By Mike Cronin
Every so often you come across a book that leads you to multiple epiphanies. “The Seventh Sense” by Joshua Cooper Ramo is turning out to be such a book for me (I haven’t finished it yet). Ramo’s theme: Networks are the next revolution, are you ready to capitalize on that? This post is not quite a book review – it’s more a chronicle of some of the thoughts it has prompted so far.
Historians, archaeologists, and geologists like to describe history and pre-history in terms of epochs, periods, and ages, such as the Cretaceous Period, the Jurassic Period, the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Space Age, etc. In human history, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, and the Enlightenment brought Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages and mark the beginning of the increasing pace of change. They signaled the advancement from superstition to science. Those who best understood the power of reason over tradition were best –positioned to become the elite. The Industrial Revolution marked a similar point – those who best understood the promise of industrializing were best positioned to become the elite: Getty, Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.
Since that time we’ve had the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, the Space Age, and the Information Age; and again, those who could best foresee the advantages of the advancements of their time became the elites. Howard Hughes. Bill Gates. Michael Dell.
The next historical paradigm shift may very well be centered on harnessing the power of networks. Human networks started small with clans and tribes, and then grew into cities and nations and empires…which built physical networks of trade routes and roads. Trans-oceanic shipping started to tie the nations, cities and empires together across and around the globe, but the connection speed was very slow – weeks or months, or even years.
Steam power shrunk that time to days or weeks across the oceans…and continents, on rail networks. The telegraph and radio and television accelerated message transmission to the speed of light, but the bandwidth was still very narrow.
Along came computers and the internet, and advanced us to the current state of affairs: instant, high-bandwidth communication to almost anywhere on the globe. Here’s where Ramos comes in: We are nodes in networks, be it human, mechanical, or electronic. The people who best understand networks and how to leverage their advantages are becoming, or are poised to become, the next generation of elites. Jeff Bezos. Mark Zuckerberg. Sergey Brin.
In my view, such a radical paradigm shift could lead to the replacement of the nation-state (i.e. country) as the model for organizing human geopolitical affairs. Instead of a world divided into hundreds of countries with hundreds of governments, imagine two global entities: The connected world, and the isolated world. The so-called Globalists may be onto this concept, but they generally have been going about achieving it the wrong way. Some of them were (or still are) putting the cart before the horse. They had already attained some measure of “elite-ness” in the existing Space Age and Information Age paradigms, then anointed themselves as our betters and purported to tell us how we were to usher in their vision of things – with themselves on the top, people like George Soros. Many such globalists miscalculated badly with the US election, while President Trump’s campaign team represents an effective example of the new paradigm. Trump’s message may smack of nationalism, but his campaign strategists still shrewdly demonstrated a facility with the power of networks that eluded the globalist elites. The Trump campaign spent half as much money as Hillary Clinton’s, yet it harnessed the power of social media networks to connect “nodes” the Clinton campaign ignored and to bypass the mainstream media. This strategy was at least partially responsible for Trump’s electoral win.
Time will tell whether his Cabinet and other advisers will show the same prescience as his campaign strategists. Meanwhile, you and I and our children must learn to harness the power of networks if we are to remain relevant in the coming Network Revolution.