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.