Let’s look beyond the waves of media disruption we’re experiencing these days. Let’s try to imagine the end state, when media disruption gets done.
Wait ... will it ever get done? Yes, I think so — at the time when virtually everyone on the planet, during every waking moment, has instant access at will to virtually the entire body of human knowledge. (Maybe in sleeping moments, too.)
When we stand back and look at the big picture, what we call media disruption is really just a series of technological steps in that direction. Each step opens more hours of a person’s consciousness for access to more of the world’s information.
At some point, no longer very far in the future, that connected time will include all the hours of the day. The information will be there, and all you’ll have to do is reach for it. And the reaching will get easier and more effective as search algorithms improve.
Just look at the leaps we’ve made in the last 100 years. We’ve gone from print to telephone to broadcast to the Internet, and on the Internet we’ve gone from desktop to laptop to mobile tablet and handset.
Each of these steps has opened more hours of the day for us, for access to greater stores of information, from more locations and situations.
The next step is wearables, especially if they can supplant handsets.
And beyond that?
Will humans choose to get full-access chips embedded in their bodies or brains, so all it takes is a thought to access any desired information? It may seem like science fiction now, but the time may come when it’s viewed as only a more convenient way to have “hands-free” access.
The big deal in all of this is neither the technology nor the devices. It’s the changes in human behaviour they bring.
Right now, mobile is changing the behaviour of millions of people by opening access during all the previously non-connected hours.
In more and more moments, people are realising they can get answers, find locations, communicate with others, share thoughts and sights and sounds, and so on. They are reaching into the world’s information network more often, for more things, from more places.
Let’s extrapolate all of this to its inevitable destination. At that point, in every moment, you and I — or maybe it will be the next generation, or the next — will be fully adjusted to having complete access to information at every moment.
There won't be the hitch of, “Oh, wait, I can look it up.” We’ll do it by instinct and habit.
What a huge change.
Throughout all of human history, consciousness has been distantly detached from information. We’ve been separated from what we want to know by time, distance, skills, money, availability, and the pure difficulty of locating the precise piece of information we want or need.
In the “Age of Knowing Everything,” when all you have to do to know something is reach and get it, what will change?
I’ve written about this coming era in a previous posting:
“From the global perspective, this [will be] the best thing that has ever happened to humanity. The human mind is, fundamentally, an engine for processing information and producing choices, decisions, and actions.
“For that mental engine, most of the last 200,000 years have truly been the dark ages. It has been a long, confining period in which only a tiny number of humans could get enough information and knowledge to maximise their life potential.
“Now, as information and access expand to infinity around the globe, humans will be able to learn, to see and understand the opportunities that others enjoy, and to strive to maximise their own abilities and opportunities. The increase in human capacity, productivity, and fulfillment will be monumental.”
In the Age of Knowing Everything, what will the benefits be, and how will they be distributed? On a recent Saturday morning, my wife, Cynthia, and I spent a good two hours roaming around among the vast ramifications of that question. Here are a few thoughts that occurred to us:
- As the external information barriers disappear, the remaining barriers will be internal. Individuals who are able and motivated to learn and grow will outpace those who aren’t. Internal barriers of many kinds — psychological dysfunctions, low motivation, learning disabilities, etc. — will hold back many.
- So, while information access will be more equal, the benefits will be unevenly distributed. Much greater benefits will accrue to those who are curious, who like to learn and spend time at it, who seek and find the best information and apply it well.
- Information will be infinite, but there will still be only so much time. Individuals will still make their own decisions on how to allocate their time among amusement, social interaction, learning/growth, problem solving, etc.
- As the global informational playing field becomes more level, individuals in historically underdeveloped nations will race to learn and grow. Workers in developed nations will find the global competition for jobs tougher and tougher.
- Individuals facing choices and decisions will be able to make better ones, based on the information they can access in the very moment of choosing. This is already happening with mobile phones; it will soon be endemic to the entire population. The result could be a general increase in human welfare.
- People who are fascinated by any specific topic and have the energy to pursue it will be able to become category experts quickly by accessing what is already known.
- Experts in a given field will be able to increase their productive thinking time and will be able to check their ideas quickly against existing bodies of knowledge. This will produce faster advances in countless subject areas.
- Schools, colleges, and universities will need to become very different. Designed around a world in which information was hard to get, they will need to retool to fit a world in which students can readily access vastly greater knowledge than a syllabus can provide.
Organised education will be much more about teaching students how to learn, about organizing and navigating vast amounts of information and interpreting it, and much less about serving up specific pieces of content.
- One of the hardest choices people must make in modern times is what line of work to pursue. Historically, young people made choices early and hoped they could last for a lifetime. When everyone can explore any subject area, it seems likely that career changes, and certainly job changes, will become more frequent. This already seems to be happening.
- Behaviours are likely to keep diverging more and more widely. Many people will use the information pool to enable productive and constructive actions that benefit themselves, their families, and — by extension — society. Others will use the information pool to indulge selfish interests or reinforce harmful or destructive tendencies, resulting in actions and decisions that don’t benefit society, or actually do harm.
These are just a few of the possibilities. You’ll surely think of others; please add them in the comments below.
One thing is sure: In The Age of Knowing Everything, when humans are no longer detached from the information they need to make choices and decisions, change will move through the human experience at a far faster pace than ever before.