Connection Age: Transcending the Information Age

People have an irrepressible desire to label eras: the Bronze Age, Stone Age, Space Age, Information Age… These clumsy labels are always inappropriate and inaccurate to some extent, yet somehow they help us grapple with our complex history and evolution.

As I gather my thoughts for an informal talk I’m giving in Denver tomorrow, it occurs to me that we seem to have slipped into a new era in the past few years, mainly since the dot-com meltdown. The Information Age has started evolving into what I call the Connection Age

Let me back up a bit: At this Movers & Shakers dinner event tomorrow, I’ll be one of five panelists discussing this topic: What’s New! Technologies for Today’s Business Person. The technologies I’ve been asked to cover are podcasts, feeds and wikis. Rather a clunky hodgepodge, but so be it.

Since I don’t expect to have more than about 10 minutes to make my basic points, I took a little time today to talk this topic over with myself (well, with my digital voice recorder too, but the audio quality sucked so no podcast from that). As I explored these topics, explaining the “so what” of each – which I think is far more interesting than the actual technologies – it occurred to me that there is a common thread here: connection.

  • Wikis are more about relationships between ideas/information than about information itself. They’re about how new ideas spring from combinations of existing ones. They’re about following natural questions and curiousity. The information itself becomes a backdrop. The real action is in the connections: all those links, all those new pages and edits. That’s what makes a wiki alive. That’s how wikis mirror human minds and communities. They represent evolving understanding.
  • Feeds are about direct, immediate connections between people who publish online and their audiences – as well as with new resources which serve as a kind of collective mind/eyes/ears like Technorati and BlogPulse. They’re about interconnected interests. You’re interested in what I write here, so you subscribe to my blog’s feed. You’re interested in what people are saying today about the American prison in Guantanamo, so you subscribe to a custom feed for keyword search in Technorati, which picks up information from lots of feeds. If you want to make connections with real people in real time online, you need a feed.
  • Podcasts are about a more human kind of connection, despite the clumsy, geeky technology involved at this point. They’re about the sound of the human voice, and other kinds of human expression through sound. Music, ambient sound, speech, and more reach us at a visceral level, providing rich information and context. Our whole psychology is attuned to the human voice. Text alone can never reach us at the same level. Plus, podcasts allow people and organizations to extend the reach of their public voice, to participate more fully in the ongoing public conversation.

Paying attention to connections of all kinds is a bit like learning in art class how to be aware of negative space. Connections have their own form, quality, texture, momentum, and meanings. They are living creatures of a sort. That makes them more vital, subjective, and malleable that simple “information.”

As we move forward, tools and ideas that help us make connections will matter more than those which simply manage information. Connections are the foundation of meaning, since we only exist in context. Through all these ages, we’ve always been searching for meaning. All this technology is leading us back to that essence. As distracting as technology can be, if you focus on connections and meanings you’ll probably feel like you’re getting somewhere.

That’s an improvement over information overload, I think.

3 thoughts on Connection Age: Transcending the Information Age

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  1. I was just having a big battle on a philosophy discussion forum over “truth”,
    especially as it relates to government, and as a result, I’d say that there
    are far too many ways in which we’re entered a “disinformation age” or
    a “deception age”.

    And if you still want to pursue the connection angle, I’d argue that society
    is splitting into quite a number of “disconnected” camps. Whether split by
    intense differences in political ideology, technical ideology (PC, Mac, Java,
    Linux, open source, etc.), language, class, wealth, etc.

    Sure, there is *some* amount of flattening, but a lot of stratification as well.

    How many of the world’s billionaires blog?

    How many of us interact online with people who speak a language that we don’t

    How many people below the official poverty level are active online?

    How many of us are interacting online with Arabs who don’t have a positive
    opinion of the U.S.?

    Sure, we connect up with friends, family, business associates, and a little
    networking to expand our own individual bubbles, but look at the great
    yawning chasms between those bubbles.

    And on top of all of this, search engines, web pages, blogs, web feeds, wikis,
    and podcasts are all very, very primitive technologies which have tremendous
    usability problems (not to mention ADA issues and the cultural barriers), and
    we as a society are funding very, very little basic computing research that
    could address these issues, and more.

    Maybe we’re having fun with our “geeky” toys, but we’re not producing
    rock-solid, commercial grade tools and we’re not producing tools that
    really gain any traction on global social issues.

    Podcasts and wikis may be cute, clever, and fun, but where does that really
    get us at the end of the day?

    — Jack Krupansky

  2. Well said.

    It is post like this one and your series on content that put you on my "must read" feed list and have me refer people here all the time.

    Please keep up the great work.