In this blog, I get to selfishly write about what interests me. That's what blogging (or at least *good* blogging) is supposed to be about.
You can easily tell some of my stronger interests: what's going on here at EMC, information technology and the IT industry, customer and partner interactions, business and economics, psychology and organizational theory, even the occasional venture into topics like careers and life skills.
I'm also an armchair student of history. Not the names-and-dates kind of history; more of a general fascination with the broader patterns and models of how humans evolve as a collective enterprise.
And, if you'll permit me, let me share a brief history of us.
The Gathering Age
We evolved in a world where the food we needed was there for taking -- if we gathered it. Plants and wildlife were plentiful -- if we knew where to look and put the effort in. And, of course, we had to avoid becoming a meal for something bigger than us.
In this age, life was mostly about sustenance. Little energy could be afforded to be spent on other pursuits.
To make life easier, we learned to form tribes of aligned individuals who banded together, divided labor, and protected each other.
We developed a rich culture, but didn't have the tools to readily preserve or share it. Our collective information base was extremely limited: tribal knowledge, cave paintings and the like.
The Agrarian Age
We slowly learned that if we settled down in one place, we could grow our own food. Sustenance, while still important, now did not consume our every waking hour. Food could be stored from one season to the next; it could be traded for other goods. There was increased incentive to specialize what we did.
Tribes become villages; elders were replaced by early government. We built roads to move our goods to marketplaces and storehouses. We invented currency to trade more freely.
And we learned to write. We started to codifying our thoughts, our knowledge, our experiences -- and share them with others. Information started to flow. Pen and parchment had its limitations, though.
But our collective information base started to grow.
The Industrial Age
We learned to extract raw materials, manufacture and distribute things at enormous scale: tools, buildings and other familiar artifacts. Food became more plentiful, there was time and energy now to spend on other pursuits.
Transportation was needed to move goods from place to place -- this is the era of railroads, steamer ships, semi rigs and eventually air transport. Finance became important: we invented banking, insurance and capital markets. Towns and kingdoms became nations, blocs and eventually superpowers.
And we learned to print and distribute information widely. Books, periodicals, libraries and mandatory education became the norm in many parts of the world. The collective wisdom of the ages was thus largely available to anyone who invested the time to read.
Our collective information base began to grow very rapidly.
The Information Age
We learned to capture and distribute digital information. We found that just about anything could be sampled, measured, analyzed and understood. Raw data became information became insight and eventually more knowledge to add to the collective pool.
We built vast digital networks and data centers to move, process and store information at massive global scales. Newer digital businesses that had no real analog in the previous era became commonplace. Even money was no longer thought of as a physical thing; it had become a digital entity.
We learned that we could spend our lives completely bathed in information and content, if we chose. There was very little of the human experience that couldn't be searched for, understood and shared with others.
Power clearly shifted from organizations and governments back to collections of aligned individuals. The traditional divisions between nations and societies became less pronounced as we learned that we were all very much alike in our hopes and aspirations.
Our collective information base grew exponentially, but there was more.
We started to actively mine those huge repositories for new understandings and new insights about the world around us. Understanding the data around a thing directly lead to a deeper understanding of the thing itself. Data science become a profession in its own right.
All at once, things we thought we understood well in the previous era were starting to be redefined before our eyes. Education. Healthcare. Science. Business. Economics. Government.
Commonplace social interactions have become very different, e.g. I saw your poke and tweeted you back. How would you have parsed that statement even ten short years ago?
Even parenting isn't what it once was.
Welcome To The Information Age
Past societal transitions took centuries; this one appears to have happened in a few short decades. The term 'digital native' is a meaningful one; it signifies someone who's never known a world without powerful devices, pervasive networks and ready access to our collective information base.
Also a useful term: the 'digital divide' -- the worrisome gap between the digital haves and have-nots. Not every part of the world moves forward at the same pace, unfortunately.
I was not born into a digital world (and thus a digital immigrant) but like many around me, I learned to adapt quickly. I realized what was happening, and made a decision to invest in the new tools and skills. Many of my generational peers chose different paths.
One thing hasn't changed over time; we've always defined by what we produce. In the first era; the food we gathered and hunted. In the second, the goods we grew or traded for. In the third, what we made or did.
And, perhaps, in the fourth -- what we uniquely learn, create and share.
If you think about it, this blog (or most any other digital asset) likely wouldn't have existed even a short while ago. It would have been too hard to create, too expensive to distribute, too difficult to consume -- and besides, there'd be little to gain from the effort.
Now I, like billions of others, can easily ingest vast quantities of information, analyze to my heart's content, write up what I believe to be important, and effortlessly share it with vast audiences around the world. The friction historically associated with information has almost completely disappeared.
I continue to be amazed by the whole phenomenon.
My inputs are often the outputs of others. My output is often someone else's input. Their output then becomes someone else's input. And so forth and so on. It's the new economy -- the information economy. It often moves at the speed of thought. Comforting amounts of latency that we used to have to figure things out are largely gone.
Society has gone real-time -- that's so 3 minutes ago.
How Quickly We Adapt
I believe it's this speed of adaptation is a prerequisite for success in the information age -- not only for us as individuals, but for our collective businesses, organizations and governments. The interwebs are chock full of stories where an individual or an organization didn't realize how the rules had changed around them, and suffered the consequences as a result.
We laugh -- until it happens to us.
Many years ago, I used to read all sorts of business books looking for ideas. Not so much anymore. The latency between ideation and implementation is now just too long; the idea often goes stale and is quickly replaced by a better one. Besides, if an idea has legs, you'll pick it up on your web radar long before it goes into print.
Sometimes, we get asked for EMC's five year or ten year strategy. While we certainly have some good ideas of how things will likely evolve, we also know that anything we write down will probably change before too long.
Ten years ago it was 2002. At the time, I couldn't have made even a wild guess at 2012. That's the world we live in.
When I get in front of IT audiences, I always make a strong case that -- in rapidly changing times -- agility matters more than anything else. It's not meant as a simplistic buzzword -- I think it's essentially a strategy for survival.
Especially in the information age.