Butterfly effect in collective consciousness

Uday Dandavate
3 min readSep 22, 2023

My curiosity for psychology of design brought me to graduate school where I started reading literature about product semantics and then ecology of perception, behavioral science, cognitive science, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive linguistics and conceptual metaphors in communications and sense making. Since my undergraduate education was in industrial design, my core curiosity during those years was for how people construct and make sense of their material world.

As I entered the workforce as a design researcher with a philosophical mental framework of participatory design, I began to pay attention to both individual and collective imagination and creativity. My ultimate objective was to find an insight and turn that into a narrative that would resonate with and inspire behaviors and choices made by a community.

Traveling around the world to study people, cultures and change began to change my curiosity from design of the human experience of the material world (which includes brands and service design) to envisioning of a convivial society (inspired by Ivan Illich). This means my designerly skills were searching for societal problems to solve rather than just limiting my skills to serving my clients’ need to create compelling experiences for their customers.

The past four years changed my mental model of my place in the world. I started calling myself an ethnographer of social imagination and catalyst of co-creation. The pandemic led to my temporarily shutting down my business, so I could just wander, observe and listen to everyday people and search for a deeper understanding of how society evolves and how individuals and communities participate in that evolution. I paid attention to inequities and violence in the world and how different people have created their own projects to create a more equitable and harmonious society. Being a firm believer in democracy and social justice I began to look for a way to turn prevalent narratives of nationalism, majoritism, and parochialism, into more compassionate and accommodative alternatives.

Three experiences brought about a breakthrough in my understanding. I started writing and sharing poetry in community gatherings. I started my oral history documentation project “The legacy of India’s imagination”, I also started moderating community dialogues around what being human means in the era of Artificial intelligence. All of these interactions brought me to a realization that a small group of inspired individuals dedicated to transforming the society to a more equitable and compassionate one, can trigger a cumulative and cascading effect that is more impactful than the narratives politicians, and businesses plant in social imagination to serve their narrow interests.

Every community interaction I have had -be it just a dialogue or a poetry reading session- gives me the confidence that the theory of butterfly effect ( Edward Norton Lorenz) works. The ripple effect they create is inspiring. A community of butterflies fluttering in their own corners of the world can indeed set off an avalanche of change. It affects collective consciousness and spreads the word that we don’t have to accept inequities and violence. Alternatives have been tried. They work.

I am learning that a curious, compassionate and conscientious ethnographer of imagination and catalyst of co-creation can trigger transformation of the society by bringing into social consciousness the ideas and actions that are working in remote corners of the world.

--

--

Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.