Here's how Jean Russell talks about mestability in her book Thrivability:
"Metastability, a shift from one state to another relatively stable one, applies to whole systems.The system exists in one state (able to endure some limited amount of disturbance and still return to a fairly steady system state) and then shifts to another state under certain conditions, where it can again be fairly stable.
It is very likely that you have experienced something like this metastable state-shifting repeatedly. Take the example of buying your first smart phone. One day you didn’t have one and you perhaps didn’t particularly want one. And now you spend a significant portion of your time using it. That shift at the individual level was probably not very hard. But as enough people jumped in and got smart phones, the whole system evolved to another metastable state.
The shift from one metastable system state to another can appear to be operating like a power law if you zoom in ‘too far’, but from a broader view, the S-curves become clear, showing that the system has limits.
In Six Rules for Effective Forecasting, Paul Saffo explains:
'Change rarely unfolds in a straight line. The most important developments typically follow the S-curve shape of a power law: Change starts slowly and incrementally, putters along quietly, and then suddenly explodes, eventually tapering off and even dropping back down.'
Jim Fournier’s work at Planetwork offers one story that uses this model to describe the environmental and technological changes we are currently experiencing. What if we have collectively zoomed in ‘too far’ and are seeing the shape of a power law (with out world heading our of control toward catastrophe) when we are in fact in an S curve now, and nature will become enabled at a new metastable state? Metanature."
Jean Russell - Thrivability
Paul Saffo ~ Six Rules for Effective Forecasting
Planetwork ~ Metanature