New models of global cooperation are needed: what we learnt from David Mattin at What’s NEXT?

How do we turn a moment of crisis into a moment of opportunity? Our new weekly show explored new models of global co-operation as we rebuild our economies.

If there’s one question on everyone’s lips as we start to ease out of lockdown, it’s “what’s next?”. NEXT Conference has decided to address that question head-on with a weekly series of shows, broadcast over the internet, where big thinkers help everyone navigate the challenges ahead. The first show focused in on human nature, cooperation and digital togetherness.

What’s NEXT? is hosted by conference curator Monique van Dusseldorp, NEXT Chief Editor Ina Feistritzer and regular keynoter David Mattin – who was the first episode’s speaker.

Here’s what we learnt:

Being together, virtually

Just as NEXT is using What’s NEXT? to bring our community together, many other people are finding ways of gathering in virtual spaces beyond the endless rounds of Zoom, Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. Here are some examples of new ways of being together in digital worlds that Monique shared with us.

As Monique pointed out, is amazing that our digital infrastructure is holding given the huge volume of traffic we’re now generating as face-to-face meetings become digital ones. But it is holding – and still being built out. Elon Musk is building out a low orbit satellite network to bring internet connections to other places – but is having a few teething problems.

David also had thoughts on Animal Crossing, and how it has become a way for people to explore and maintain gardens even when they can’t go outside. This use of virtual spaces could become more meaningful to people as restrictions continue – it’s a trend to watch.

The Big Idea: David Mattin

David’s big idea is about the nature of this moment in time and the crisis we face. The pandemic has thrown everything into the air – and nobody knows how it’ll look when it all comes back down. There are endless questions that spin out of that:

But fundamentally, the questions are is it a resetor a pause? Will we halt and catch fire, or will we return to business as usual? No-one knows… yet.

A lot, David argued, comes down to what do you think about human nature. It is, surprisingly, a controversial subject. The existentialists after WWII thought there was no such thing as human nature – we all create ourselves, starting as blank slates. It became a hugely influential idea for the rest of the 20th century. But there is now a consensus that they were wrong – there is human nature, and it is a legacy of our evolutionary past that is rooted in cooperation.

New world, same humans

David has always worked on the idea that we live in changing times – but people don’t really change. It’s the central conceit behind the name of his newsletter, for example. For example, human beings are status-driven creatures – who want to avoid shame and rejection by the collective. This basic need doesn’t change, but how it expresses itself does. When these needs collide with changing worlds, things get interesting.

For example, the search for sustainable consumerism has been a status play. You see it in iconic eco-consumption products like the earlier — and very expensive — Tesla cars. But trends are moving into the mainstream, and the most recent Tesla is now a mainstream car.

If it’s not rare and exciting any more, it shifts from being a status symbol to do it, to a shameful act to not do it. This was playing out before the pandemic: KLM was building its marketing around it, and challenging its customers to fly less.

Global cooperation has to be our next step

One other human impulse should be guiding us right now: cooperation. We are capable of worldwide cooperation – that’s unique. Businesses are one example of that, and we’ve focused on them to such a degree that we have neglected other methods of cooperation.

We’ve started talking about the future as if it will be imposed on us – but we do have a choice. The choice between action and inaction will determine what happens, and we need to make it cooperatively.

We have a mechanism for this: government. We can’t solve these problems though individual actions, but only through collective action – and we will probably need government for that.

Monique offered a less rosy counter to David’s ideas; she acknowledged the need for optimism but…

Public transport is a problem with a virus. We’ve had a decade of almost full employment – but we’re losing that. Millions are losing their jobs. Home-schooling is great, if you have educated parents with the time and desire to do it. But not for everyone else. These problems will get in the way of cooperation.

David acknowledged that there are some difficult issues, to be sure. And that we need to go through them, not around them.

Plans for planet Next One

Each week we’re going to be asking our main speaker to imagine that they are part of a thousand carefully selected people that are moving beyond the solar system, to help found an experimental new, futurist society on the planet that we have named Next One.

Here are David’s answers:

What luxury physical object would you take?

David wants to take a pen. You can’t really think without a pen in your hand. We Gutenberg people – who were taught to read and write at an early age – can’t think at a keyboard or with a phone like we do with pens.

What person would you take?

David plumped for the British philosopher John Gray, who would help keep us grounded and remind us that we are still human beings.

Thing to ban:

David would ban private schooling. Drawing from Plato, he would aim to have everyone educated together to foster community spirit.

Principle to live by:

We should pay attention to traditions. Traditions are there for a reason – it was always been valuable to have them. We can change and innovate – but we should pay attention to tradition.

What question would he ask the NEXT speaker?

Should you regulate social media on NEXT One?

Questions from the attendees

What’s the future for German Automotive industry?

It could be good, if people end up too terrified to take the train. It could be a massive boon for them – but to make the most of it they should go full steam ahead to clean cars. And, as Monique pointed out, any company with global supply chains are going to be rethinking that.

Why have we lost faith in collective action?

The post-war cooperation started to fall apart in the 1970s, because it wasn’t needed any more – and wasn’t working, argued David. The new settlement worked on the assumption that you needed to get government out of the way, and let business handle it. That did unleash great creativity and innovation – but we need to rediscover collective action now.

There’s going to be an attraction to that, suggested Monique. Government jobs are more secure than corporate jobs right now – and likely to remain so.

We probably need a re-organisation of government that devolves power to local people, and allows them to be involved in a meaningful way at a local level. We’ve had a phone in our pocket for a decade – but it’s taken a global pandemic for David’s street to start a WhatsApp group.

What have you enjoyed about lockdown?

  • Monique has been enjoying saying “hello” to everyone as she walks – even at 2 meters distance.
  • David has been enjoying long solitary, walks during the pandemic. And he would like a “no talking in the house” rule between 9am and 6pm for people under 10!

How will people seek status in Virtual Worlds?

David thinks people will seek and display status in virtual worlds as they do in the physical world, and we'll see many of the same status behaviours we see now but in a virtual context.

So for example people will want to go to rare, special places in virtual worlds and then send 'postcards' back from those places to say 'look at this amazing, rare place I've been’. Or people will buy virtual status symbols: you see that already with the way people buy expensive in-game objects and show off about them.


Join us for the next What’s NEXT? next Thursday.