Do YOU know your Thunder Lizards from your Charismatic Megafauna?

How was your day? Did you learn some new stuff at the pinnacle of your attack-strategy? Is your vocabulary-ship burning off the shoulder of Orion?

Mine is.

Call me weird but in my world – my post-architecture-post-partum-post-reality world – Thunder Lizards and Charismatic Megafauna are not only valuable and highly relevant concepts, they also overlap.

So in my venn diagram of Information Technology vs Sustainability, Thunder Lizards are on the left (IT) and Charismatic Megafauna on the right (Sustainability) with a big fat leg in the central overlap. Which is to say they share some DNA.

OK, you need a couple of definitions?

THUNDER LIZARD
“Godzilla was hatched from radioactive atomic eggs and swam across the ocean and started to destroy cities. I always thought that was a good metaphor for the disruptive startup.” (Mike Maples) http://gigaom.com/2011/03/25/mike-maples-says-twitter-is-a-thunder-lizard/

CHARISMATIC MEGAFAUNA
Polar bears, wolves, tigers, gorillas etc: the poster-boys and girls of environmentalism. As in “the less biologically-challenged tend to equate biodiversity loss with the tragic demise of the polar bear and other charismatic megafauna…” (Dr Kate Rawles, The Ecologist) http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/other_comments/924035/nature_isnt_a_commodity_that_should_be_bought_sold_and_traded.html

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I am exploring the intersection between the impact of computers and sustainable futures. Acceleration and intelligent thinking are key words that help define the overlap.

Now, what I find interesting is that in both cases, people’s attention is drawn to the ‘big beasts’, lumbering through our cities, wrecking everything with a swish of a muscular tail. Whilst the real issues are happening at the microbial level, the viral level, the parasitic… our survival depends on moulds and fungi and plankton and slime. It’s not sexy and can’t be caught in a net, but that’s where fast evolution happens. Likewise, we live and dream in fear of wild bears and dragons, but it’s diarrhoea, gum disease, or cancer that get us in the end. Twitter itself was just another microbe jostling in a petri-dish with a thousand others (remember Jaiku?) it got lucky and won the evolutionary battle. Facebook won, Friendster and a thousand unknowns lost. Perhaps that’s why experienced VCs such as Guy Kawasaki say a scattergun approach to funding startups is the only sensible option when gambling in the primal soup of Palo Alto – spread your luck, sow your wild oats widely.

My suspicion is that our obsession with Thunder Lizards and Charismatic Megafauna is a form of anthropocentrism. Just as the Ecologist article calls for a Copernican revolution in thinking (a human-centred approach to biodiversity being akin to believing that the Sun moves round the Earth just because that’s where WE are) so too investors and commentators are desperate to make sense of social media, to pin the next social butterfly, and so with human vanity we predict its evolution by focusing on the most visible beasts in today’s menagerie. The real game-changers are just as likely to be boring, almost invisible, ugly and formless. But who can blame us for chasing unicorns?

My father sometimes warns me against pushing an analogy too far. Mind you, he should know, he named me after a computer program.

Have a nice evening. Dream of plankton, the forgotten heroes of the deep.

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