A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Volvo IT and how they blocked blogs and other sites mentioning social software. Particularly it was sites that happened to have "typepad" or "blogspot" in their address or any other trace of being what could be categorized as "social software". Examples of site that was blocked from Volvo employees was
Recent news tell us that e g US Air Force is also blocking blogs as reported by Wired recently:
The Air Force is tightening restrictions on which blogs its troops can read, cutting off access to just about any independent site with the word "blog" in its web address. It's the latest move in a larger struggle within the military over the value -- and hazards -- of the sites. At least one senior Air Force official calls the squeeze so "utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream."
What might all this mean?
To me these events resonate with something much bigger. Is it a coincidence that these actions mirrors what leaders in China, Burma and other totalitarian regimes have been taken to protect their positions? I think this is a chain of events that are on it's way to spread on a global scale and is the result of a number of conflicting driving forces
- The information and communication technology changes human organizations much deeper than we think - the whole traditional way of building static hierarchies are losing out
- Leaders in one hierarchy after another are waking up to the fact that they are becoming increasingly powerless, and maybe even in the long term irrelevant and the main culprit seems to be be modern communication technology - by trying to restrict and control Internet they think they can decrease the chaos and again return to control
- Because of the 9/11 and the growing threats of viruses, stealing sensitive information through the Internet and global terrorism
(1) the security industry is booming and provide a vast range of better and better tools to restrict certain kind of use as well as gather and analyze enormous amount of information much easier than before and
(2) citizens and employees are in a psychological state when safety and order is regarded as a goal of higher priority than many other things
This development wouldn't be something to worry about if this "shut-the-gates" behavior was just occurring in totalitarian states and old and rigid corporations. But I think we should be a bit worried when we see it being spread elsewhere. What maybe is starting out is a war against free horizontal communication and Internet is the target. 9/11 can be seen as the pivotal event because it started a chain of reactions that eventually turned what could have been a contained shift of organizational models into an open battle between the leaders and the rest.
Some effects of the changing human communication capabilities are inevitable since the old model must make place for new ones. But how this transformation will develop is dependent on many factors. Some uncertainties I see right now are
- how far will the major influential global powers go when it comes to maintain/regain control?
- will the fragile democratic processes actually work when it comes to redefine the power structures according to the new communication reality?
- how much is people in general willing to sacrifice to achieve to some level of (superficial) order and safety?
- which real world power will the horizontal networks gather before one of the major conflicts occur?
- will there be a wide spread awareness of the nature of the conflict or will other issues (like e g the environment)?
Four possible outcomes for the next 20 years?
I think there are four possible scenarios for the future of the relation between the new communication paradigm and models of governance.
Scenario 1 - a smooth sail
It will turn out as the technology people are predicting. New communication possibilities will revolutionize the world and the existing governing structures will first be bypassed and then step by step become irrelevant and eventually disappear as a new organizational paradigm will rise from the rubble of the pieces of the old ones.
This will not happen without conflicts but the conflicts will be contained and of a small scale. In most case reason will win and new rules and regulations will emerge from bottom up.
Scenario 2 - back in line
After seeing some of the consequences of a horizontal and anarchic world almost all top leaders agree on the dangers of entering the unknown and collectively decide that this can't be allowed. The strategy will be to fuel image of the external threats and convince people that we will not be able to solve all these global problems if we allow communication to be completely free.
Some major events will also help to make it very clear to most of us that the price to pay for that relatively small freedom of communication will not weigh up all the chaos that will follow in the trace of dismounting our governing structures and hope new ones will arise.
Scenario 3 - full scale war
It is perfectly clear that most of the leaders of influential hierarchical organizations and countries will not tolerate that new communication technology will change and maybe even destroy the current governing models as well as the nation state - the perceived foundation for stability of the world. In order to maintain order and recreate a well needed economical stability almost all possible means will be used to diminish any further effects of new communication technology. The strategies will differ. Most countries will start off with the nice path of surveillance and infuse a silent threat in order to keep some people afraid and silent. When this fails because of the emergence of DarkNets they will be forced to take the path of the more brutal governments and pull the plug to the public Internet completely. Instead new and restricted channels for financial and corporate use will be developed and financed by e g the dying but now revitalized phone companies.
Countries who still naÃ¯vely believes in democracy and liberalism and accept and tries to adopt to the new communication paradigm will not be able to stand outside of this but will be drawn in to the conflict by the large and more totalitarian countries like China, United States and Russia. The world will be divided between the countries who have invested too much in the hierarchical governance model and actually relies on it for it's existence and the rest of the world who will have a better chance if the game is redefined in a less hierarchic manner.
Scenario 4 - many small wars in different areas at different times
The perceived negative effects of changing communication models are not evenly spread. It is almost impossible to decide on one line of action and the war of organizational paradigms will pop up in different arenas and will be followed by actions in isolation to this area. Each conflict could be geographically contained (within China, Burma or United States), contained within an industry or area (traditional industry organizations or military organizations) of activity or even be contained in an aspect of other things (copyright, terrorism).
This scenario could be a prequel to both scenario 2 and scenario 3, and it could maybe even be perceived as a prequel to scenario 1, but it will be the most tedious and slow chain of events. It is unlikely that this scenario will work since the world is more connected than ever. A conflict of governing models within an area will most certainly spread to other areas very quickly.
This is just a short and shallow analysis that might be severely flawed so please comment on it if you have something to say...