More on Skinner: Walden 2.0

I recently read Walden Two, Skinner's novel about an independent, experimental social value-centred community.

The possibility and appeal of real-life communities comprised solely of volunteer members united by shared interests or values fascinates me. There have also been numerous real-life attempts at such communities.

In this attempt at a real-life Walden Two, gender experiments and environmental friendliness were strong motivators behind the creation and continuation of the community. The recent and fashionable notion of sustainability was very present.

Although this community was not fully medieval and totally independent of the outside world (the hammocks it produced were made using modern electrical appliances and sold to outsiders through conventional retailers nearby), most of its edibles were sourced on the land and non-essential energy consumption was minimal.

Interest in community-based voluntary separation seems to have resurfaced since the self-evident success and popularity of digital communities/online social networks.

I wonder why nobody has theoretically combined Skinner's behaviourism with Walden Two concepts and hatched Walden 2.0 - because:

  • sustainability is, some would argue, a vision more commendable today than in the 1970s;
  • behaviourism is alive in digital games and e-learning; and
  • atomistic, self-selecting, self-exclusivizing communities are the digital environment of choice for hundreds of millions of people.

I suppose that should be my next project - Walden 2.0, the non-virtual community where learning and all forms of social management are achieved through behaviourism, and membership is the result of online community interaction.

Behaviourism might be unpopular these days, but that doesn’t mean its principles are redundant. Indeed, if we are the programmable animal that behaviourists suggest, then behaviourism will be effective as a learning tool until the nature of humans fundamentally changes. In light of the interactive affordances of digital technology, there is a case for taking behaviourism more seriously than ever. Today, its effectiveness is likely greater than Skinner could have foreseen, courtesy of improvements in computing, connectivity, and intelligent automation that can provide learners with adaptive responses and increasingly learner-specific flexibilities. With feedback loops being so prevalent in digital systems and familiar to users, behaviourism should be undergoing a renaissance.