One of the things I admire about older cities - say, European cities v. American cities (with some notable exceptions) - is that they're walkable. Modern cities like Atlanta aren't built around communities, they're built with efficiency in mind so there are vast suburban enclaves with no sidewalk and nothing within walking distance. Anywhere you want to go is a half hour away by car, or more.
These older cities evolved naturally based on needs- stores popped up where they needed to, farms were located close enough to the city to bring in produce and what the modern world would see as a lack of efficiency built a robust, balanced, durable institution. Modern cities have no such constraints.
Dunbar's Number says that humans work best in groups of up to 150 people - beyond that we lose the ability to interact with them meaningfully.
As we move further into the digital age, trusted networks will become more & more important - social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are based largely on trusting those around you. The information you get through, say, Facebook - which is increasingly a platform for passing along nuggets - is from your peers, from your circle of trust. Sites like Digg.com put a human, community-based editorial face on the news of the day. Treehugger has taken the Digg concept and applied it to "Green" ideas with Hugg.com. Treehugger itself is like any blog is run by humans and grows or wanes in popularity by the efforts of those people. We seek out interesting information.
The future of knowledge on the internet is in our ability to form collectives around niche topics, filter and pass on information. Raw news arrives on the internet and is filtered through sites like Digg and then through social networking sites like Facebook or DESIGN 21. So we get this multi-tiered filtering system all based on humans and trust.
Richard Dawkins would call these bits of information Memes - like Genes, but for ideas. The same way a bit of genetic code is passed down from one generation to the next based on its ability to survive, Memes pass from one person to another like a virus. Only being passed along at points of contact and where mutual interest keeps the Meme alive.
The Evolution of Information Networks is here - it's all around us. It is us. We can't help but shape the world to our way of thinking. We talk about what's interesting and relevant, whether it's online or in person. We're social animals and no matter the form, we build social systems. Systems that aren't social or don't offer value as social platforms are replaced by systems that are more social. The very act of creating a website - a permutation of another website - is a form of evolution. Facebook is a variation on MySpace is a variation on Friendster and so on - permutation and survival of the fittest, the very definition of evolution. We will build systems that are closer and closer to what works for us, just like cities.
Design can change the world. DESIGN 21 was founded on that belief. Everything that exists in the world of people is a reflection of what goes on inside our minds. We must be able to conceive of something before we can create it.
The question isn't whether or not we can design an information network capable of giving us relevant information - I'm 100% certain we can and largely have. The question is whether or not we're conscious enough to change thousands of years of self-centered design and begin designing things, systems, policies, platforms, actions, etc. that are sustainable, perpetual, and in harmony with the world around us.
If the right knowledge is reaching the right people - and surely it is - and if they're alert enough to pay attention to it, then we stand a chance of, perhaps for the first time in human history, making a conscious choice to change the world through design. To focus everyone in the same direction and from policy to furniture to communications tools, make the right design choices for ourselves and the planet.