In 1964, around about the time Peter Drucker was charting the rise of the knowledge worker, Marshall McLuhan was announcing the arrival of the Global Village, predicting how society would change with the advent of worldwide telecommunications networks.
By then we could hear and see events thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds, often quicker than we heard of events in our own districts or even families. McLuhan noted that the speed of these electronic media allows us to act and react to global issues at the same speed as normal face to face verbal communication.
We have grown up in the world created by global news media and TV, which we accept as perfectly normal; back in the 1960s McLuhan was announcing: “today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.” The world faced massive change, which it has taken in its stride.
Today is no different. We can now see that for decades, under the global impact of TV and other mass media, we have spent less and less time in social activities. In many ways the Global Village became our true village. But, according to modern commentators, the Internet has reversed this trend as people switch from TV to social networking.
Stowe Boyd predicts that people will increasingly turn away from mass media and towards social networks as their preferred way of learning about the world, and the mass media will be forced to move into social-scale applications to try to resolve this.
Social media are reconnecting our original face to face communities through time and space, making it possible to grow a network of trusted friends and professional collaborators seamlessly throughout your life and career. In 20 years’ time we’ll still be in touch with hundreds of people we know today alongside hundreds of others we’re yet to meet. The millennial generation with think it crazy of us to have lost touch with so many people we once loved and happily worked with.
Actually, we’ll have caught up again with many of them. Is there a business case for this? Every time a new medium comes along our bosses see it as a threat to productivity and they resist it (this happened with the telephone, email and Internet access at work). But eventually they see that people have worked out how to use the new tools to advantage and they give up their resistance.
In just this way plenty of people will argue against the pervasiveness of social networks and the change they will bring in society; claiming that they are less productive, inaccurate and unreliable. But the genie is out of the bottle. The coming change is every bit as profound as the impact of TV and the telephone, and just as inevitable.