The Concentration of Meaning: Birth of the Social Age

It’s largely a matter of concentration: not thinking harder but rather a greater aggregation of knowledge and resources. Trace the journey of ‘sense making‘. At first, we had to use our own senses: looking at the world around us, biting things, being bitten by things, smelling the things. All that sensory input and cognitive processing led us to work stuff out. To find meaning in it. Don’t eat the red berries. Be nice to people. Remember to vote. And so on. That was the start.

The Emergence of Meaning

Once we’d got the habit, we started sharing these stories: HEY, don’t eat the red berries! We captured the sense within stories and, in time found ever better ways of sharing those stories.

We graduated from cave walls to vellum and, finally, Penguin books and magazines. Which we bought, gave as gifts and shared.

Oh, and we started to collect things together: Universities, Libraries, Laboratories. Concentrations of expertise, of knowledge. We started to aggregate our stories.

This was the Age of Location: the time when knowledge was still largely under our control, safely locked away in books, behind closed doors, often chained down.

But things continued to move: computers arrived, but nobody worried about losing them because they were pretty big and, when it came down to it, not all that useful to you or me. But they miniaturised and became extremely good at sharing stuff because a guy called Tim saw the future and decided it would be easier with email. Thanks.

Things didn’t just get smaller: we extended them. Communication got easier, more direct, more synchronous. But still a hassle. Certainly when you had to update the operating system and sat there feeding the machine with thirty plastic floppy disks.

Technology matured (thanks Steve) and suddenly, without really realising the length of the step, we arrived in the Social Age. Mature technology let us find stuff out really fast (thanks Sergey) and share it (thanks Mark).

Oh yes, and ‘work‘ died, because the Social Contract got dropped somewhere along the way and the ‘job for life‘ became a six month contract with an option for them to cut it short. Somewhere along the way the record industry died, then was born again and rediscovered vinyl. Oh, and books are somewhere in the mix too, but nobody is sure quite where yet, but it doesn’t matter because we don’t have time to read anymore.

In the Social Age, ‘sense making’ within and alongside our communities became the norm. It’s what lets us be more effective, providing us with access to knowledge, meaning and support. Things which, strangely, organisations were not always all that good at doing.

In the Social Age, the boundaries between formal and social spaces are blurred. Technology facilitates communities to form, share value, make sense and share it. We need new models of leadership, of learning and of change. We need a revised Social Contract that is more fair and businesses that are more responsible.

Not much to ask for really.

It took a lot of change to get us here: organisations that want to be here for the next chapter, and individuals who want to remain relevant, would do well to remain agile. It’s the core skill for remaining relevant in the Social Age.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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