This is the next in my series of posts that I will be developing into a lecture series on the changes we can expect in 21st century thought.
One of the great revolutions we are experiencing is not discussed very much as such. It is our learning how we learn. As Steve Johnson puts it “where do new ideas come from?” We know now that there is a profoundly important social dimension to this. But we don’t yet know how to make this social dimension work better.
The question may be put this way, “how do we learn to get more out of our connections” Before we ponder this, we might consider some 20th century notions about connectivity that are less valuable today than we might like.
The first is connection via membership. Mankind has connected this way for as long as we have been around — we have been members of tribes, families, churches, states, etc. etc. In the 20th century, this included a form of membership that was the most immediately rewarding: membership via employment. But as Rita Gunther McGrath and others point out, firms are less likely to employ large numbers of people than they used to. Having a job and building a career via job holding are likely to become more challenging in the 21st century.
The second is connection via media. McLuhan may have over stated it (the medium is not the message entirely) but 20th century revolutions in media have transformed how we connect with reality. Movies have given us an escape portal that we can access as needed. Radio and TV brought this to the home and expanded its value by linking escape to consumerism. And now the internet allows us to broadcast what we want and become celebrities in our own right. There is a fly in the ointment, however, Notice how much of the above is indeed just escapism. Not serious. If we are to do better exchanges, we will need to learn how to manage our craving for escape.
The third is connection via inspiration. I do not mean old time religion here (though I do not rule out religion as a source of inspiration). I do mean inspiration as engagement in doing things in real time. We are into self-help as never before, daring to become “great”. And we are told that we can all be great if we practice. Fair enough, but isn’t this leading us inward instead of outward? Will we connect better with others in an environment where we are mostly interested in ourselves?
Three challenges. Are there solutions? Well, stay tuned! This is where the fun starts1