Where the World is Headed
This post is considerably less “Things I Actually Know” and much more “My Opinion on How it all Comes Together.”
That said, I sincerely believe that the world has hit the reset button. You can point to the maturing of grassroots activism and fundraising in the Obama campaign, the toddlerhood of microlending, the proliferation of instant updates via Twitter and Facebook, Zipcars, the redefinition of “traditional media,” and so on as proof, but the fact is that things move faster these days. Personally, I think many of our current crises result from the fact that transportation (of information, people, and capital) has substantially outpaced our institutions’ ability to respond.
With this in mind, there are three things that I consider to be simple truths about the future:
1) Communication is King
We all know that the sheer quantity of information has increased dramatically in the last ten years. There are both more people contributing information to the collective whole and each individual’s contribution is significantly larger. Furthermore, the demand for this information has skyrocketed—everyone, from new arrivals to the area to potential dates to landlords to bosses to marketing departments to the simply curious gain enormous value from both the collective and individual experience. Ask yourself: if you have a lot of raw material, and a large demand for processed material, what, then, is missing? Answer: The middleman. The person (or technology) that can take this pile of information and turn it into something that fills a specific demand provides an extremely valuable service—and that service is called communication.
2) Communities are Looser, but Deeper
This is simply a personal observation—I have friends spread throughout the world and it is very easy to keep in touch with them. While this thought isn’t anything groundbreaking, take a moment to think about what it means for your long-term networking. Imagine having tracked (and reconnected with) Facebook friends for ten years. We will all know more about each other than we ever imagined, but on a much less personal level. Honestly, I don’t think I would have appreciated the implications of this while I was in college, so I’ll hit you over the head with my point: people are cataloged by their online presence. Sure, this has hyper-creepy potential for stalkers/government, but the benevolent side effect is that your network will be enormous—and, more importantly, searchable.
A little contact goes a long way towards maintaining a distant friendship. Don’t be so lazy as to let a relationship grow stale, and if you do, a message saying “Wow, I’m bad at keeping in touch… How are you?” goes over really well. But don’t overdo it: “I’ve been bad about saying hi” only works if time has passed.
3) YOU are Valuable
I don’t mean this in a humanist “everyone has intrinsic worth” way. I mean it in a cold-hard-cash way. You are a consumer, and the better the world’s organizations can target your likes and dislikes, the better their profit margin will be.
Again, this could be creepy. But honestly, wouldn’t you rather live in a world where the only ads you saw were things you were actually interested in, the only people you dated were “your type,” and the only jobs you saw were those that fit your resume and interests? Well, assuming you were simultaneously empowered to take a random left turn and experience something off the beaten path when you wanted to.
Here’s the thing though—if your online activity and social network helps organizations know you better, and knowing you better saves them advertising dollars, doesn’t that mean that who you are is valuable?
Furthermore, if WHO you are is valuable, doesn’t that mean your reasons are valuable as well?
To sum up: Your ability to filter information is valuable, you are loosely knowledgeable about a lot of people, and your perspective is important. Seems like a simple point. People have been passing what they know onto the people who might be interested—with a personal twist—since forever.
But the sheer scale of information available—combined with our increased ability to pass what we know to interested parties—makes me think that the recalibration of the world will not come through organizations, but through human beings proactively disseminating their knowledge in an intelligently repackaged manner. After all, innovation happens when two previously known things are combined to create a complete unknown. Think the end of Ghostbusters.