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Like the KISS principle, the obvious sometimes evades me entirely until some kindly soul points it out. So it was out on the road this morning, listening to a BBC Radio documentary about start-ups while waiting in line for my share of the privilege of using Britain’s highways, that the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, the world of the Network is indeed an Ideology. While it is not nearly as advanced as the Church of England or the Communist Party once were, it is still more all-embracing than the insipid political parties of the day in Europe and the US. Think for a moment. What do you really believe in? The inalienable right of Old Etonians to rule England? Or your ability, through a protocol you and I barely understand, to use a tiny device to reach and speak to anyone in the world. The ability of a Bush or a Clinton to hold a post-imperial power together? Or the ability to find and check any information anywhere? Will the EU save us, or Open Access? What is more important to the future of Mankind – the UN or the W3C?
We can take this to extremes, of course, but just at the moment I would judge that if you threatened Europeans and Americans with loss of network access, even to a service like Twitter, as happened two weeks ago in Turkey, then the great and the good would simply refuse the command, find alternate access points, use satellite internet, and find every possible way of remaining in contact – as so many middle class Turks did, until it was obvious even to their government that this would not work. And this goes even more to the point for business access: arguably there is no going back from immediate communication for anyone making, buying or selling anything above the purely local level. And the great thing about the Connectivity faith is that, like previous religions, it subsumes everything that was there already. Some of the most passionate capitalism on view is displayed by network start-ups. Some of the most idealistic exponents of Open Access, Data and all other Opens, belong to sects that would make the Diggers and the Levellers look right wing. All human kind is here, subscribing to the basic rules of connection, mark-up, content organization and retrieval. This is probably the greatest number of people all subscribing to the same rulebook that planet Earth has ever seen.
Within the world of connectivity, dynamic networked new businesses will be built, and you do not need to be in Shoreditch or Silicon Valley or any other “cathedral zone” of the new order, to succeed. But we all need to recognize that the nature of business in the new order may well be different, so perhaps we now need to gather up some of the lessons, after 25 years of observation of how a networked society increasingly behaves, and see how we may apply them to what comes next. Here are some contributory thoughts in that direction:
* Many of tomorrow’s businesses will be smaller than their real world expiring counterparts, both in terms of revenues and staffing. This is partly because they are virtual, partly because we are paying small amounts for fractions of transactions in the network.
* Very many of today’s real world businesses will not survive the real world convergence with the network. Permanent job loss will scar many lives.
* Network trading will be very profitable, with smaller enterprizes realizing better margins than their real world counterparts. Increasingly network margins will stay in the network, and by the time we reach Bitcoin III the network will have moved from a microcosm of the real world into being the …real world.
* When the history is written, we shall note that by 2014 net citizens were already reading, per person, a great deal more than any previous human generation. This trend continues as more and more people realise that they need a far better basic education to survive in a networked world, and that those educational outcomes could be achieved very effectively by self-learning in the network.
* New levels of public and private trust will need to be created as more and more people “meet” for the first time online – and never meet in person. Close work colleagues may never physically meet. The signals given by voice and video will be closely examined as each of us strives to recognize “trustworthy” behaviour and indicate it to others. This will be part data analytics, part screen and keyboard performance analytics, and part, as now, pure hunch.
* Collaboration is the order of the day on the network. As individuals, as companies, we seek to get closer and help. This is because no one is vertically self-sufficient any more, and in a networked world that demands solutions we have to band together to create them. Knowing who your potential collaborators are becomes more important, for the first time since the Neolithic, than knowing who your competitors are. As competition becomes more of a contest for public (aka user) trust and attention, and less a struggle for product and pricing differentiation.
* There is no part of human life on the planet that, in an Internet of Things as well as concepts and ideas, is beyond the range of the networked world. The priesthood which emerges could pose a threat or expose an opportunity, but at present we seem to have opted to live in an “ungoverned” network world. Certainly we will want to avoid any nation “controlling” the network , but there will be increasing clashes with nation states, both the most sophisticated and the most primitive, as their proponents seek to restore nineteenth century notions of rule and control. Only the mass can resist this, and only by acting as a mass.
The triumph of the network is not inevitable – and yet there seems at present no counter force. And already we have icons – all hail, Steve Jobs – and soon, no doubt, we shall have that priesthood mentioned above. I think I shall apply for a minor archimandrite-ship, or even a role as a Hermit!keep looking »