I get glimpses sometimes: the way things fit together, the ways that they relate to each other, but the picture is far from clear. It’s about change, about the interrelationship between things, the greater connectivity, the influences and impacts. It’s about community and authority, about technology and sociology, it’s about science and art. For sure, the world has changed, the Social Age is upon us, but it’s meaning remains largely uncharted, experienced as the buffeting of the wind, not the wide perspective of a map.
Broad themes emerge. Pillars of our understanding that we thought were set in stone are, in fact, fluid: the nature of authority, the nature of knowledge itself, social justice in a diversified world, the impact of trust, notions of fairness, levers of power and control, political accountability, the connectedness of communities, amplification effects of social, devolved brand power, the importance of authenticity, the digital nomad lifestyle, the social contract etc. I could go on. Many things that were true are not just part of a picture, or entirely redundant.
Some things are clearer than other: technology is central to the change, but more directly under our control. Whilst the effects of technology may be emergent, the technology itself is largely quantifiable and definable. What people do with it is more subject to change.
But understanding the technology alone is not enough. Rather like an ethnographer, we can watch the system, we can measure the change, but that does not give insight into social behaviours, evolved belief systems, dynamic power structures and evolved humanity.
So we are explorers of the Social Age: ethnographers, sociologists, artists and innovators, technologists and cartographers, generalists all. The brackets that confined us in the old world are broken open in the new: we need a new lens, a new viewpoint.
The changes we see are neither incidental nor transient: they are structural and permanent. The old world is not coming back.
I was struck by a comment made by one of the lacklustre performers in the US Presidential race, who commented that Trump was the abnormality, that he was not playing the game, but that is to miss the point entirely. What we see in Trump is a figure who has at least understood that it is a game: and that both the rules and the board can be redefined. In this context, the early winners can be the ones who through ignorance or bravery unsubscribe from the old game and commit to the new.
This is the time that empires fall (and are made). Whilst the old authority will try to reach out, will try to colonise, will try to control and make safe the new, it will fail, because Social Authority subverts formal, and amplification effects are louder than controls.
Throughout it all, we must write, we must share stories, we must experiment and measure. We must be bold and brave, exploring alone and in teams. We must meet the challenges by adapting, but not in the dark, together.
There is a term: futurologist. It means ‘to bet’. To bet that we can predict where whim and fantasy can take us. It may shine a light in the right direction, but the details is the devil and it’s the detail that will kill us.
So expedition and adventure, sally forth and voyage, set sail and depart for uncharted waters. And write the myths, create the legends, sing the songs that will be remembered, because this is the greatest transition we have ever seen: the transition from geographically defined, formally controlled, hierarchically ordered, financially led organisations, to the Social Age, where everything is up for grabs. Where the loudest voice is the one we invite in, not the one that drowns us out, where the old order will crumble if it’s unable to adapt and recognise the new truth, the new space, the Social Age.
Come join the dots and see what a picture we create.