Age of Entanglement

The world seems to be less predictable these days, with political and social unrest, a slowly recovering economy and a changing climate. Futurists predict faster changes in the next 20 years, with large impacts on economy, sociology and our daily life. The trends with the biggest influence are reworking our financial systems, the need to become sustainable, and the networked society. In this first of a three-part posting on trends, I will outline the industry and IT revolution of “entanglement” – a trend that has been shaping our lives for years and, in the next 10-20 years, will change the world more fundamentally than any generation before us.

The years between 1990 and 2040 can be described as a new Kondratieff long wave. The idea of long periods of economical and technological development, spanning 40-50 years, goes back to Nicolai Kondratieff, a Russian economist, who first published the idea of long waves in 1925. From 1990 on, with the dawning of the world wide web, a new wave started, which I like to call the “Age of Entanglement“. After having set up the infrastructure of IT and telecom in the decades before, we now start to truly network.

One emanation of this networking is social media. Certainly, social media is not brand new; we have been using several services that could be deemed “social media” before the term became commonplace. The first newsgroups and discussion groups appeared in the early years of the Internet, around 1980, and the bulletin board system allowed topic-related discussion groups from 1990 on. In the early 1990’s – I was fairly new to the Internet and considerably more naive – I used the launch of a website (yes, that was a big event at that time) to claim to a surprised audience that very soon the freedom of the Internet would threaten even the Chinese government. I know, with one out of three predictions correct, I would certainly not make a good crystal ball reader, as I got the timing quite wrong and the region, but at least I read the impact correctly, as we can see in the Arabian revolutions.

What has changed since then is the ease of access to information, thanks to mobile devices. Long gone are the days when we discussed large gender differences or countries without any access. Today, more than 50% of consumers use social media, according to Globalwebindex, and in some countries the usage reaches 80%, so we clearly have reached a critical mass, where systems start to organize themselves.

But it is not only size that matters. Humans are outright clever in using new opportunities. The mixture of connectivity, open information, and the ability to build communities, share opinions and get organized is a creative and sometimes disruptive mix. Social media has the potential to disrupt existing power balances and influence politics. It reminds me very much of the science fiction novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card published in 1984, where the author described a ubiquitous network with a strong influence over political discourse and culture.

We will extend our cleverness to the things around us as well, making them smarter and more networked, weaving a web between humans, humans and machines, and machines to machines – the reason the wave is called Age of Entanglement. In the future, we won’t need to log onto the Internet as we will be connected with everything around us.

If we dare to predict the unpredictable, the networked society will further dilute the barrier between private and business life, and between real and virtual life. The next years will be influenced by virtual-reality, mass customization, nano technology, smart robots and designed/intelligent materials. This translates into more interactions, new forms of entertainment, a further dissipating barrier between professional and private life and in general more “intelligence” around us in our daily life.

The Internet has been the influencing factor but it will be morphed into a network beyond what we have labeled as the Internet. The way we will work, produce and consume will change even more towards a project-oriented organization. The societies based on it will look different from those today, with probably more basic democratic structures and very different definitions of what private and social is, what a nation and a community is, what a job and a social project is. Future historians will define these years as revolutionary and ask themselves, how it might have felt to live during this age of entanglement.

Inquiring minds want to know: Is today’s networked society blurring the lines between business, personal, real and virtual aspects of your life? If so, how do you manage in this age of entanglement?

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Categories: Networks, Theory


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