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At work today I was tasked with writing a job description for a position we’re looking to fill. Writing this job description lead me to think about my job, and my job description, and then to my education…and how the heck I got here. Not in like a big ol’ revelatory way, just in a following-the-breadcrumbs kind of way.

Those thoughts led me back in time to the days when I was wicked interested in water catchment. Frankly, I still am wicked interested in water catchment, but that is a post for another time. While studying water catchment I stumbled into permaculture. Before I knew it, I was enrolled in a summer-long permaculture design and forestry course.

In a sort of tangential way, I think permaculture design is the design framework that most meaningfully impacts my thinking at work. At its surface permaculture is concerned with biotic systems — it explores ways of using or replicating natural systems as tools…do not quote me on that. That is an atrocious definition of permaculture. That is not the point, though — at first glance permaculture is about plants, water, soil, sun, animals, and people.

Taken as a system, though, permaculture is a toolkit for seeing interactions, connectivity, and feedback loops. A core principle observed in nature and embraced by permaculture is the concept of a feedback loop. Feedback loops are hella relevant to webby techy work.

Feedback loops are all over the place. Filter bubbles (besides being a semi-problematic term) are a type of feedback loop. This very webpage relies on a number of feedback loops to render content (if else blocks, ftw!), but I digress.

Feedback loops are all over the place, they are, however, lacking context for the most part. Permaculture is groovy because it stresses the interconnectivity of everything. EVERYTHING . Not in a hooky way, but in a rooted dirty dirt way. Everything is connected in that it is happening on Earth. In this place. Nothing is isolated from the feedback loop.

This is a big deal for many reasons, but in this context it is a big deal because it is a dramatically different view of feedback loops than is normal in the webby techy world.

Fragmentation and isolation

I think those are major themes of the current era across the spectrum, but especially within the microcosm of tech. Not just socially, but structurally.

Think of Facebook. Facebook is in the business of segregating people into groups. Demographics. Buzzfeed’s listicles do the same thing: You were a 90’s teen if you remember these 7 cartoon characters!” …that content isn’t just supposed to be hilarious, it uses nostalgia to feed tribalism.

…I’m starting to sound like a frenetic Douglas Rushkoff

Back on track: permaculture design is different because it doesn’t value commodity and segregation. Through the framework of permaculture design, it is hard to see segregation as anything but a means to kill something. Permaculture uses segregation as a way to eliminate pests because in isolation, cut off from reality and the rest of the Earth, stuff tends to wither. That is my biggest fear when I’m working on a project. Until today I didn’t realize where this fear came from, but I think it makes sense for me to trace it back to permaculture.

I feel cozy in this realization and look forward to taking it up in a more conscious way from here on out.