The Promise of Networking

By Jim Selman | Bio

Do you remember when networks of computers first arrived on the scene? Moving information onto the new technological platform decentralized and dispersed information and knowledge, a move that resulted in a significant communications revolution that still has repercussions today. Giving people the ability to access and share what had previously existed only on paper or in the minds of certain individuals not only sped up the rate of transactions, but also freed individuals from a certain amount of manipulation. 

Some resisted the move to computers, feeling threatened by what they perceived as a loss of control—they equated giving up the ‘management’ of ‘their’ information and knowledge as a threat to their power. Ironically, organizations eventually embraced computers as a means to ‘manage’ knowledge, creating complex online systems to store and share the experience and expertise of their employees.
We’re now witnessing an interesting development in the communications revolution: the decentralized and unlimited dispersal of personally created information and knowledge on the Internet. Networks of individuals from around the globe can form, meet and discuss issues and topics of mutual interest and concern. They can share their opinions, record their lives in real time in segments on YouTube or on Stickam with live streaming video, share their real-time experience of life on Twitter, or offer ‘alternative’ news stories about the events of the day on sites like Ohmynews.
We’re moving from an era in which we created organizations to serve human beings (and in the process became trapped in the mechanisms we built to free us from a world of limited power, prosperity and potential) into a world in which every individual can be both a producer and consumer of information. Uploading and sharing content with our networks of friends and colleagues makes us truly free agents in this media-rich world. Almost overnight a small number of committed individuals can mobilize millions of participants using online communications: I think of MoveOn for political action, the virtual marketplace of Second Life, and the collaboration tools available at Taking It Global.
More and more individuals are directing their creative energies and expression along these pathways. More and more like-minded consumers are using these uncontrolled and unmanaged processes to find what they want—outside the traditional advertising and marketing conversations. People cannot be ‘managed’ in terms of how they receive information any more. We now have the tools and the ability to free ourselves from the mechanisms, power and control of the mass media.
Historically, when a new technology comes along, it’s eagerly embraced by the ‘young’. The ‘old’ are left behind to figure it out as best they can—trying to coordinate and compete in a very different space than the one they mastered in earlier times. The young and the old end up literally speaking different languages. And without a common language, we as a society lose the unity that is the foundation of community and the shared aims that ultimately create a future that works for everyone.
I believe it’s just as essential for the young to teach the old this new language and to share their ‘context’ (what makes up the fabric of their reality) as it is for the older generation to contribute their wisdom and experience to the young. Technology without wisdom is just another machine. It will trap today’s youth just as it has trapped past generations. Without being in tune with today’s technological ‘space’, uninformed wisdom is just empty sermons—outdated and obsolete aphorisms of another time and place.
Networks of individuals form the means for coordinating actions. They offer us unlimited power—and responsibility. If we can form a network of committed individuals that includes both young and old, we can bridge this conversational gap between generations, learn from each other and create a common future together.
The future, whatever it may be, must include all of us.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.