Saturday, July 21, 2012

Flow in the Digital Environment

It is very hard to imagine the possibilities of the future without projecting today's 'institutional structures' in a way that 'colonizes' the future.
Imagine a feudal society - peasants and nobility, and they are asked 'What will these amazing new technologies bring?' The tendency (as I imagine it) would be to project that the Nobles would inevitably know what peasants had and what 'tithes' (as taxes) they could truly ask for. It would be hard for the peasant to imagine they could have equal access to view the nobles needs.
What they wouldn't have imagined is an 'impartial' justice system, market system, a public education system, health system, a banking/credit system for all, a labour force, new concepts of private property, marriage/relationship as an act of love and so much more.
When the train was first emerging many people felt that travel at 20 miles per hour would literally drive people crazy. And if surveys/studies of experiences of travelling that fast were done we would find lots of evidence of potential trauma (psycho-physio).
The same phenomena was experienced during the upheaval and turbulence of the shift from agricultural/rural to industrial/urban society - anonymity was equivalent to anomie. 
A recent book by Raimi (director of PEW research Internet and society) and Wellman (Canadian sociologist who's research the wired/non-wired community for the last 20 years)called "Networked: the New Social Operating System" talks about 'networked individualiam' as the new social operating system. I haven't finished the book yet but they propose that what is emerging is a new sphere of connectedness - beyond the close ties - loose ties sphere; the offer that we will all also have 'audience' - a deeper extension of Warhol's everyone will have 15 minutes of fame. 
Douglass North (a Noble economist) who research institutional economics - posited that the most important aspect of the shift from feudal to market-system/democratic societies was the trust market/democracy provided that enabled 'impartial exchange' over 'personalized-network exchange'. What this means is that while markets have existed since exchange was invented - these markets were highly conditional on conditions that provided protection (e.g. patronage from 'nobles'), and were based on personal networks. What market-system/democratic societies enable is trusted exchange with strangers - I can go into any store and exchange paper or 'bits' with someone I will never see again and get what I want. This was not the case in the past.
The digital environment extends these sort of impartial exchanges even further - but what enables these to progress is a 'reputation' metric. Think of reader reviews on Amazon, or rating of sellers/buyers on eBay. 
The digital environment will require new institutions of reputation, new institutions of identity (including reciprocal transparency - see David Brin's 'Transparent Society'). 
Flow, knowledge flow, impersonal exchange, persistent identity, hyper-individuality/specialization (see Malone's HBR article), hyper-exchange, interdependency, impartial exchange, new institutions, are all 'dots' in the emerging picture of the digital environment's transformation of what work will be.