It’s been a year since I gave this talk at Likeminds, so I thought it was about time I published my notes! Enjoy, ponder or comment. This is part I. I’ll sum up and add by 2011 thoughts in the very next post… You can watch the video right here.

LikeMinds 2010 - Curation+Creativity - Benjamin Ellis
Image by kind permission of James Poutler.

The way that we interact with knowledge has, and is, changing dramatically. It is often framed in terms of the “digital natives” – a new generation growing up who are as at home with technology as fish in water. However, it’s really not that straight forward. Personally I’m not comfortable with the term “digital native”, even though I am probably one of the oldest of them around.

My father had the vision to see how important computers would be, and I so I by the time the 1980’s arrived I had a computer at home, was writing code and dialling into on-line communities. So, I might have been one of the first Digital natives. But they are not what we think they are, or even what they think they are! Individual differences between each of us dwarf the differences between the generations. No one of us is average – there is no such thing as the average person, and we miss understand people if we try to squeeze them into a statistical box.

We are, however, a generation who do wonder more about “what we think that they think” than any generation before us. We are highly socially conscious, though the mass media and through social media. We are the “we” generation. Knowledge is now socially centred and digitally curated, with a new generation of highly networked tools.

The We Generation

Research doesn’t support the commonly held idea of digital natives. The fact is there are probably as many young people baffled by Facebook as there are grandmas and granddads, and indeed mums and dads, who are gurus. To say that IT literacy is the preserve of one generation and not another flies in the face of all the statistics we have. The social web is spread across age and agenda. It is everyone’s web, or at least almost everyone who wants. The ‘me’ generation is giving way to the ‘we’ generation, a generation that is intensely aware of what their peers are doing, even thinking.

Harder Better Faster Strong

However we are not our parents’ generation. Each successful wave of technology has hit harder and faster than the last. Video recorders were adopted faster than TVs. Mobile phones even faster still, and as for the Internet, well… Each wave reaches majority penetration in a fraction of the time of the last. We adopted and embed the technology into our lives with ever increasing speed.

Digitally Immersed

The next generation are the first generation to have never experienced information scarcity. We live ‘under the graph’ of phones, computers and the Internet. There are things that now encompass all that we do. A new generation is just starting to experience information over abundance, the very people that have never experienced information scarcity. Information hasn’t just escaped from the libraries, it has breeding in the streets, living rooms and offices of the entire western world, and is overflowing down the digital drains at the sides of the information super highway. We’re drowning in it! The next generation will bring new demands into the work place. They have new expectations about technology and the ability to access information. Information Techonlogy is not longer a business tool, it is instrumental to our personal lifestyles.

Like fish in the sea, we are barely consciously aware of how we live off of the digital water that is constantly flowing around us. Try this experiment: Go without your mobile phone, and without the Internet, for a week. Feeling nervous? When you are a fish, surviving in air isn’t so easy! We are so surrounded by technology, just as a fish is not conscious of the water, we aren’t conscious of the digital air around us. Until it is taken away of course.

Simple things like meeting up with friends or a business meeting, which would previously have been planned in detail, are now planned on the fly. We have become co-dependent with the tools of the digital information age, we feed them, and they inform and steer our every move – from where to meet our friends, to which books or films to buy or see.

A New Kind of Execution

The ‘new way’ of ‘doing things’ is also reshaping the work place.”Barely planned behaviour” has become our modus operandi. Rich and available communication channels have switched our ‘planned behaviours’ into new emergent one:. We phone when we get there to sort the finer details of where to meet, or fire up a map on arrival to get directions. The addition of location awareness to our digital devices is pushing things even further. With new services like Foursquare, we swarm to where our friends are. Decisions evolve through an emergent social consensus, rather than one individual’s logic. SMS powered teenagers text their way to a new kind social behaviour, planning without a plan. Increasingly a night out and a day in the office are planned in the same way. An interactive network of micro-decisions, rather than a lock-step turning point. It is collaborative – building a consensus and moving on is fast incredibly fast, compared to traditional business. We are no longer dealing with information at rest, we are dealing with information on the move. An yet many businesses are still run as if knowledge is locked up in filing cabinets, and decisions are taken once a quarter.

While there are both good and bad sides to this emergent planning, it is a fact of business today. We do have to respond in real-time to real-time changes to remain competitive in a dynamic, 24×7, global economy. We are just at the start of a transition in the way that we interact with knowledge. Location aware applications are but the first of a new generation of context aware technology. Traditional, static applications, will need to become real-time and social.