adapting to the network era

The TIMN model developed by David Ronfeldt states that people have only organized in three basic forms — Tribes, Institutions, Markets — and that a fourth form appears to be developing in societies — Networks. I have suggested that new forms appear and are adopted when the dominant form of communication changes. Institutions developed with the advent of Writing. Markets grew to dominance with Printing. It looks like digital (electric) communications are pushing us toward Network forms.

I use Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media and his tetrad for sensemaking to understand the effects of new communication technologies.

The development of the printing press helped to fuel the Protestant Reformation as the bible was printed first in German and then other languages, as opposed to Latin. Individual interpretation of the bible became a cornerstone of most Protestant religions. The obsolescence of manuscripts made them luxury goods, snapped up by collectors. Print enabled long-form reading and the creation of the novel. Ubiquitous print, especially in the form of newspapers, reversed into yellow journalism and propaganda.

“Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. During its heyday in the late 19th century it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States … Nevertheless, yellow journalism of this period is significant to the history of U.S. foreign relations in that its centrality to the history of the Spanish American War shows that the press had the power to capture the attention of a large readership and to influence public reaction to international events. The dramatic style of yellow journalism contributed to creating public support for the Spanish-American War, a war that would ultimately expand the global reach of the United States.” —US Office of the Historian [It’s interesting to note that ‘Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations’ was terminated during the Trump administration.]

McLuhans tetrad for print

Digital media are changing how we communicate, now in real-time and often with a global audience. The atomized electric media offer instant self-publishing and extend our emotions. They obsolesce the linearity of print and the nuance of long-form writing. As a result, too often, people feel that their opinions equal facts. Digital communications retrieve the orality of the Tribal form, before the advent of writing. In a network society, these become borderless liquid narratives.

“Liquid-modern culture feels no longer a culture of learning and accumulating like the cultures recorded in the historians’ and ethnographers’ reports. It looks instead a culture of disengagement, discontinuity, and forgetting.”
—Zygmunt Bauman (2005) Liquid Life

But as these media are pushed to their limits we already see them reversing into constant outrage and intolerance while a global orthodoxy also develops. Just think of the many topics most people would not discuss on social media, fearing an attack from the Right, Left, or elsewhere. In many ways, we already live in a time of constant doubt and outrage.

McLuhan's tetrad on digital media

Instead of accepting this Reversal state, we have to start discussing these effects of the new media. Then we have to find ways to counter this reversal. Finding online communities outside of consumer media is becoming an essential part of democracy in the Network era, and Facebook is not a trusted space for these communities. It’s only by discussing what is happening with this new communication medium and how it is influencing us that we can develop new network forms for markets, institutions, and communities.

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