The shake, rattle and roll into network society
Bridging the divide between the digital and analogue world small agile teams won’t stop innovating until the last gap is filled.
The greatest changes in our lives are not caused by big bangs but by minor reinterpretations of earlier inventions.
Grand ideas don´t have to have a grand effect: they seamlessly blend in with the way we live our lives; so unpretentious and logical that we fail to even understand that until a few moments ago we spent our whole life without them. A search engine, an algorithm to facilitate the search for content in the internet, is such a simple idea. Before the invention of the search engine nobody knew that it was missing — once it saw the light of day living without it seemed unnecessary dull.
Today examples of modest re-interpretations of connections between the digital and the analogue world are ubiquitous: Uber, a taxi-app, now operates in over 229 cities in over 46 countries; alone in the last month, more than a million people found a cosy room through Airbnb, an app connecting homeowners with home-seekers. Nest, a company focused on building smart thermostats, is currently attempting a similar coup with a thermostat that learns your heating behaviour and hence helps you to save energy and dollars.
Initiatives like the latter are mushrooming all over the world. Predictions suggest that by 2020 over twenty-five billion devices might be connected to the Internet.
A small group of nimble-footed entrepreneurs today has the ability and drive to create an ecosystem that overturns the status quo. Be it Uber, Airbnb or the invention of the search engine, what those innovations have in common is that they are envisioned by small-sized teams.
Small groups of intelligent wonks, not big co-operations, were and will be behind the ideas that lead to ground-breaking changes for societies; a trenchant argument for our entrance into what sociologist Manuel Castells calls the network society: a society in which a combination of social and media networks shapes its prime mode of organization and most important structures at all levels.
Small sprightly networks will continue to drive innovation and progress to areas where we today don´t even consider possible. They will, to borrow the words of Larry Page, co-founder and CEO of Google, pursue the “elimination of inefficiency through technology” to its “logical conclusion”.
This can be exciting for consumers and ‘techies’ alike. However, the optimism propagated by the tech revolution is proportional to the fear felt by others. Today half of the firms on the Fortune 500 list in 1999 have left the prestigious club. Former sustainable business models don´t seem to be so sustainable at all — according to a MIT study 50% of current jobs will be automated in the near future. Which sector will be secure and which not is to be difficult to predict.
The shake, rattle and roll of technology´s advance has just seen its renaissance and will continue to flourish into areas that have thus far not been touched by private actors. The public sector is one of those areas. Facebook now has 1.3 billion active users, more than citizens of China.
As digital and analogue worlds come together their forms of governance seem to increasingly look alike: internally, Facebook has essentially recreated a government bureaucracy complete with regulators and law enforcement, but optimized for different values than traditional governments.
In Facebook´s digital country — a country with over a billion inhabitants administered by a few hundred bureaucrats — technocratic, developer rule outweighs. The quest for technocratic “Pareto-efficient” answers is reminiscent of the European Commission´s process of proposing regulations to European member states.
The technological revolution is just in its infancy. The small renegotiations between the digital and the analogue world will have a paramount effect on our lives. Whether private companies like Google or Facebook will be able to fulfil functions that pertain to the sphere of governments can and will be one of the defining questions of the coming decade.
The internet of things, digital citizenship and competition-enforcing apps — envisaged and designed by proud small teams — are just a few of the recent innovations which fill the gaps that technological advancement has created. They will not seize to innovate until the last gap is filled.