We live in a world with instant access to vast amounts of information, and to each other. Information used to be held by a privileged few. Now it’s available to the masses at large. And so a number of information age visionaries are predicting the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of a new and enlightened world. Michael Saylor for example predicts in his book “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything” that information technology, especially when coupled with mobile devices that provide continuous instant access, will revolutionize the world. I am inclined to say “not so fast” to these claims.
Here’s a key reason. Human psychology is important in helping us disseminate between the important and the trivial: it is a remnant from the fight or flee instinct that kept our stone age ancestors alive in the face of deadly danger. Our beliefs bias our judgement. And our behavior has been conditioned for too long to respect power, prestige and authority. We are conditioned to trust persons in positions of authority. We are conditioned to follow mostly what successful people say or do. We are conditioned to flock around role models ever since the tribal dawn of our social civilization. The king is dead, long live the thought leader!
So in a competition with the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) blog, my blog stands no chance, even if it may contain comparable wisdom. The entire promise of the information age revolutionizing the world rests on a process of democratization of the right to access and more importantly produce knowledge content. Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat”, mirrors this democratic move away from established institutions and to the individual. He differentiates between the current Globalization 3.0 (individual as main protagonist) and and previous Globalization 1.0 (countries and governments were the main protagonists) and Globalization 2.0 (multinational companies led the way in driving global integration). The information age can be a democratic platform for a really smart individual to compete asymmetrically with established authority, say HBR, on equal footing. And technologically speaking, this is indeed possible.
But technology is only as useful as we make it to be, and our psychology may not have been keeping up with the times. For example, we are not yet blind to prestige. Nor has our wisdom increased to the degree that we can discern value outside of brands. So even though a wealth of wisdom is available to us from a myriad of sources that are competing asymmetrically with established players for our attention span, we continue to flock around the HBRs of the world like ancient Greeks flocked around oracles. Every once in a while something goes “viral”, but the established players have nothing to worry about: it is usually the picture of the morning cereal that resembles Hillary Clinton that qualifies for exponential popularity. So what will truly revolutionize the world in my opinion is getting away from the sheep mentality so we can take full advantage of knowledge proliferation.
So where does that live me and you dear reader? Well, in order for me to gain access to you, or for you find my thinking, we likely will still have to go through an HBR-like middle-man. Even though technology has leveled or “flattened” the playing field as Friedman might say, psychology still provides job security for the middle-man.