‘Everything, Everywhere’ — Part 1 (all the walls are coming down)
‘Everything, Everywhere’ is a description I once heard to describe an effect of the Internet.
I have tried to search for the person who coined it the phrase but all I’m getting is EE the telecoms company who liked it so much they named their company after it! (Maybe if someone has the time they can inform me of the originator in the comments).
I seem to recall that ‘Everything, Everywhere’ referred to the fact that the Internet (instantaneous transmission of information) combined with technology has the ability to make everything available everywhere.
We have seen this prediction become increasingly real with software, services, and apps becoming ubiquitous, a future that was accelerated into existence by phones getting smarter and relocating themselves into our pockets.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the term cyberspace and this word also implies that there is something ‘spatial’ about ‘the Internet’.
It’s this dimensional aspect which I’d like to explore a little here.
To suggest that we have brought into being what should be considered a spatial dimension in its own right which we exist in ever more increasingly and deeply.
In day to day language we don’t describe the space which objects occupy — the space around us is so ubiquitous and ever present that it’s evident without mention. Our minds are naturally a part of the real world.
Perhaps we have performed the same mental trick with cyberspace (‘the Internet’) and it has become hidden from our view.
A dimension has come into being and vanished immediately behind a curtain.
Yet everyday we experience its effects more and more.
We experience it as individuals and a society through our personal experience. Our relationships with ourselves and with each other are all being shaped and changed through our interactions in this digital realm.
(If you’re interested in a great bit of reading I’d fully recommend ‘The Four-Dimensional Human : Ways of Being in the Digital World’ by Lawrence Scott who uses literary technique and cultural comparisons to navigate and investigate these subtle and not so subtle effects).
“We have an ~everywhereness~ to us now that inevitably alters our relationship to those stalwart human aspects of self-containment, remoteness and isolation.” ― Laurence Scott
We experience it thought our interactions with entities, organisations and businesses through services and their ongoing extension of function and reach.
It’s very much an integral part of our world and its effects are writ large.
To understand what this spatial dimension can bring to society and civilisation, to see what’s going on and where it will lead us, we may need to alter our perception in order to give the invisible form and shape.
Early this century we could ignore air as long as it did it’s job of keeping us alive and not making us ill. It took smog to make us realise there was something happening beyond our understanding - the problem literally became visible.
As humans we have a terrible tendency to just want problems go away, even if that means hiding it or pretending it’s not there. Yet making smog disappear also helped continue a trajectory to today’s particulates, pollution, greenhouse gasses and climate change.
Once our attention is drawn to something and it is made visible, only then can we properly apply our minds.
Fake news, polarisation, the alt-right, these are all signals we can’t ignore. There are many more.
The digital realm for all its benefits may be polluting our society in part because it has disappeared from our minds as well as retreating from our language and discourse, it’s very difficult to question and examine that which is not there…
We no longer perceive ourselves as existing digitally as part of cyberspace. Instead we Facebook or Instagram. We consume a service. Potential routes to freedom have become overgrown, abandoned, and forgotten.
Cyberspace is being hidden behind “the Internet” and the giants.
I would suggest that this change in language and conceptualisation is very useful to big tech and telecoms. But it isn’t useful for society.
In the real world we wouldn’t allow Facebook to build a wall around a billion people, monitor their conversations, and use that information to sell them products.
Yet isn’t that exactly what’s happening?
Maybe it’s time to reclaim this public space and reassert our rights?
BUT politics isn’t the topic of this post and I must get back on track! So let me try to make something visible for you.
Let’s get back to space.
I’d like you to imagine a circle on a sheet of paper.
Now I’d like you to imagine a network, a number of dots with connections between them drawn on a sheet of tracing paper.
If we put these sheets together and use our imagination turn it into a 3 dimensional version then we get a rough approximation of what our modern telecommunications network looks like spanning our globe.
When we visualise the Internet this is often what comes to mind.
This is a very powerful concept, yet I would suggest that it’s also limiting and superficial. We may be missing a trick.
All of the organisation and businesses which are succeeding today are making use of the 2 dimensional surface (on a 3d sphere) to expand and grow. Google lives there. Facebook does too.
Uber just takes the concept of a taxi and places it on this surface. In fact a lot of the services we see today are just something we were doing already transposed onto this surface.
They make what they have, their everything (which is most often your everything), available everywhere.
It’s mostly reproduction + technology.
Yet by thinking deeper and including the very space which the sphere occupies, we can perhaps go beyond the surface and contemplate different ways of doing things.
By altering our conceptualisation we can break free from a form of self-imposed limitation and confinement.
Perhaps we can use this additional dimension to expand from the shallow and transactional into the deep and relational? Is it possible for our values and beliefs to occupy volume and take on a new form of existence?
Or can we play with scale? Can ‘the market’ be placed within a networked dimension of social need? Can the small moderate the large?
Thinking of freedom within networks
In a previous post I used an analogy between road and rail to help facilitate a conceptual leap between a non-networked and networked approach.
I list that section here below in italics as it will help to illustrate another point concerning freedom.
I mention Stephen Dowes’ (co-inventor of the cMOOC) work to demonstrate that something happens when we fully incorporate the network (the Internet) with something that was previously very easy to define, in this instance course-based education.
Stephen’s work moves us from a linear approach through to something which has complete freedom.
If you think of the difference between a train and car there are some similarities.
The train accepts passengers (students) at stations (physical universities) at set times (semesters) according to their timetable (course programme). Passengers (students) travel through a series of stations (modules) with their validity to continue travel assessed by tests (ticket punching) eventually arriving at their final destination (a degree certificate).
For the purpose of accuracy it’s worth bearing in mind that they only arrive there after paying an extortionate fee for the privilege. It really is a lot like British Rail.
A cMOOC by comparison completely changes the conceptual model to one of complete freedom, the railtrack disappears to be replaced with a network. So to continue the analogy it is a move from rail to road.
Students (drivers) are now empowered to freely travel between stations towards any destination they desire, changing their minds along the way.
Here the network has allowed us to escape a constraint.
A networked approach can create a level of freedom which did not pre-exist.
Non-digital (physical), go to a university.
Digital v1 (superficial), enrol in a MOOC (generally run as or by an institution). The learner has freedoms but the institution is the central point. At this level we reproduce the physical world onto the surface of the internet.
Digital v2 (deep), enrol in a cMOOC (the institution no longer has the same role, instead the needs and desires of the learner are paramount). The learner can navigate at will, the central point is the individual and their freedom to decide. Here we have moved beyond constraints and into entirely new possibilities.
Underground, overground, wombling free
Moving beyond the limitations of the surface allows us to do things in different ways and step outside of constraints at the same time.
Whether you’re an individual, an organisation, or a business this is going to change the way things work and the way that we do things.
We must remember that the networks we have today have mostly been created by private companies and it’s no surprise that they curtail our freedoms or co-opt our value.
The networks we will create can be; between us (as people/orgs), of our own design (technology becomes democratised), and for a higher purpose (people and planet above profit and privatisation).
Cultures are informed and maintained by reflections of themselves, as are we as individuals. Moving beyond the superficial could offer a route to more holistic forms of development and interaction.
All the walls are coming down
Networks are able to remove the walls between people and organisations.
This creates new relational model of social interaction and requires entirely more social ways of working together.
Please read on in ‘Everything, Everywhere’ — Part 2 (learning how to work together)