So now we’ve got Social Media. It is the bell what ringeth out glory on high. As is the want for cohesion in every industrial tribe, marketers (and IT folks of course) have their lexical totems. Social Media—how about I just call it, like, Social, k?—is the totem of the moment.
Great. Social rocks. It does. But it’s not there yet. Because we’re not there yet.
McLuhan suggested that ‘we become what we behold’ and ‘we shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.’ When tools change incrementally, they are merely extensions of a given set of models and metaphors. Computers are incremental innovations that fit perfectly in the 350 or so year old models and metaphors that shape our collective worldview. However, when tools change radically, they create new models and metaphors. The printing press, it can be argued, presaged the enlightenment.
Our tools appear to be changing radically at present. The tools are no longer linear machines that are easily described using enlightenment models. Social tools cultivate organic structures that are non-linear and non-deterministic. They look like neural nets. It is said that the 20th century belonged to physics and the 21st will belong to biology. The models and metaphors suggested by the networked tools we’re increasingly beginning to use look like biology. They suggest new possibilities for all kinds of structures.
In “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies“, Douglas Hofstadter describes a sophisticated computer program that solves word puzzles in a manner that much more accurately represents the way a human would solve them. The structure of the program is not the traditional top-down hierarchical approach. Instead, it is modeled on a biological cell.
The structural model of the corporation can be informed by these metaphors. Management structures will be transformed. The interface between business and consumer will be transformed. The consumer experience will be transformed. The political structure of the relationship between the market, the communications culture and the consumer will be transformed.
Social Media is one of another in the set of tools starting with the computer network that have commenced this process. But they’re just the tools. We have to transform ourselves. We are as geese in bottles and it’s time to free ourselves. As Thomas Kuhn said of scientific revolution, it often requires 20 years for the generational change to transpire that allows a new model to assert itself. This is because those who have spent their lives in service of the old paradigm are loath to allow it to depart. Our current economic milieu—”The Great Disruption” as Scott Anthony puts it—may be hastening this process.