Landmarks of the Social Age – #1 – Connectivity

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud to share part of the manuscript i am working on, acting as a guide to the map of the Social Age.

Our first landmark as we explore the Social Age is ‘Connectivity’ – it rises over this landscape like a mountain, visible at every other point on our journey.

Today, we are radically connected: through a broad range of technologies, across multiple networks, and between varied communities.

Our connections range around the world, between Organisations, even across language and culture.

It’s a foundational feature of the Social Age that the nature of our human experience has altered: indeed, this is the foundational conceit of the Social Age – that technology has connected us radically, allowing for the emergence of a new sociology, a new way of being.

New ways of being together – new approaches to the creation of knowledge and discovery of the meaning that sits upon it – new ways to hold capability and effectiveness – new ways to learn – and new ways to lead.

And it is against this hyper connected backdrop that everything else evolves: it is why we need to reconsider what we mean by ‘Organisation’, how we are productive and effective, even what we mean by big ideas such as ‘Citizenship’ and ‘Belonging’.

Sometimes i describe the Social Age by saying ‘everything looks almost exactly the same as it always used to – but that is also to say that almost everything is now subtly different than it used to be – and the challenge may be to identify when that ‘difference’ becomes a point of fracture.

In the legacy world, we were connected locally, and predominantly through the formal structure of hierarchy. The technologies of connection, from roads and boats to telephones and computer networks, were vast, heavyweight, expensive, and owned.

But it’s not just ‘how’ we are connected, but also the quality and nature of those connections.

We can view these in terms of ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ social ties: again this has shifted – radical connectivity means we are able to maintain larger numbers of more geographically dispersed and diversified strong social ties, whilst also maintaining larger numbers of weak ties too.

These weak ties require some, but not much, social investment to persist, and often reside in ‘precursor networks’, faint shadows of legacy events – employment, programmes, even holidays and experiences – our old neighbours and co-workers – activists and radicals.

Indeed, some of these connections we may never have ‘met’ at all – some we may not even know their ‘real’ names – and yet we are very much connected to them.

Our ability to maintain these broadening and deepening social connections gives us both current ability and potential for future ability, because networks give access to knowledge and ‘sense making’ space.

We still have formal structures of connection, and organisation, but these are backed up, or overtaken by, our prolific social ones.

And this brings us almost immediately to a central theme, that the Social Age is multi dimensional: whilst the formal structure is understood in linear terms, one interpretation at a time, the Social structure is held in multiple concurrent, and often internally conflicting, entities.

In other words, there may not be ‘one’ way to understand this, but rather multiple contextual ones.

Let me illustrate this: an Organisation represents one formal structure (Hierarchy), but the internal teams, tribes, friendship groups, and alumni, all represent alternative power structures (ranging from ‘almost formal’, to ‘fully social’), and even they are just one more layer. The secretarial WhatsApp group is another. And so on. Infinitely regressing structures of organisation and power, each very ‘real’ from the inside.

Almost every conversation about the evolution of Organisations involves tapping into some of the Individual Agency (space of operation) held within these structures: co-creation, curation, sharing, innovation, socially co-created change, all are held within the Social structure, and all will only be granted to us with permission.

The Industrial Age was about materials, emergent scientific management, and hierarchies of power and control: it was substantially about mastery of resources, systems of manufacture, and global trade routes and mechanisms of distribution.

But the Social Age, is about communities. It’s about trust, pride, consensus and dissent, social amplification, social filtering, stories that fly, and evolving dominant narratives. In many ways, the Social Age is a time of belief, but belief invested in new ways, in new spaces.

We still need the old: we need buildings, machinery, technology, and even leadership and consequence. We need rules and sanction. We need systems of productivity based upon consistency, conformity, replicability and scale. But it’s only half of the story. And the emergent Social power is the dominant force.

When we are radically connected, everything changes, and everything changes through narratives that are no longer so easily controlled.

What you need to know:

  1. In the Social Age, we are radically connected – beyond the oversight or control of any single entity
  2. This radical connectivity erodes legacy structures of power, of narrative, and of control
  3. Specifically, technology enables us to retain connection into precursor networks – which act as repositories of legacy social capital and value – ready to be mobilised again

What you can do:

  1. Consider the overall Organisational approach to capability: will it be owned or earned – and will capability sit individually, or collectively – and if collectively – how will you earn the right to access?
  2. Ask whether you are recruiting the individual, or their network – and how you will recognise and reward both.

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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