Dave Snowden

Spontaneous Order

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The work of Fredrick Hayek has been of interest to me since I worked on my PhD. In a round about way the notion of spontaneous order as discussed by Hayek was my first brush with complexity theory. Thinking about Hector’s World (see post from August 3rd) and the emergence of Digital Citizenship has prompted me to think again about spontaneous order.

Hayek argued that the price system was the result of human action not of human design. He also acknowledged that spontaneous order emerged as the result of some rule following behaviour. People follow rules, both formal and informal with informal rules coming about as the result of habits and customs often strongly influenced by peer pressure. The cyber bullying resource “You’re not alone” in Hector’s World is an interesting example of how informal rules emerge. Ming is a young girl clam and is being bullied by cell phone and email by two other girls. She feels picked on, that everyone is laughing at her and quite alone. At one point during the episode she turns and asks for help from the child(ren) watching. When I watched with my then three year old daughter, Issy suggested that Ming go and talk with her Mum. As the episode unfolded Ming thanked Issy for her advice and went and asked her Mum for advice. Issy felt quite special – here she was offering advice that was listened to and acted on. As a mum, it was wonderful to see her advice acknowledged and the start, hopefully, of a habit that when something goes wrong, both her and Ming should go and talk with Mum. Spontaneous order but maybe not as Hayek understood it!

PS there’s also a great music video that goes with the episode and this blog entry explains Hector’s World a lot better than I have.