What happens when everything changes?

Some­times things shift, the world changes. And what about us? We’re ini­tial­ly over­whelmed. This is com­plete­ly un­der­stand­able and has al­ways been the case. It’s best to re­flect up­on the ex­pe­ri­ence of our fore­fa­thers and look to the fu­ture.

Hu­man so­ci­ety is con­stant­ly de­vel­op­ing, with its evo­lu­tion di­vid­ed in­to four dif­fer­ent eras: the spo­ken word, writ­ten word, print­ed word and dig­i­tal word. Ma­jor changes that trans­form so­ci­ety, our way of think­ing and there­fore our view of the world. But this process isn’t seam­less. On the con­trary: such changes al­ways pro­duce an ex­cess of mean­ing that ini­tial­ly over­whelms so­ci­ety and there­fore its struc­tures and cul­tures. So­ci­ety must then seek ways and means of deal­ing with this sit­u­a­tion and re­duc­ing its com­plex­i­ty, in or­der to cope with the change. This was the case with the pre­vi­ous three changes and is al­so now af­fect­ing the com­put­er age, i.e. dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion.

Change hurts

Far-reach­ing changes are nev­er easy: they hurt and can plunge us in­to re­al crises. But this is a good thing be­cause in a cri­sis, we have to find new ways and means of or­gan­is­ing and ori­ent­ing our­selves. This can hap­pen at var­i­ous lev­els: per­son­al, pro­fes­sion­al and po­lit­i­cal – a di­vorce, re­dun­dan­cy or the elec­tion of an un­pleas­ant pres­i­dent. Our pre­vi­ous­ly se­cure, sta­ble view of the world fal­ters, we stum­ble, floun­der and ques­tion our val­ues and ideals. We go on the de­fen­sive and ini­tial­ly re­ject the changes.

Re­jec­tion leads to ac­cep­tance

Ac­cord­ing to Ger­man so­ci­ol­o­gist and thinker in sys­tems the­o­ry Niklas Luh­mann, de­nial is a pre­req­ui­site of and for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and re­sis­tance to dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion is there­fore a pre­req­ui­site for its im­ple­men­ta­tion. This is be­cause all com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­tains a “ref­er­ence to ex­cess mean­ing”, re­fer­ring to its ac­tu­al mean­ing in the con­text of an­oth­er pos­si­ble mean­ing, with this ex­cess mean­ing mak­ing it com­pre­hen­si­ble. Dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion can be re­gard­ed as a new me­dia era, which in turn can be com­pared with pre­vi­ous eras. And the ques­tion there­fore aris­es of how so­ci­ety has man­aged to struc­ture and cat­e­gorise these ex­cess mean­ings.

The search for new struc­tures and mean­ing­ful­ness ini­tial­ly cre­ates con­fu­sion. In or­der to un­der­stand the new world, new ways of think­ing must be de­vised. This takes time and ef­fort. And courage to move for­ward.

Di­a­logue of the fu­ture

What does this mean for us, for the way in which we in­ter­act? How will di­a­logue work in fu­ture? The com­mu­ni­ca­tion of in­for­ma­tion will no longer be lin­ear, but rather in the form of a ma­trix. Added to this is the sheer vol­ume of in­for­ma­tion and the ac­cel­er­a­tion in com­plex­i­ty, as in­creas­ing num­bers of de­vices are now in­volved in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and every­thing can sud­den­ly be net­worked and changed. At any time and with­out spe­cif­ic lim­its. Straight­for­ward oc­ca­sions, such as con­fer­ences and sim­i­lar events, may sud­den­ly ap­pear and be run very dif­fer­ent­ly be­cause they re­quire more in­ter­ac­tion or in­cor­po­rate new el­e­ments that pre­vi­ous­ly did not seem to fit the con­text. And yes, it will ini­tial­ly over­whelm us and we’ll ini­tial­ly re­ject it, be­cause we don’t un­der­stand it. And that’s good; it’s all part of the process. On­ly then will we be able to ac­cept it and move for­ward. Will you join us?

Image: © Maxim Tikhansky CC BY

Published 30.05.2017 © Brandsoul AG


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Mauro Werlen


Talks with his hands, uses images in his mind to structure the world around him.

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