In my last monthly entry I introduced a conversation about what prospectively could be meant with ”The Flow Society”. In the much-repeated claim that we undergo a great ”paradigm shift”, you always have to ask yourself “from” where and what, and identify “to” this and that. Hopefully added with some why’s. My claims at this stage are humble and inviting.
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Yes, in the ”from”, last time, I defined the 20th Century paradigm of a societal model to rely mostly on hard-wired and strong-framed”structures”, and thus talking about ”The Structure Society”. To illustrate the transition from the ”structure society” to the ”flow society”, I introduced the‘hydrosphere’ as a metaphor (“the world of water”), applied to one societal flow – the Flow of Information and Communication. The old societal (mass-)communication thinking – and doing – often included the talk of “channels”, in this sense man-made structural artifacts purpose-made to control water. The new societal communication vocabulary also talks about streams, flows and feeds – borrowed from the “water world”.
Yes, the Flow of Communication.
But what else can we capture as sub-themes of “the Flow Society”? Let me dive a bit shallow in the academic trenches. When it comes to the systematic study of society, we have the discipline of sociology. Not surprisingly, theories – and theorists – of a society in increasing flux and change in this post-modern phase, and mostly driven by the modern information and communication technology as a main driving force and enabler, comes from this area of systemic knowledge generation. First and foremost mention Manuel Castells, with his hallmark trilogy “The Information Age” much and often recited especially during Web 1.0 at the shift of the Millennium, who talks about ‘Space of Flows‘ and ‘Space of Places‘. Added to that, a seminal work is added by Zygmunt Bauman, talking about ‘Liquid Modernity’ (sometimes also talked about as ‘Fluid modernity’).
It would go beyond the focus, purpose and scope of this article to get into these theories into width, detail and scale in this article, so let’s reserve that for another virtual context – I will post about these ideas and in relation to the Flow Society conversation on my own virtual destination to begin with (my Personal Community Hub http://andersabrahamsson.org), and if a critical mass of virtual conversants join in, I have reserved a domain for that purpose (http://flowsociety.org for a prospective community, with their corresponding social services – if you follow the Twitter account @TheFlowSociety to begin with, that’s a first “Survey of Interest”, isn’t it ?).
A part of this “post-modern” state of change is the decreasing importance of the Nation State and increasing importance of greater regional political structures and globalization at large. One such, is the European Union. In its founding process, a core idea was the “Four Freedoms” – the free flow of people, goods, services and capital. It has developed in parallell with the net with its email, WWW and sociality in this last phase of emergence as an arena of horizontal peer-to-peer conversation flow, self-organized in scale-free networks of people and computational nodes, hubs and spokes. Let us experiment with these four flowing entites of value and add the Thoughts of Flow to the reflections around them as a first attempt to identify some valuable core sub-themes.
- The Flow of People
When referred to the free flow of people, it is often thought of in capacity of work. One key ingredient in the idea of the “net society” is the reduced importance and dependence of geography – and its impact when it comes to the changing face of work. During the first and second industrial revolution, there was first a strong dependence to an energy source, and physical production force and real capital, with an admin supportive department attached to the Factory Production Lines. The White Collar tied to an ‘office’ and the Blue Collar tied to an ‘assembly line’, and both separated from other spaces of ‘home’ and ‘leisure’/'spare time’ (be it the café, pub, restaurant, theatre or sports arena). With a transition towards more knowledge intense, more service-oriented, more soft than hard values produced in chains and further on mostly in networks, teams and virtual collaboration, this need to be tied in an ‘office’ separated from your ‘home’ and ‘leisure’ spots has been disappearing. When the ‘Latte Surfer’ is sitting there at your nearest café, working as a Free Agent in a collaboration only sharing a social/mental space “in the cloud”, we have a “how” of work in its biggest change, both in structure, place, form and process. I define this mode of working as “Flow Working”. The Flow Workers, a new net tribe. Yes, follow #FlowWorking on Twitter – tagged when I do it, at least .
I wrote this first part of the article on a train, and the second part in my sofa at home. ‘Nuff said.
With this geographical independence also comes structural independence. The Free Agent is living the freelancer life, and it gets more important in which community and networks he/she moves. The Flow Worker join and/or initiate different independent, singular projects, rather than working with a single company – with a defined beginning and end, and expected result. When done, it’s done – move to the next. With more fluid constellations, appropriate for the task at hand. A very obvious and clear leverage factor for getting this going is the supporting structure the social web and its media services for collaborating and organizing provides. You can in fact deliver invoicable value without even meeting once “in real life”!
- The Flow of Goods
Maybe this is one of the most dominating identifiers of this new state of Global Flow. What gets produced is more important than where – we get things produced where the conditions are e thbest. An ongoing meta trend has been the “Hollywoodization” of the global economy and society – local production of World Class on the global scene. Highly concentrated production of a category of products, sometimes in a very defined and relatively small geographical space – think of computer components of Taiwan, for example. But also different parts of the value chain gets globally distributed in certain spots – for good and for bad, especially with the negative effect on the climate with the increased transport need from here and there. A final product can be made of components coming from hundreds of places, and system assembly of getting it all together in another handfull, and logistical hubs of redistribution are separated in highly specialized spots of the physical value creation overall. Yes, Flow of Goods really define the Flow Society as such.
- The Flow of Services
To get things going in this modernization of a fluid economy, you have services made of a complex structure of workers everywhere. What comes with the net is also the ability to have services produced in one corner of the world and the value experienced and paid for in another. Once again this geographical independence comes into play. With qualified means of service delivery, such as consultancy delivered though Skype sessions and Webinars, or graphical design carried and delivered by web servers, once again delivered by a single agent – or a constellation of many – this could be done from and to everywhere. And also opportunities showing up to be a part of this flow of service delivery on this new dynamic and complex market, comes with serendipity and synchronicity depending on you, to be visible and move around on these social virtual arenas. In short – you never know when and where the next gig is showing up!
- The Flow of Capital
With global cash flow deregulation the financial flows also has had the opportunity to move in new patterns. The virtualities of our social life, to get one example, have made possible new forms and formats of “crowd generated resources” – in short crowdsourcing, and then especially crowd funding. The contributions of the many to get one single outcome – where maybe industrial age financing was the reverse: The financing from a few to get a wide range of outputs through The Factory.
Maybe we can talk about this as the “PayPalization of the economy” – where the final target for the financial goal (or the Free Agent Invoice) gets processed through this service, when and where available. One important part of leveraging this process is the new form of Mobile Payment for the “unbankable”, e. g. as seen in the developing economies like M-PESA system in Kenya. Pay with pin-code protected virtual currency through an SMS!
In this new society taking shape, maybe it has been more important than ever to know your inner compass, On Where To Go. Let me save that theme for my next article – opportunities have never been bigger to shape and construct a new reality for you and your peers. Your own destiny, your own future. But at the same time – the risk of getting outside the “right flows” have never been bigger too. It comes with a big responsibility to find means and ways to be inclusive, to see that people are not left behind and without. Thus the aligned, corresponding theme of action in my Words-As-Deeds in the area of Global Digital Participation that set out the journey of my monthly contributions here on SMC, coming to one year ago now. It is no coincidence that the highest level of “knowledge and wisdom” in the Knowledge Stair of Digital Participation comes with the title “Get Into The Flow!”.
We have the dimensions of Me/You – but also We - One Global Community, and Many Communities in the World. And forming the team of Us, jointly delivering value not just for our own wallet, but also for our own community and our own peers, both local where we live and sensing our global citizenship. All things are connected with all else. In the end, it comes back to me and my welfare in one sense or another, when the hazardous risk of taking care of the recycled metals of value from my disposed cell phone, once got together with components made in Taiwan, now ending up on that landfill outside Accra in Ghana, when that young Western African boy breathes in the fumes of the burnt useless plastic in hunt for the valuable copper. But one problem always corresponds to a possible business opportunity. What can we make of that situation? A scope and purpose for a Social Business?
Let’s co-discover for real, from here, dear reader.
Regards from a Worker in the Flow, getting a piece of work together in the Train and Sofa Office – #troffice and #soffice, yes . Walking My Talk – to Discover and Explore What Isthrough What Done.
Follow The Convo!
[image credit: johnriv on flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnriv/1316039898/]