Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking normal 4: when my normal is different than yours, and yours than mine 1

Posted in book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on September 17, 2013

This is my fourth installment to a series on change, and more specifically about our understanding of what is normal, and how normal and assumable change (see Part 1: putting normal in perspective, Part 2: putting normal in a longer term perspective and Part 3: rethinking the pace of change.)

I offered Part 2 of this series as a brief sketch of how normal and our expectations of it change and evolve over long periods, there focusing on the written word and on our storage and transmission of text-formattable information. This could readily be expanded as a line of discussion to include graphical information in its various forms, numerical and more general mathematical information, auditory and musical information and other categories that are held to have unique characteristics and identities, but the ongoing story of the spoken and written word and of its newer digital encoding and recording alternatives offers a rich enough history of change, and both disruptive and more gradually evolutionary to prove the core point that I would raise:

• Our understanding of what is normal and expectable change, and so do the ways in which we view and understand and think about our world and our place in it.

I begin this specific posting by noting a book recommendation that in fact fits very directly into the narrative that I offered in Part 2:

• Bernstein, W.J. (2013) Masters of the Word. Grove Press.

One of the core lines of reasoning that runs throughout this book is an observation that the history of the recorded word has followed an ongoing trend: an ongoing if not always smooth and direct move toward a democratization of the power of information, and both as progressively more and more people can access more and more of it and as they can share their own thoughts, opinions and insights, widening the range of information sources and perspectives represented.

Starting more towards the beginning of this story, as I did in my Part 2 installment, if a narrative is not memorized and maintained and transmitted to a next generation of scholars in a pre-literate society, as part of its ongoing oral tradition, it simply disappears. If it is not publically shared through public oral tradition recitals it can have no impact. And it is up to the chosen few who are brought into this tradition as living recorders of knowledge to decide what to preserve and pass along and what to simply let pass away.

A written record can change that and increase the longevity of any information for as long as at least one copy of it remains. But when the written record takes an earlier stage pictographic form, and whether directly representational or abstracted, and it is necessary to learn thousands of separate and distinct character symbols to become fully literate, that creates barriers to literacy per se. And that historically enabled a scribe class to emerge consisting of individuals and family lineages that showed an ability to learn this set of skills, and that was afforded the time and opportunity to do this too – plus of course, a sociopolitical elite that could and did controlled these scribes. According to Bernstein’s reasoning and the evidence that he presents in its support, a move to a more easily learned alphabetic writing system enabled wider-spread literacy. This empowered entire communities, as suddenly it was possible for a more average citizen of a community to learn how to fluently read if not write in a just one or two years, where earlier and more cumbersome writing systems might take ten years and more to really master.

I agree with the basic thrust of Bernstein’s reasoning and add that this open, public empowerment is one of the key driving forces behind the more recent and still unfolding race for new and more comprehensively inclusive online information creation and sharing capabilities, and for their globally wide-spread acceptance and use. Online communications and particularly more interactive online capabilities and the transition of information and knowledge to cyberspace directly challenge the barriers separating third world from first and second – or at least it holds that potential, as well as empowering a diversity of peoples within any country or region that supports this technology. So to summarize, if cartoonishly briefly, the basic message of Bernstein’s book: mastery of the word empowers, and the history of this from the old oral traditions systems forward have been to empower more and more of us more fully.

I have been writing about at least some of the issues that come from that complex of still emerging change in my Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its directory continuation page and also at Social Networking and Business and Web 2.0 Marketing. But I find myself facing this ongoing flow of, and even flood of change from a different perspective here and certainly as I address the pace itself at which this change is emerging, at this juncture in history and certainly in information technology and its applications. And this brings me to what I have come to see as a defining question of the still unfolding 21st century, that we all have to face, and if not always individually then societally:

• Can the pace of change in general, in and of itself create a sense of anomie and isolation and serve more to create barriers than to break them down?

Put slightly differently:

• Does sufficiently rapid change in and of itself create push-back and contribute to societal partitioning?
• And can the pace of change in our information creation and sharing capabilities,
• And the parallel changes in how we think and see our world that comes from that, create or at least significantly contribute to the lumps in the flat-world playing field that we see emerging,
• As well as bringing groups together with shared voices and visions?

I find myself approaching this set of challenges with three very significant areas of human experience in mind, where the concerns expressed in those questions show themselves to be well founded.

• The challenge of have and have not nations and disparities of access and availability, and with and without technology leapfrogging.
• The role of change and its pace in the conflict between Islam and certainly its more extreme protectors, and the West – and the way that jihadist anger stems more from fear of being overrun and forced into identity and culture-denying change, than from anything like a sense of arrogance.
• And of course generational and other divides, and even within more online connected countries and societies, and with this coming from both access barriers and from early versus late adaptor comfort levels – where late enough means never catching up and in fact means falling further and further behind.

I am going to delve into these three arenas of barrier formation if not conflict, and of direct conflict in my next series installment. And in anticipation of that, I note here that my second example, above, directly addresses one of the most crucially fundamental challenges that the Western nations and the world as a whole face, and certainly now as of this writing and for any foreseeable future. And what I will write about on that in my next installment to this series, is central to actually resolving the challenges that I raise in my series: Learnable Lessons from Manning, Snowden and Inevitable Others (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Reexamining the Fundamentals.

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