In parallel with my work on the doctorate this year i am building on the manuscript for a core book on the ‘Context of the Social Age’. It will be based around a dozen key shifts that we see (such as the ‘rebalancing of power’ or ‘radical connectivity’, with a broader exploration of what these shifts mean for our Organisations and society more generally).
Today i am sharing some writing that i’ve been doing in the context of the doctorate, but describing the context of the Social Age! This is early stage work and pretty rough and unpolished, but shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud.
My work explores the context of the Social Age, and by a strange twist is, itself, held within the context that it describes.
At risk of being recursive, to explore it is to create it, and to create it is to be subject to it, which will itself require description.
I typically introduce the Social Age as follows: you can look at the world around you and see that almost everything is a little different. The technology, our cultural paradigms, social norms, models of retail, consumption, production, and effectiveness, our organisations and institutions, our mechanisms of government, and our social structures themselves.
And you can look at that collective difference and come to one of two conclusions.
The first would be to say that these are essentially aberrations from a norm. That nothing fundamental has changed, we are simply seeing new expressions of old ideas, and that everything will be ok if we hold on tight, constrain the worst of the excess, and keep one eye shut.
The other conclusion would be to say that everything has changed, but the old order has not yet realised it. That we have entered a new epoch, and that legacy ways of knowing and being may be fully subverted by newer frameworks: for example, that we belong in different ways, to different types of structure, that we are wired up and connected differently, that power has shifted, that agency is unlocked, and that technology has fundamentally changed what it means to be human.
Or to put it even more simply: you could say that almost everything is nearly the same as it used to be, or that almost everything is a little bit different that it used to be, and then decide what that means.
One interpretation is that of progressive change, and the other is that of fracture.
The present, the time that we stand in, casts a shadow. Or more precisely, it casts two: one forwards, and one backwards. The one facing back is the long tail of the present, and includes historical precedent and social norms. The one facing forwards is the one that we will operate within, and represents emergent norms and expectations. And the two do not align.
It is an open question as to whether the legacy one has predictive value as to the shape and reality of the future one. Or whether it simply blinds us to new truths.
I subscribe to the notion of fracture, partly because i believe it to be true, and partly because my cost of being wrong is lower than the other view. A cost i am more willing to bear.
If we believe we still inhabit an Industrial, Post Industrial, or a Knowledge Age, then we are essentially going to be ok. Our radical connectivity and associated shifts in structure and power are simply new manifestations of an established order.
But if you believe in a Social Age, you would argue that technology has changed the sociology, has shifted us into a place where we need new models of organisation, structure, and engagement.
In a new type of world, we will not belong in the same way.
This is a challenging hypothesis, all the more so as i am very clear that my work does not carry an answer. If anything, it seeks to make the journey to a different hilltop, where our perspective may be sufficiently different to allow us to figure out our new ‘truth’.
There is a sense whereby my work is better understood in terms of belief than of science, in that it requires a certain leap of faith to find the value.