect it to. Whatever assumptions underlie the trader’s actions on the marketplace they appear to resonate through in the real economy via biased information provisioning. Whereas most economic ties and supply chains are primarily local and proximity-based, still the news is full of “the market”, and just like with one-to-one or few-to-few trades “the market” is primarily used as the default choice of objective criteria for principled negotiations, making it a general reference point, again with unintended indirect value resonance. It is no wonder most public companies have cultivated a quarterly accountancy panic with employees looking at short term results at the expense of their own long term success. And now the same has been happening with governmental policies, considering the sad truthfulness of envisioning a two hour presidential speech with expert-level tongue twisting tiptoeing around to avoid bumping into any imperfectly formulated statement to which the stock market can go stampede, enter in a collective phase-lock and cause a rapid succession of flash crashes even before the Q&A session can be used to clarify anything. Politicians are forced to live up to the imposed cartoonification of their public image. Even if neutral information provision had not been an exceptional luxury, most facts are meaningless unless interpreted and while modern-day news appears to be dominated by opinionators trying to provide us with readymade understanding, essentially economic sciences are an ongoing exploit trying to grow towards higher degrees of exactitude. The models are simply too simplistic, and unfortunately the map is the territory. Unless we reach a stage where trading platforms are smart enough to have no need for excessive simplification anymore, when they can quote Goethe as saying “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be”, which can be expected sometime between 2020 and 2025, what remains for now is a very hazy picture. So hazy that one has to wonder if we are not trying to create a “free market” by assuming things work like that, but in reality it is a gross and possibly harmful simplification. A simplification we cannot escape from, as it is a collectively self-perpetuating race which developed by accident and no individual participant can exit it without suffering irreparable damage.
Recent research showed that most investors are betting against “the Euro”, which may be personal preference or simply the models they are using. A rather not so convenient detail is that many economic theories only work in times of scarcity. In times of abundance people, and thus the economy, start behaving in unpredictable ways, displaying unselfish and humane behavior with irrational elements such as hope, trust and vision. Yet when an economy goes through a Schumpeterian “creative destruction” cycle because certain parts of the economy collapse, the resulting short-term behavior is pretty much predictable, so as an investor that deals with thousands of fleeting micro-investments the chances you’ll make a profit are much higher when you bet on a predictable course. Apparently some eight, nine out of ten investments are “negative” in the above mentioned sense, and as the stock market is reflected in the news, and most of what read, see or listen to nowadays has been molded towards a sort of accountancy, ideologies or other value systems have nearly completely moved away for a report on the motions of money. As “the news” has taken on the role of the “parliament” already a century ago, not only the politicians themselves have become two-dimensional but as people unconsciously anthropomorphize everything, they have come to embody and represent the whole of a country’s role in international politics. And so we see the Southern countries being bashed by a Germany demanding for “austerity”, while in reality Germany is not the leader in the EU, the EU is non-hierarchical so that it can form a confederate or a syndicate when needed. Germany, although in a typical Northern-European fashion they are quick to point out the weakness in the process, is only pleading for “austerity” in a rather impersonal cooperative way. Germany has been applying many “austerity” measures for the last ten years, and regarding the Southern countries as an equal they expect them to do the same. There is no place for nuance when dealing with the newest of the news, and although “austerity” may help to some extent, it is simply a predictable “negative” approach as dictated by the market, by a long chain of short-lived short-sighted twitches which have caught us all in an unintended rule of “economic fascism”.
“May you live in interesting times”… Were we to believe the mind numbing grind that passes for common sense, we would surely miss out on the magic of every day. Sure, a lucky surprise is easy to recognize as a miracle, but it takes a keen eye to see the wondrous in the mundane. Perhaps it are the enduring influences of Etruscan society where time moved in multiple directions, primarily from past to future, and sometimes from the future towards the past, but Italy’s past holds the keys to many futures. Although it seems to be the imposed norm since the introduction of commercial television, little of the defeatist fatalism of a predestination oriented society seems to stick to Italians although like everywhere pessimism is used as a general excuse for inaction. Nevertheless, with customary expertise in the gentle art of not saying ‘no’, contrary to the Northern tribes it is considered rude to violate someone’s worldview by pointing out the seemingly obvious. Anecdotal evidence has us believe the bumblebee is incapable of flying, as for a long time it wasn’t clear how the aerodynamics of its little wings could support a body of its size, weight and form. Unaware of being the subject of such controversy the bumblebee simply continues to fly, eat nectar and gather pollen for the young. Not held back by presumptions on what can and cannot be done, if a situation becomes impossible, many Italians will do the impossible.
One of the gems hidden in Italy’s recent history is laying the foundation for the invention of the personal computer. With a healthy obsession for design, former typewriter manufacturer Olivetti was able to harvest ten years of knowhow with scientific and commercial mainframe computer systems during a period of organizational and financial troubles and launched “Programma 101” in 1964. It was the very first desktop model, a programmable calculator. Some twenty years later Olivetti set the European standard for “IBM compatible” personal computers with the M24, followed by the 1995 “Envision” multimedia PC which was simply too far ahead of its time combining a computer with advanced audio, video, fax and telephony features. With unfavorable market conditions this meant the end, but nevertheless Olivetti had taken computing devices out of the basement and given them a place on the desktop.
Late 1968 the “Mother of All Demos” revealed the “oN-Line System” built at Stanford Research Institute, which featured many of the functionalities we are now starting to consider as normal, such as a mouse, network computing, graphical user interface and videoconferencing. These efforts later turned into the Xerox Alto as revealed in 1973 at Xerox PARC, which in turn inspired the IBM PC and the Apple Lisa. Like many of the endeavors in Silicon Valley up to the late early Eighties, the NLS was built with military funding, but with the shift towards ‘free market’ dynamics and commercial funding, increased pressure for profitability via an increasingly restrictive license model resulted in the ‘free software movement’, which tried to keep this important evolution free of obstructions. It is important to understand the role of software in the success of personal computing, before software if one wanted to use a text editor, a card game or a flight simulator, it was essentially a replaceable piece of hardware circuitry, a read-only memory cartridge, which contained the ‘program’. Temporary information was contained in the computer register, and could be written to an external storage device, such as a magnetic cassette. The introduction of random-access memory changed all this, instead of loading a program from hardware circuitry software could be used to make the memory region look like the same way like the cartridge.
Surprisingly, despite the ingenuity and style resulting in global trendsetting designs in all corners of the ItalPetrolCemeTermoTessilFarmoMetalChimica industrial complex, despite the often total commitment to the highest quality, and despite a large many people of the highest integrity, Italian business ethics appears to be a work in progress, every now and then resulting in a borderline obsessive compulsive display of sly mischief, as if to collectively compensate for all the good things Italy has to offer. It may be that because it is so noticeably needless compared to the excellence in other realms of human endeavor that it appears so embarrassingly grotesque although that of course adds to the magic and mystery, similar to the Buddhist pantheon where the most benevolent gods have the scariest and intimidating outward appearance, so to at least ensure some level of serious attention. Maybe such an imperfection is advantageous, like copper wire conducts electricity much better if some impure atoms are present. Maybe this is what happens with good people after centuries of being governed by powers that violate their need for self-determinacy, or as the sociological studies say “amoral familialism” due to a strong family identity and weak national identity.
Highlighting just the last ninety years, Italy’s political landscape has been dominated by a megalomaniac theatrical fabulist who in all probability kept up his paranoid corporatist juggling act by daily consumption of “Forced March” cocaine effervescent tablets, and when Il Duce finally fell from grace instead of handing over the governmental reigns to the communist Italian partisans who were the ones who had fought for it, at the onset of the cold war it was considered vital to avoid the rise of Italian socialism, and although less popular, the winner in every election for the next fifty years would be the Christian Democrats. Eventhough Italians themselves were no great fans of the fascist movement, Mussolini had been greatly admired by people like the political and financial elite of the time, gathering praises from icons like Freud, Edison, Lenin, Trotsky, Churchill, Roosevelt and even Ronald Reagan. At the time it was common to believe that “manufacturing consent” was useful and necessary because “the common interests”, the general concerns of all people, “elude” the public. The public was thought to be not follow reason but faith. And this naive faith required necessary illusion, and emotionally potent oversimplifications, to keep the ordinary person on course. Such indoctrination was thought to be at the essence of democracy as otherwise the common people would not submit to civil rule and constitute to a civilized society. Obviously Fascism hadn’t failed, the Italians had failed Fascism, and the Anglo-American interventions in Italian politics therefore had little issue with keeping intact much of the fascist power structure by sponsoring a clandestine “stay-behind” army, while also reinstating the Sicilian mafia for their help with the Allied invasion of Italy and granting them a monopoly on cocaine trade, some forty years before widespread usage became problematic. Besides, better have some responsible loyalists in place to guarantee payback of the many millions of dollars that Mussolini had borrowed from JP Morgan & Co. Wars don’t come cheap these days. As the establishment of the Italian republic had been the result of maintaining the organizational structure set up as a satellite nation state of Napoleon’s French Empire anyway, most Italians don’t have a highly developed sense of nationalist pride, of course not to be confused with the deeply rooted love of home. Italians’ attentiveness to others has resulted in so many double standards that Italian ethics has become holographic, yet that is not necessarily hypocritical, it only became so when government policies assume people are cheating, sought to compensate for that, and as a result started forcing victims to turn into perpetrators. In particular tax avoidance has grown into a national sport, but with the amount of taxes to be paid in Italy that has become the only way for a company or citizen to survive.
Whatever it may be, Italians are far too forgiving of each other’s flaws, and that is not really efficient as far as filtering out the wrongs go. It may be an acquired taste, but once one sees that Italians are unified by their diversity, things start making sense. As pioneering scientist Marvin Minsky realized; “What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle”. It is as if Italian business conduct is a way of letting off steam, Italians are not just creative in an exploratory way, but when they do create something new they do it very well. With their quality focus, ingenuity and personal integrity, it is as if there is no place for too many impurities there, and it concentrates itself there. Without the politics Italy is a pretty close approximation of heaven on earth. Mostly the “furbi” is just ignorance anyway, as with Gramsci’s cultural hegemony, where the worldview of the ruling elite becomes accepted as the cultural norm, the dominant ideology which justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone. The dominant ideology is the ideology of the dominant class, and one only needs a 10% adoption rate to get there, for entrepreneurial Italy that means that only 0.3% of the population needs accept some factoid to make it “common sense”. The thing is that Italy doesn’t have a ruling class. Italy is the name of a country, a geographical region, but not a nation, and although it public administration employs nearly 10% of the population about two-third involves local governments, education, healthcare, police and military. It is actually the one-third remainder, with the state’s civil servants, where the power struggles occur which is clearly visible in the geographical bias as the Center and South provide the majority of employees, and as much as 90% of the “dirigenti”, the first and second level ministerial senior executives. A little less than 4000 people are “dirigenti” and intermingle directly with the central government, with the Italian parliament which has some 945 members spread over senate and deputies. This is less than 0.1% of the population. This is not a ruling class. This is a small bureaucratic collectivist pact of self-appointed opportunists pretending they are ruling with a few well-worded slogans, while in fact the Italian people are ruling themselves with thousands of different solutions. It is no wonder that “fare i furbi” doesn’t work, as no one in the parliament seem to be working either. No wonder the current power struggle seems to center on a professional clown and an amateur joker. Then again maybe ethics work backwards, like Etruscan time does, and it is the precursor of increased openness and a natural tendency to fight blind obedience to authorities that do not particularly deserve solidarity.
Philip Zimbardo’s renewed research on “time perspective” has some deep insights to offer concerning orientation and direction, which are very much in line with what we have come to know within sciences. Strong winters, for example, have a noticeable effect on people’s future focus because of the need to gather and store foodstuffs during the late summer period so to actually survive the long period of cold. Winter, of course, is a predictable phenomenon with a regular occurrence depending on the rotation of our planet around our nearest star, and in the course of time people have devised ways of keeping track of changes, by grouping star into star signs, so they can determine whether we’re just beginning or nearing the end of a season. As Zimbardo shows, in areas with warm winters, there is no real need to provision for the future, but if you’re locked in by snow and ice for half your life you’d better come up with a good solution. During the late middle ages, the 13th century, possibly an obvious solution to deal with growing winter duration at the end of the medieval warm period, hay was invented, cutting grass during the autumn, drying it and storing enough to keep horses, cows and sheep alive through the winter. Hay allowed cities to develop from former trade settlements along the intricate network of Roman roads north of the Alps and with the growing population it shifted civilization from the Mediterranean upwards. The Greek titan Kronos, the patron of harvest, was usually depicted with a sickly or a scythe, with which he allegedly beat his father Uranus, the night sky, to some extent symbolizing a conquering of the seasons. Kairos and Chronos signify two sorts of time, time as in duration, ranging from a moment or an era, and time as in cycles such as the Earth’s day-night rhythm. Only with the Buddhist “wheel of time”, Kalachakra (Kala signifies time while Chakra signifies cycles), do we encounter such notions which of form an integral part of the intricate cosmological tapestry where spatial and temporal worlds interweave. Yet, if the Mediterranean cultures came up with such elaborate concepts more than two thousand years before the Northern tribes, maybe Zimbardo has been overseeing some measures in the local “time perspective”, maybe all this is lacking is a sense of immediacy. As far as long-term visions go, the global humanitarian think tank “The Club of Rome” wasn’t named that way because it was founded in Reykjavik or Helsinki.
We are living in challenging times with events which the world has never experienced yet. Our own creations have come to fulfill an ancient vision, stated far back in history by Aristotle who foresaw instruments so advanced that they “moved of their own accord” and “the shuttle would then weave, and the lyre play of itself; nor would the architect want servants, or the master slaves.” Italy, while even the locals think it has been lagging behind on the more modern Northern Europe, has actually maintained a very large number of small and medium-sized enterprises, more than twice the average in the European Union, of which few depend on assembly line work. By taking it slow, Italy has retained skills that other countries have lost and has kept the chain of experience unbroken for many crafts, in science, medicine, engineering, architecture, arts and design. In rural Italy, within a radius of a half hour’s drive one can still find woodworkers with incredible skill and experience. It is not like Italy has grown backward by being left behind, but it has managed to mix modernity and antiquity in a way that has them ideally positioned for the nearby future. When automation will be automated and general purpose manufacturing means like 3D-printing and modular robotics mix with ICT, when carefully aimed stylish design will be vastly more important than mass production, Italy can harvest its diversity and all will make sense.
If we were to believe the mind numbing grind that passes for common sense, we wouldn’t have the braggadocious bold disregard of normal restraints that made Italians invent the telephone, radio, battery, internal combustion engine, helicopter, nuclear energy, plastic and mp3. If we were to believe the verbal tsunami the news machinery spatters out every day, we wouldn’t comprehend the limits of our understanding and we would never dare to dream, let alone realize one. We would never read The Harford Courant 1933 report on “A mechanical horse, designed to substitute for the farm animal or even light tractor, has been invented by an engineer here, Signor D. G. Alzetta. “I see no reason why legs should not be as fundamentally a motive force as wheels,” Signor Alzetta said. ”Practically everything that nature permits to move, except the enormous forces of the sea and glaciers, gets there on legs. Wheels were the invention or afterthought of men.””