(This the second post in a two-part series. You can find the original piece, Tunisia: A Digitally-Driven, Leaderless Revolution here). “Self-assembling dynamic networks” is one phrase we should all memorise to prepare ourselves and to understand 2011. This phrase encapsulates the defining aspect of both the year ahead and the years to come, as we embark on the second decade of the 21st century.
Whether we act as individuals, families, communities, businesses, government departments or organisations, there can be no question that we have to listen, learn and adapt according to the massive paradigm shift created by self-assembling dynamic networks and their by-product: boundary-less tribalism.
Wikileaks to Riots
From the embarrassing Wikileaks saga to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on Mastercard, Visa, Paypal and Amazon; from the riots in Tehran in 2009, London in 2010 and Tunis in 2011; and from the establishment of one major trend to the next… self-assembling dynamic networks enabled via digital means are increasingly leaving their indelible mark across the globe. This is clearly the beginning and much more is to follow in the months and years ahead.
Viruses are a good example of a self-assembling dynamic network. Viruses have been described as “organisms at the edge of life” since they possess genes, evolve by natural selection, and replicate by creating multiple copies of themselves through self-assembly. Virus self-assembly within host cells has implications for the study of the origin of life, as it may support the hypothesis that life itself could have started as self-assembling organic molecules.
All Silos Penetrated
Just like biological systems, self-assembling dynamic networks are increasingly manifest in every aspect of human thought, behaviour and endeavour in the 21st century enabled by mobile telephones and the Internet. It is no longer a question of when or where… societies, governments, businesses and non-governmental-organisations are all being buffeted by the consequences of this rising phenomenon. Geo-politics, foreign policy, domestic governance, tran-national business, financial markets and online platforms are all being subject to the vagaries of self-assembling dynamic networks in countless ways.
How do traditionally established entities and institutions counter the worldwide threats of self-assembling dynamic networks whilst harnessing the global opportunities they provide? As these newly emerging self-assembling dynamic communities have an ever-rising direct impact on our daily lives — our so-called touch-and-feel reality — how do we take note that the 21st century world has changed beyond compare? Given that the metamorphosis is now pregnant with opportunities and risks, how does one police self-assembling dynamic networks?
The key features of self-assembling dynamic networks are as follows:
1. Asymmetric power
2. Unintended consequences
3. No central control
4. No intelligent blueprint or formalised design
5. Rapid scaling
6. Unprecedented speed
7. Trans-national synchronicity
8. Total transparency
9. Creation of boundary-less tribalism
10. New order born out of chaos
The fundamental issue is this: in the context of self-assembling dynamic networks, it is difficult to identify a central point of control, because there may be none! This is the definition of distributed architectures of which mobile telephones and the Internet as well as social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are prime examples. This brave new world of self-assembling dynamic networks takes us much further than the earlier generation of internet applications such as search engines, online shopping and banking. It creates an interface between cyberspace and the real world which we all inhabit.
Predominant characteristic of tribes throughout time is the need to share and to communicate ideas, thoughts, observations and views. Digital networks achieve this objective by connecting like-minded members of such new tribes across continents! As the principal players move around the arena, a self-assembled dynamic network structure emerges that no single player can control. Digital networks have taken tribal behaviour to a whole new level of collective consciousness: dynamic self-assembling tribes that come into existence almost instantaneously. Human civilisation has gone from local to national and from national to trans-national tribal behaviour and congregation enabled by digital catalysts.
With the growth of the Internet and with its capacity to communicate any and every idea or thought to anyone on the planet 24/7, we have created the ultimate platform for tribal behaviour. Human beings are social animals and need some form of community. Since the time our ancestors gathered together in caves for protection and food we have formed tribes and exhibit tribal behaviour. As civilisation has advanced our tribes have become more numerous and specific. They have developed into institutions, communities and sovereign nations. Now they are manifest as digital tribes, which can be created instantaneously as self-assembling dynamic networks.
Big Society versus Digital Tribalism
The rise of modern civilisation with its secularism and isolationism has done much to break down the traditional tribal bonds. Social observers underscore our weakening traditional tribal influences, noting that young people’s lack of enthusiasm to join community groups today can be translated as a lack of social responsibility. However, the conclusion that young people don’t want to participate in tribal behaviour does not hold true. They do! It’s just that the format and structure of 21st century trans-national tribal networks is somewhat different from local community participation. It can be described as social networking at one level and a vigorous digital market for the exchange of ideas at another level.
Asymmetric Power of Digital Jungle Drums
The power of social networking, combined with mobile telephony and handheld access to the Internet, can literally change any political, business or social landscape rapidly. In addition, social networking in some ways is virtually poised not just to dominate digital networks, but also to redefine and refine them. In essence, what social networking can do combined with self-assembling dynamic tribal structures is to mobilise a shared interest very quickly. It can become a viral mechanism for the transfer of new ideas via peer-to-peer communications. This is no different from old fashioned jungle drums, which have evolved in the 21st century, but the principle remains the same.
In effect, every digital tribe becomes a self-constructed transient media channel with unbelievable asymmetric power! Very different from traditional fixed media channels with massive set up, advertising and maintenance costs as well as regulatory frameworks and strict codes of conduct that limit their appeal, reach and richness. How relevant are those traditional media to the youth, who represent humanity’s future
Fashion and Music Memes
The tribal behaviour in the fashion and music industry is a critical model for how organisations may see their future in the brave new “digital tribes” world. Both fashion and music focus on capturing the hearts, minds and souls of their customers, who willingly become members of a particular tribe and spot other tribal members through mutual identification of themes, styles, movements, items and abstract constructs with high uniqueness and specificity. In that context, social networking is worth watching as a powerful mechanism to build 21st century tribes.
The phenomenon of self-assembling dynamic networks manifest as boundary-less digital tribes is accelerating and gaining critical mass. We overlook the ability of digital networks to galvanise strong tribal behaviour with asymmetric global power at our peril. Critics of the explosion of digital tribal networks point to their negative aspects:
. Lack of privacy, ie, 100% transparency;
. Capacity for the viral spread of rumour and mis-information;
. Proliferation of useless digital noise alongside useful information; and
. Breakdown of traditional tribalism.
Whilst noting the asymmetric threats posed by digital networks, including hijack and distributed denial of service attacks, it is important to remember the much larger asymmetric opportunity. Digital tribes can be beneficially harnessed as a vehicle for desired socio-economic, geo-political and environmental metamorphosis. As change agents, digital tribes may prove to be second to none.
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