The noughties are a new decade, century and millennium – the changes happening with technology and their impact on identity, culture and society really are this momentous.
One way to see these changes is with a straight historical contrast and you can see my rough work on twitter here.
The 20th century can be seen as the peek of traditional ways of doing things that really do stretch back to the dawn of humanity – familiar things extrapolated to the extreme with mechanisation and automation and with extreme consequences to the environment we have now come to understand. I covered much of this in 20th Century Industrial Processes: Culture, Identity and Information
I characterise the past era as one of “concrete” thinking” – thinking and activity that is rooted in and characterised by a predominance of physical objects and events. Thinking that books are literature, newspapers are journalism and CDs are music. Thinking that schools and colleges are education. Thinking that the office is the workplace.
“Concrete” thinking goes deeper though – I also describe the past era as the era of “pyramids” – the design and construction of hierarchical, elitist and stable structures – the standard organisational model often manifest and symbolised by top floor executive offices.
I characterise the 20th century as an era of super large scale manufactured production and personal consumption – the extreme end of the application of tools from the stone axe to the modern production line.
I characterise the 20th century as an era of mediation, privacy, secrecy and obfuscation – a consequence of the elitist pyramid model to maintain stability and equilibrium and a Marxian interpretation of culture.
Technology developments are for the first time I think providing the opportunity to transcend traditional “concrete” ways of thinking and acting – my main focus is on Information technology but radical developments are taking place in all the sciences, leading new applications of technology and “unthinkable” effects and opportunities for humanity, culture identity and society.
I characterise the 21st century as an era of “networks”, indeed the internet symbolises and facilitates “network thinking”. It’s an era of flat, integrated, dynamic, and emergent structures. The 21st century is already and will be increasingly fast, complex, chaotic, uncertain and “organic”.
The 21st century will be increasingly open, public and participatory – it will be an era of personal production where large organisations may consume the output of individuals but there will be increasing disintermediation and scope with individuals transacting directly.
In a nutshell I see the 21st century as an era of software.
This blog is intended as the basis of a series exploring associated ideas, technology, cultural, educational themes etc.
Please add your comments.
Traditional organisational structure has been historically determined by constraints of space and time. Space and time has determined who you are able to interact with. A striking symbol of traditional organisational life is the meeting – the traditional organisational decision making method– a system defined by space and time.
Culture can be defined as the circulation of meanings within a community – people in a community share the same experiences and the meanings that are derived. When we talk about company culture we are often referring to the values shared by the people in the company space at certain times. Business “gurus” are aware of the importance of company culture and the importance of “getting together” and “doing things together” – whether this is around the coffee machine, in company events or even on team building exercises.
The organisation provides a structure for organisational culture – space, time and systems for access and interaction. The traditional organisation provides for its people – individuals slot into the company structure and carry out defined roles. The first stages of IT usually automate the manual system and this is the case with most company IT systems – they implement the organisational structure that has been derived through time and space – the company provides systems which define how its people interact and operate.
Companies are embedded within society – their employees, customers and products are part of society. Companies are also exposed to the same forces as society – globalisation, developments on the Internet, the pressure to produce faster and cheaper etc. The traditional method of decision making in companies is under pressure to cope – it can be difficult and costly to bring people together in time and space for meetings with the speed and flexibility required by a faster changing world. IT is mostly responsible for these pressures and hopefully IT can provide a method of meeting them – the problem and the solution come from the same set of tools.
Web 2 and Internet social networking systems provide the tools for new ways of interacting and they are changing the cultural and business environment we live in – I can’t help thinking of the Ostrich or dinosaur analogies here – we can ignore the environment, carry on as we are, become irrelevant and become extinct. The alternative is to be sensitive to changes in the environment, adapt accordingly, exploit those changes, remain relevant and successful or at least survive.
It has taken many years but companies now routinely use the Internet and “web 1” as an internal and external communications medium (email, web sites, on-line purchasing etc) – the Internet is integral and embedded.
Awareness and use of Web 2 and social networking is more difficult than for “web 1”. Web 1 implemented current organisational structure so that people and organisations could understand and use it. Although there are specific toolsets for Web 2 many people and organisations feel uncomfortable about their use – this is because their use is based upon a different paradigm (paradigm 2) . Paradigm change is fundamental and as a result can be quite uncomfortable – it depends on your mindset. However, with increasing numbers of people (employees and customers and of course business and markets) using web 2 and social networks companies and other organisations must start to consider these technologies or risk becoming irrelevant.
Web 2 and social networking allows us to go beyond the traditional constraints of space and time – we can interact with people globally at different times – we no longer need to collect bodies in the same room at the same time or worse still collect bodies in multiple spaces at the same time (video conferencing).
Without the constraints of space and time boundaries can be made softer. Web 2 and social networking are useful in crossing boundaries – customers can interact with employees, employees with other employees and employees with those in other organisations. For example, some companies are now using web 2 and social networks to replace traditional focus groups – real customers providing feedback to real employees about products in an interactive way.
Organisations should be starting to explore and experiment with the use of web 2 and social networking – this could be like pushing against an open door as increasing numbers of customers and employees are already using these systems and are familiar with the way they work. Organisations should consider running fewer meetings and explore setting up social network groups to create inclusive decision groups that cross boundaries.
IT departments should be leading on the application of web 2 and social networks – more than most departments IT is familiar with constant change and development – they should be able to explore and exploit the use of these new technologies.
What you do rather than what you use
It is possible to get too carried away with trying to describe, explain and define what 2 is and try artificially to exclude certain things because they aren’t 2 enough. The process of looking too hard at it could make it disappear.
The essence of 2 is social and involves participation, collaboration and DIY. Cavemen did it, animals do it (think of pack hunters for example), we do it in our everyday lives all the time and it can even take place in some meetings.
What marks out the current wave of 2 is that it involves the virtual and mediation by ICT – Facebook for example attempts to do virtually what we do with physical presence – meet, share things, chat etc.
The important thing for me is seeing 2 in whatever flavour whether wholly virtual or wholly physical or any degree in the middle.
Teaching with role play and simulation with no technology at all is as valid as teaching using second life for example. The crucial thing is to engage the students and use methods which connect with them – today this often means on-line environments like facebook, youtube, blogs etc.
There is life and there is learning. Learning is often regarded as the thing that happens in a special learning environment such as a school classroom or more recently mediated by the Internet in a VLE (Virtual learning environment) or MLE (Managed Learning Environment). The student leaves behind the burden of everyday life and passes through a “portal” into educational space – a place managed by educators for education.
Recent technical developments on the Internet and awareness of the need to link learning and life have created a new possibility for internet mediated education – the PLE (Personalised Learning Environment). In a sense this is a development within what I call Paradigm 2. Traditional education pushes mass produced education to the student and education is carried out on the terms of the educational system. Within paradigm 2 we would expect the student to DIY their education and to “pull” in and mash together the necessary components – the concept of the PLE allows the student to do just this.
Michael Webb at the University of Wales has developed an early prototype of what a PLE might look like – the “Mynewport” application for Facebook. He argues that instead of expecting students to have to go the VLE they provide why not allow them to access the VLE from their normal environment – in this case Facebook.
One possibility is that future learning environments will not be environments at all – instead they will be toolboxes of widgets and applications that can be mashed together with other widgets and applications and each student can create their own unique personalised learning environment – or rather just Personalised Environment in which life and learning take place.
Power tools for paradigm 2
Back in the 1970’s there were predictions that scientific and technical developments would lead to an age of leisure in the 21st century – with machines to do our work for us we would be working half as much. Like the paperless office this has failed to materialise, instead we seem to be working harder and longer. What has happened is that our machines allow us to do more in the same period of time – we still work the same long hours.
The problem with working in paradigm 2 is coping with the jump in the amount of information generated as more and more people participate and produce. We have power tools like electric drills and saws to assist us with mechanical needs – we need power tools to help us with our information needs.
Here are a few of the “power tools” required for paradigm 2
Email – automatic processes, rules and filtering
With overwhelming volumes of email you will need to apply some methods of automatically dealing with it. Possible developments with email systems are being able to automatically flag message priorities according to message criteria (sender, subject, key words etc). For now being able to accurately put items automatically into a junk mail filter is very useful.
With so much information “out there” and “in here” on your own systems you need to have some methods of being able to find what you need. Google are at the heart of Web 2 development and it is Google of course who took search to a new level. Although I organise my emails and file storage in folders I have found the new desktop search systems very useful indeed. Having search technology available and being proficient in its use will be vital.
It will become impossible to visit and keep up to date with all the pages you will need - creating your own summary pages that take updates from the web pages you are interested will become vital.
One development I see as essential in the near future to help us cope are automated proxies. These will be systems programmed by us to process, decide and respond automatically on our behalf and present us with a summary of actions taken so that programming can be adjusted. Such systems would present us with a virtualised view and it is quite possible that these tools would lead to what we could regard as paradigm 3.