Part I and a half ended with a sketch of the contemporary discussion. Part II picks up from that with the condition of living in a digital world as information organisms (Floridi). The sketching continues in Part II non-exhaustively by situating and illuminating links to and missing anchors between the discussion and human conditioning in modernity.
In a constantly changing world with increasing speed (movement in space per time unit) the pandemic has provided unprecedented acceleration and deceleration (the change in speed per time unit). What are the potential concepts that can form a new mindset in the midst of turbulence building on what we already know? Any movement (in classic physics) is preconditioned by friction and any stability by inertia. Change is hence challenged to overcome both. Then it can seem odd to throw in the idea of permanence. Our cultures are however built on permanence, not to be mistaken for permanent, but rather as a dynamic stasis. The most profound permanence is our core human values, and the only relative thing is context, not the values, they have permanence and at the same time expresses the sign of the times through context (we don’t burn witches at the stake, but we still have witch kids in some cultures).
The causal argument is banal and still holds true – to know where we are going, we need to know where we are, and quite often it also helps when we understand where we are coming from. Reality is changing and our existence along with it.
The great gig in the sky – because we can?
For sure the title of the Pink Floyd song speaks to all of us, as we are coming out of the great pandemic (potentially-hopefully). Many of us have been performing “the great gig in the sky”, remote work is virtual and much of it in the cloud – the great gig in the sky. With relevance, one may add, 10-15 years ago it was a cumbersome and costly process – today we are technology-enabled “inforgs” living the “onlife” in the words of information philosopher Luciano Floridi – each of us have become a DigitalHuman. The point is that we are enabled, we have a choice – let’s choose wisely and keep set in our minds:
“Ultimately the equation is simple: Culture requires resources, and resources are acquired and managed through technology. No techne, no resources, no culture”. (Luciano Floridi: The Ethics of information, p.304)[i]
So set that it becomes a mindset – it is a fact of all times! Once the masses (we) have had a taste of freedom (e.g., enabled through technology) from and to, that has a positive impact on OUR lives, we never go back (history provides ample examples of this mechanism – the dishwasher is a fine example, as is the wheel).
Innovation – preservation?
In a recent piece, I argued we must preserve the option enabled by technology – “Remote work is a modus operandi – let’s preserve the option” [ii]. At the same time, we need to find ways of establishing a social identity that in an increasing way may not be defined by work and what you do, but rather life and who you are. That can never be a bad thing for humanity, if for no other reason than for the fact that we are forced to interact and treat each other as humans before function, as it should be – we are all humans before anything else. A side note and rather interesting topic is resonance in the “onlife” and what that can mean – the phenomenon of “shitstorms” is an example created by the existence of social media (technology) impacting the whole societal field and existence, data privacy, digital identity and theft of, surveillance, etc. are other examples. (Global Digital Resonance, GDR – a phenomenon in the making). Reflecting on and in the onlife in the infosphere spurs new reflections not only on what it is but also how it is and should be:
“In reality, the infosphere is a shared, relational space, a commons, to use the traditional English term. It is a space where humanity spends more and more time and where more and more activities take place directly or indirectly…” [iii]
Staying in the realm of resonance and human life in the infosphere as inforgs / digital-humans it should be logical that there are two topics that coincide with this state, namely, latency and redundancy but also multiplicity and abundance when we think of social media as part of individuals virtual life and how we define ourselves through others. Firstly, because “resonance” is not always instant it can be prone to latency – it has to bounce off someone to create resonance, and it only does that if it resonates with that someone (both positively and negatively). Secondly, the channels are many and create their own redundancy, to an extent that under certain conditions of potential resonance and network latency (time zones are still a fact of the human condition) can form what we know as going viral. The amplification can be dependent upon multiplicity and abundance (availability) but is in its own nature not necessarily. One could claim that the actual amplification is instead depending on semantics – does the message resonate with the masses (hence, not in the hands of the messenger only). Thirdly, the infosphere creates spaces of redundance and abundance hence countering the risk of lack of resonance, hence an affordance. We see this when certain groups form virtually with extremely specialised interest – people “meeting” each other virtually, that without the presence of the infosphere otherwise would never have met.
Network is no new thing, yet it is often perceived and applied 2 dimensionally, perhaps because it is easy to sketch. Connections in themselves do not produce resonance, relationships are needed, in the words of Jean-Francois Lyotard:
“A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before.” [iv] (Full quote in the endnotes).
Published in 1984! It could lead us astray in other directions of Orwellian footsteps into the darkness of surveillance society (also relevant to the discourse of management countermeasures of working from everywhere – through and through unethical). The point here is however different and multi-fold. Firstly, accepting this is accepting Buber I & Thou as a fundamental fact (also Ricoeur and many others), and basically all the way back to Aristoteles insightful descriptions (prescriptions) on friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics (chapter 8 & 9) – we define and are defined through others. The outer points of human existence: Living with others (also the significant others) and living among others (there are no significant others) and the extreme living without others.
Secondly, and equal to the invention and preservation discussion, not everything that was written yesterday is irrelevant – the basis of the idea of mutuality stretches back thousands of years, maybe we should pay more attention to what we already know but haven’t put in the effort to get to know yet (this is highly relevant for our educational system).
Thirdly, the infosphere provides previously unseen amplification to the basic and ancient condition of relationships (both on the condition of complexity and mobility).
Fourthly, resonance is possible because the conditions for it are available (affordance), hence the lack of resonance is not only a structural challenge (constraint) but rather the use and misuse of the structure (not the structure itself).
Fifthly, ability for sure plays a role and its development is circular like learning the virtues and being virtuous and for now,
Sixthly, the will to will has always been a factor of action.
There’s no one image that can encompass (all) the conditions and relational contexts – but they are not only local, nor are they only universal. The quote also points directly into the self-perception of power as demiurges and on the other also the idea of organisation and hence change. So, being a node in a network is inescapable, no matter if you live with or among other people as a modus operandi. We cannot escape language and communication, which is by the way not equal to information. The two-way street is at least a place of reciprocity and when we aspire to flourishing mutuality must be the ideal goal – dialogue and discourse is hence worthless if listening is not present.
These are all rather functional and structural reflections on the conditions we are in. Before all that lies the phenomenon of trust that for some odd reason is given to us, born out of curiosity and later on governed by fear and scepticism (once bitten twice shy) and also and more importantly in this context – learning. A key human trait, that of the will and that of courage, are the enablers in later life “to will” the other, to dare to trust the other, is what enables change and development by the image of “what something is, it is, but it is also already always something else”. If we have forgotten we can re-learn to trust – in the right environment of psychological safety.
This has many implications, most obviously in this context that the possible network available is abundant and characterised by multiplicity. It impacts us as employees in providing options: Staying, leaving, discussing employers, branding employers, comparing employers, etc.
3 of 5 positions I have had since leavening the army in 2008 was directly related to a SoMe profile (being digitally visible, or rather my existence as a DigitalHuman), out of the two remaining 1 was referral and the last was directly applied – the funny thing is that this last one only lasted 12 months. Options are always connected with potential choice and hence judgement (digital also reframes “Parity of participation”, Part I… and a half) and basically leads back to the advice from the Protreptics in Part 1… and a half:
Therefore, it is also ultimately the call to let oneself be well advised (eubulia), primarily by those who dare tell the truth, but ultimately by “oneself”. [v]
On the employer side implications are equally significant. In the infosphere the idea of “word of mouth” has the same meaning but the extent is quite different than in the analogue world. Flashing empty nobility in value statements and visions is rapidly becoming history. The risk of being revealed was always there but the risk has increased dramatically – they are now high in the infosphere (you cannot hide). As Floridi writes “In the near future, the distinction between online and offline will become ever more blurred and then disappear” [vi].
On par (parity) concepts of equal treatment grows, blooms is probably a better way of putting it, out these circumstances. Maybe a yearly people review should have a yearly reversed hierarchical leadership review and organisational review, and maybe the enterprise review is a mutual thing between employers, employees, vendors, suppliers, stakeholders, and stockholders (maybe the future is more in the direction of Conscious Capitalism [vii] [viii]).
No matter how we twist and turn these (here only scratches in surfaces) we will end up back where we started if we take it seriously. The wise CxO will take it extremely seriously because no new model, framework, or method (agile, lean, Cynefin, Togaf, etc.) will ever reach the depth of human nature, they are all just layers of new surfaces – they don’t touch the lives of people, they do not intrinsically better the one life we have unless we start somewhere else.
Slippery surfaces are not good places to build foundations, organisational foundations must inevitably build on the 4 core abstract concepts of The Good, The True, The Just, and The Beautiful, exactly because it is not about how much you can push your people to perform, it’s about pulling the potential. The symptoms of #thegreatresignation have been in the making for decades (scientific management has paved the way), as stated in Part I and Part I… and a half, the pandemic put the hamster wheel on full stop and provided some much-needed time for us commoners to contemplate life, the one life we are given and what that should be used for. I humbly suggest employers do the same!