Networked and Hyperconnected: The New Social (and work) Operating System

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Beth Kanter Other, Beth Kanter

Posted on October 26th 2012

Networked and Hyperconnected: The New Social (and work) Operating System



This is a terrific presentation from Lee Raine from the Pew Internet and American Life Project that looks at the issue being “hyperconnected” or “over connected” to the web, mobile technologies and social media.   It is the same title of Raine’s recent book.   The presentation looks at how younger generations are always connected and are multi-taskers who count on the Internet as their external brain and approach problems in a different way from older generations.    It raises the question (unanswered) whether this is a good or bad thing.

The presentation draws from a 2012 survey of the “Always On Generation” that provides insights from experts on the benefits and drawbacks of a hyperconnected life and how it is rewiring the young people’s brains.

The study and presentation begins with some context.   The most recent Pew Internet Project Internet and technology use studies show how immersed teens and young adults are in the online environment and how tied they are to the mobile and social sides of it.  Some 95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 76% use social networking sites, and 77% have cell phones.  In addition, 96% of those ages 18-29 are Internet users, 84% use social networking sites, and 97% have cell phones. More than half of those in that age cohort have smartphones and 23% own tablet computers like iPads.

People are using social and Internet platforms –  many of which have immense amounts of  unstructured and often shallow information.   The Pew surveys point out these benchmarks:

Nearly 20 million of the 225 million Twitter users follow 60 or more Twitter accounts and nearly 2 million follow more than 500 accounts.

• There are more than 800 million people now signed up for the social network Facebook; they spend 700 billion minutes using Facebook each month, and they install more than 20 million apps every day. Facebook users had uploaded more than 100 billion photos by mid-2011.

• YouTube users upload 60 hours of video per minute and they triggered more than 1 trillion playbacks in 2011 – roughly 140 video views per person on earth.

What will the future 2020 be like?

The study talks about the future and what the most desirable life skills for young people will be in 20/20:

Among those they listed are:

  • Public problem-solving through cooperative work (sometimes referred to as crowd-sourcing solutions or using collective intelligence).
  • The ability to search effectively for information online and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well (referred to as digital literacy).
  • Synthesizing (being able to bring together details from many sources).
  • Being strategically future-minded.
  • The ability to concentrate.
  • The ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.

It also shares some predictions by experts -which are both frightening and intriguing:

The environment itself will be full of data that can be retrieved almost effortlessly, and it will be arrayed in ways to help people navigate their lives.

• Teen brains are being rewired to adapt to the new information-processing skills they will need to survive in this environment.

• “Memories are becoming hyperlinks to information triggered by keywords and URLs. We are becoming ‘persistent paleontologists’ of our own external memories, as our brains are storing the keywords to get back to those memories and not the full memories themselves,” argued Amber Case, CEO of Geoloqi.

• Young people accustomed to a diet of quick-fix information nuggets will be less likely to  undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information. Shallow choices, an expectation of instant gratification, a lack of patience, are likely to be common results. One possible outcome is stagnation in innovation.

• Another possibility, though, is that evolving social structures will create a new “division of labor” that rewards those who make swift, correct decisions as they exploit new information streams and rewards the specialists who retain the skills of focused, deep thinking. New winners and losers will emerge in this reconfigured environment; the left-behind will be mired in the shallow diversions offered by technology.

• A key differentiator between winners and losers will be winners’ capacity to figure out the correct balance in this new environment. Just as we lost oral tradition with the written word, we will lose something big, but we will gain as well. “As Sophocles once said, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,’” noted Tiffany Shlain, director of the film Connected and founder of the Webby Awards.

While the study may seem like science fiction,  it makes one pause and ponder.    First,  to self-reflect on one’s own consumption of information on the Internet and social channels.    To me, it reinforces the idea that content curation is the path towards reducing shallow information overload and maintaining focus and expertise.

The other pause – and it is definitely more of a futurist perspective – is how this will play out in the offices of nonprofits and the nonprofit work place.   I think about Lucy Bernholz and Robert Reich’s research on the new economy and where this all fits.  I also wonder if  professional development will include learning and practicing those skills listed above – perhaps as a form of peer or connected learning.

  • Have you noticed a change in the way your memory works as Amber Case describes?
  • If you are managing or working with someone from a different generation, have you noticed differences in the ways you think or do work?
  • How does this play out in your work with a nonprofit?

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Beth Kanter

Other, Beth Kanter

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