This is very early stage #WorkingOutLoud – a piece, considering the taxonomy of social systems and evolving structures of society in the broadest context of the Social Age.
We tend to understand society in terms of fixed structures and the ways that we inhabit them: geographical structures (countries with Political structures, regions, cities, blocs), organisational structures (commercial and other Organisations), legal and economic structures (markets), belief based structures (both religious and philosophical), and underlying social structures (family, tribe and community).
A simple view is that we are parts of communities (Social Systems), we work in Organisations (Markets) and we inhabit geographically based political systems (States).
Our membership of each is different.
Social Systems are governed by family structures (genetically connected in most cases), wider tribal structures (broader connection of families), communities (meta-tribal structures, but in close geographical proximity), belief based structures (ideologically connected, irrespective of geography – but often within post conflict legacy social structures that give the impression of geolocation).
Social Structures tend not to be deterministic of industry and government, but rather a product of it: we colonise, conquer, quest – we exploit, manufacture, distribute according to resources – and we live where we do these things.
Industry is the work: and hence people are organised not simply around ‘doing’ the work, but being ‘trained’ to do it – so our structures of education, organisation, and retirement are connected to our structures of production.
Government operates by a simple macro concept: it keeps you safe, and provides key infrastructure, in return for taxation and typically a degree of conformity. Arguably it has a role in holding culture, but that may not be a universal truth.
The Market is in some ways the most challenging of the three: partly because of it’s schizophrenic nature: the market serves us yet controls us, we tend to believe that it does universal good, and yet it appears to be at the heart of much inequality, inequity and misery. Markets tend to spread and permeate and often corrupt what they touch. But they are rewarding – to the winners – so the winners tend to like them a lot.
I tend towards the view that most of this – possibly all of this – is about power and control. Who controls who – who controls what – who controls the consequence for non conformity or challenge?
But is there a different way of looking at it: most of what i describe has evolved, not been designed, and evolved in a very different legacy conception of the world. We could playfully use the notion of the Social Age as a paradigmatic shift in perspective, and consider what would this taxonomy look like in the new world, and how would it shift our sense of belonging, belief, and operation as a result.
We could start by looking at disaggregation: the evolved context of the Social Age is leading to a general breakdown of certain concepts that were historically linked. For example: ‘work’ and ‘career’ used to be linked to a backbone Organisation – a specific company – but now they are not.
This is, inevitably, a rather fragmented view: it’s an abstraction in some senses, but that does not mean it’s entirely wrong. When things are changing the new picture is not clear, but the fragmentation of the old, the fracturing of dearly held truths, may be.
If we consider each of our three organising pillars, we can see certain clear fragmentation, examples of which would be as follows:
Society [The State]: social collaborative technology enables us to maintain far larger numbers of weak social ties, and more diverse and diversified strong ones, which i would argue shifts the underlying landscape of tribal connection, away from geography and into a more virtual space. With this fragmentation comes access to broader cultural and epistemological inputs – we can be challenged in different ways, and equally supported in them too. Access to global cultures is easier, but so to is access to conflict.
In this context, ‘belonging’ also shifts: we may belong in new ways, in new spaces, and potentially we belong in more spaces. But with belonging comes conformity and the potential for conflict and loss, so our behaviours may too be becoming more polarised, radical, even extreme – and it may be that this gives a more block like view of the world, simplified into divisions and alliances in what may be more nuanced realities.
This shift in connection and belonging also means that trust networks diversify and spread, which can act as precursor networks in social movements and change.
Even ‘beliefs’ may be diversifying from macro blocs to more fragmented micro nuances. Which is another way of saying that there may also be more extreme and erratic spaces to believe and belong in this more interconnected and global space.
Geography is increasingly abstracted from Community: ‘where’ you are is less important than how connected you are.
This shift in connectivity also changes knowledge itself: a general shift towards more dynamic, socially created, distributed validation, and open access. This is a complex and pragmatic shift at the same time, the consequences of which i find fascinating.
Finally: i suspect identity is becoming more fluid, multi-state and contextual, which ties into belonging and trust, but means that the one dimensional view of things like Community and tribe, or State, become outdated. Clearly the current consideration of gender identity and the fragmentation of legacy taxonomies represent this well.
State: fundamentally we see the challenge to the State being the shifts of loci in where we can belong, the commercial provision of cultural artefacts, the new notions of citizenship, the outdated asynchronous nature of much of democracy, coupled with the autocratic utilisation of mobilised fear, the shift whereby identity security may be offered more by the Organisation or Community than by legal protections and State, and finally the way that States are increasingly trapped in legacy narratives of colony, disenfranchisement, and race, which lead to stratified and unequal layers of citizenship, alongside the rise of representation by the super wealthy in millionaire parliaments.
Market: potentially the hardest aspect to understand, the Market is disaggregated in interesting ways: infrastructure (which used to be at the heart of power, wealth, and production) is now distributed and outsourced – meaning you can be productive without infrastructure at all. Similarly, capability may now be connected, rented, borrowed and bartered, not simply employed.
Education is fragmenting, from ‘all at the start’ to ‘continuous’ (alongside those shifts in the nature of knowledge). And it’s being predated by Organisations which recognise that legacy structures (schools, universities) are bound by geography and dogma in many cases, in some trapped in commercial models that seem outdated).
Culture is a battle ground for markets too: on the one hand, Organisations have exploded the role of subscription culture, from Netflix and Squid Games, to the Universes of Marvel and Star Wars. It’s a mistake to view movies and games as simple ‘entertainment’ – they are globalised spaces of identity and belief, and most certainly belonging.
Brands themselves also vie for citizenship: if i had to choose between State based nationality and Apple or Google it may be a hard choice. If that sounds ridiculous, consider how Organisations are more dynamically shaping the experiences of work, of evolving human and identity rights, and even shaping language (and hence thought).
But Organisations will not have it all their own way: evolved Markets are also hosting the rise of the new backbone Guilds and Communities. After forty or fifty years of Organisations working hard to fracture the Social Contract in service of profit, in many cases by treating people as disposable things, so people have found new places to belong, and perform.
The future state is likely to include a new vertical pillar that i will call ‘Guilds’ for now, but essentially operating to hold capability in parallel to Organisations, which may become more simply like brands – very hollow – and on the plus side very adaptable (or disposable).
We also see the fracturing of key notions around ‘where’ we work, and how long we work for. The idea of the ‘work day’ may be broken, certainly the idea of the ‘workplace’.
Similarly the pyramids of wealth being aggregated at the top, and power cascading down, may both be broken – or will break if the current trends of aggregation continue to drive inequality for literally billions of people.
What will the new world look like? A playful guess would be as follows: larger numbers of vertical structures, with more fluid connection. New models of engagement. New models of the definition of work, and the management of it. New models of Democracy, of Organisation, of Citizenship.
Greater Organisational influence on culture and wellbeing – possibly evolved mechanisms of wellbeing. Many Organisations may move beyond the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility as an add on to one of central cause.
Potentially the Organisations as entities of Social Good is not unachievable, but perhaps through newly designed structures. NOT simply financial good, but more connected and accountable.
A generally more permeable nature of boundaries perhaps: although this may lead to new frontiers of conflict.
One would hope more dynamic mechanisms and opportunities for citizen engagement – albeit possibly within new models and locations of citizenship.
This work is very early stage #WorkingOutLoud and will likely iterate rapidly.