Something Has Changed

 Source: Pixabay, used under CC0 Public Domain

Source: Pixabay, used under CC0 Public Domain

There is the saying “everything old becomes new again.” I’ve shared this sentiment with college students about how much they can benefit from studying history and learning from older generations, using the example of building a haystack in the 1930s. It used the same business process principles (crowdsourcing, open source, social) popular today, with the only difference being that technology and the internet make everything tremendously more efficient. 

But I feel there’s been a more substantive shift. We now have access to data that we’ve never had before, with unprecedented immediacy. Add on advanced analytical methods and artificial intelligence, and then sprinkle in the immediacy of sharing “thought, word, and deed.” What I’ve realized is that it is not the underlying principals that have changed, but rather the influence and permanence of the systems that govern them. 

Cultural Systems

We are all subject to strong, invisible forces known as cultural or social systems. They are what shape us as we grow up - the values, practices, and relationships that we carry into adulthood and beyond. Early in life, systems such as family, education, peers, and religion were powerful influences on self and group identity. They worked because they were the most effective and efficient way for knowledge and normative behavior to be learned and enforced. One’s worldview evolved based on the mix and strength of these elements during childhood and young adulthood, developing and consolidating over time as a person experienced life. Progression through life stages was somewhat predictable and understandable, regardless of the starting point.

These systems still exist, but they don’t hold the sway they once did. Their influence is diminished by a technology system which allows what was historically inefficient and counterproductive (dissent, conflict, questioning) to become highly efficient. Now, there is easy and pervasive access to many points of view or belief systems. A bombardment of information from a dizzying array of sources, with an inability to discern credibility or truthfulness. And all delivered across multiple forms of multi-sensory media. The impact is a society that has become diverse, ever-changing and unpredictable.

A Change In Thinking

This shift makes understanding and predicting decisions challenging, and requires that we begin studying motivation and behavior more holistically. Much of the discussion today is about big data, artificial intelligence or machine learning. And being data-driven using these advanced tools can uncover remarkable insight that was heretofore unknowable. But surprisingly, it can also be limiting, and we need to reconcile data and data-based insight against the cultural systems that shape it. Doing so puts context around data, and provides a lens by which a diverse, ever-changing and unpredictable audience can be better understood - for now. 😏