As we spiral deeper and deeper into the information age, the singularity appears to draw near. We can get vast amounts of information at the push of a button—In fact, if we wanted to, we could download vast libraries of books, media and other forms of both entertainment and education. The internet, above all new advancements in technology, has created a decentralized culture of vibrant networks, oscillating and thriving, constantly shifting and flowing through the minds of its users. We have created a massive brain, in a sense, of knowledge and entertainment, culture and science. That, and literally anything else you could think of. In doing so, the internet as inadvertently shaped the mindset of the next generation (X, Y and so forth)—one that does not necessarily buy into the centralized, bureaucratic system we currently have in place. People are thinking differently. The rise of “open source” and collaboration have not only created breathing online societies, but also active groups in the real world. Networking websites (Meetup.com, for instance) have helped get people to do things and come together. In short, this is what Manuel Delanda has described as, “The Rise of Network Societies.” Its key traits are: decentralized power, network structure and collaboration.
As the old ways of doing things face the new way, we will see, and have seen some major shifts in power. The internet community, for example, has permanently crippled the media industry. The use of file sharing spreads like wildfire, and the hierarchical business structures attempting to combat it continue to lose legal battle after legal battle in the world. Attempts by lobbyists to limit the internet into “packages” like cable, or satellite T.V. have received fierce threats by Google, who, threatened in turn to broadcast the internet free from its orbiting satellites. These are only a few of the examples, and each is giving a powerful example of the network society. If communities and businesses continue to organize in this way, what can we expect? For starters, greater collaboration, integration of technology and activism. There will be institutions, but their purpose will be to simply keep the network growing, thriving. Those who can “hyper link” will be the greatest in standing. The most dynamic, adaptable will begin to win out in competition. Big business, though still existent, will be melted into vast frameworks of smaller business, all needing each other to co-exist, all of them co-dependent. Imagine, if you will, a brain. It is nearly infinitely complex, networked, yet still existing within it are general faculties with specific purposes. If all of this is abstract to you, you’re not alone. We can only imagine and speculate at this point, but speculation can certainly help us see what is happening now. We can ask ourselves—what are the important patterns now? And how are they going to be beneficial?
For starters, a network is by far more adaptable to challenges in its very structure. It has the whole of a community ready and willing to face a problem, and not simply one bureaucratic pyramid. If societies evolve, then this structure is the latest and the greatest in adaptation.
How will this new framework affect us culturally? How will we grasp both our morality and our ethics in such an ever-changing society? Or in Descartes words, where will we place our feet on firm ground? Take to mind the image of a sailboat. It has no “firm” grounding, yet it is a mastery of the wind and the sea—and ever changing, ever flowing ocean of air and water. Our grounding will not be so crystallized, but more liquefied. Our knowledge will rest on the ebb and flow of knowledge, network and flowing powers. If the information age has created a sea of knowledge, we must learn to sail upon it.
In this case, we must learn the nature of water, wind and the mastery of information exchange. We must become both sailors and swimmers, fliers in a world where there is no firm grounding anymore—and perhaps we are better off this way. Our fundamental attitudes on things may change, indeed, our very thinking structures may be affected by such a life at sea. We may find ourselves observing the flow between not only networks, but people and their ideas:The flow of perspectives, and their natural development. There may be a natural shift from seeing things in a classical, orderly way (That of modernity), to a balance of both chaos and harmony. Greater patterns emerge, and they may emerge in thinking, in ways that both the modernist and the postmodernist could not easily imagine. Religion, ethics and society itself may find a greater unity in the dynamic flex and flow of perspective. Surface features may become less important, as deeper currents are discovered. We may witness, as we are now, a reemergence of perennial philosophy, and collaborative religions! Imagine that! Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists working together, discovering underlying beliefs and ways to connect.
There are already movements that do see integral perspectives; some are successful, others merely collapse one into another, still others crystallize into frozen maps of the universe. What we cannot expect is a unified theory of everything—What we can expect is the ability to step beyond individual perspective and see the bigger picture, and act accordingly. In short, we are witnessing the birth of a society that no longer requires set boundaries. We are stepping out of our shells, and in doing so are seeing ourselves in a greater, deeper picture than ever before.
Some may turn away from this dramatic shift, and that is to be expected. With the coming of any new age, there are always those who wish to return to the old ways. This is actually quite understandable. Change is terrifying, and uncertain. For the most part, it seems downright dangerous. Yet, this new way of thinking may very well change us for the good—it may help us see that fear is something that must be released and relaxed, in order for growth to occur.