Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project gave the broad outline of the era of networked individualism we're living in at a talk at KM World (#kmworld) on November 7. Based on extensive research and now published in a new book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Rainie says it's a cosmic level story about how technology has turned people into networked individuals - a new social way of living in the world that substantively different from the basic social units of our ancestors. It's made information social, turned workplaces and is driving organizational models for the enterprise towards networks.
One impact that has been that many institutions have lost measures of trust in the world, (the exception being the US Military and local institutions such as firefighters, librarians and nurses), and that trust has shifted to personal networks. Trust is being transferred from big organizations, hierarchical organizations to personal networks. Influence has shifted influence personal networks - people rely on friends more for recommendations, opinions, perspectives for activities, purchasing decisions, political points of view, etc.
These networks are differently composed - they are segmented, pod-like and layered (we have many more associations, friends, aquaintances than our parents/ancestors) including being able to incorporate what Rainie calls "consequential strangers" - these are not strong ties, or even weak ties, they are now players in your network. People that call on you, or follow you, or that you may reach out to you. One's personal networks through social media, therefore, perform new functions - they become sentries, evaluators, and your own personal audience - as we become broadcasters, getting direct viewing and feedback for one's life happenstances and events.
But it is not just a technological story - there are other drivers towards networked individualism - changes in family life, divorce, delayed age for births, blended families (s different way of extending one's personal network). There's also significant business structures and labor shifts - freelance economy, increasing contingent forms of labor, crowd-sourced labor pools. And transportation and living patterns are splaying out our networks. Friends live in different neighborhoods, different parts of the country.
There are growing identify shifts - including politics and religions. Network individuals are cobbling together their political affiliations away from formal parties or views (they are independent). Forty-four percent of Americans identify with a different religion from the ones they grew up with - with 1/5 of believers claiming 'none' indicating that while they may feel spiritually oriented they don't want to declare a religion. People function more and more as networked individuals and less as group members with their social ties and events organized around the individual rather than a social unit such as a family or neighbhoord school.
But it's the big technology trends that put all this on fast forward. One of those trends is the pervasive deployment of broadband to the home with 70% of American households having broadband, up from 3% in 2000. People are now spending more time online, but not just 'consuming' content but creating and activating content in new ways - they watch more video tell their stories, rate and rank things, make comments and give feedback. According to Rainie, 2/3 of adults and 3/4 of American teenagers are now broadcast creators of content - this range of online engagement - responding to the world, contributing and broadcasting content has dramatically overturned the media ecosystem.
Of course there's the always the connected story of mobile - 91% of Americans have a mobile device, 56% have smartphones and 34% own tablet computers. There are more mobile subscriptions than members of the population of the U.S. - 326.4 million in 2012 (up from 302.9 million in 2010) -- while the population is 319 million.
This leads us to be hyperconnected - Rainie say. Here's the demographic breakout of participation in social meda.
* 61% of all adults
* 43% of seniors are on social networks
* 78% 30-49
* 60% 50-64%
* 89% of young adults
One of the trends of social networking in older adults is that they are reconnecting with ties from their childhood or youth - a factor Rainie calls "Restored Latent Ties" (or as someone mentioned to him 'Resurrection Ties'). And while older adults often expressed dismay at how youth and young adults seems willing to expose a great deal of ther personal life on social networks, he says that the older adult population are now joining health communities online and discussing a great deal about their ailments and medical issues, and getting emotional support and friendly advice and recmmendations from those interactions. People are also interactcing across generations - 56% of parents of teenagers have friended their children on facebook
The nature of networked information
If you've read David Weinberger's book Too Big You Know you know we're living in an information age that's different from linear created information patterns and practices. Now information is pervasively generated, consumed and is actively participatory, social and linked and becomes more personalized via new filters. Rainie noted a recent USC School of Business report that this trend is only going to intensify.
This will require networked individuals to be more discerning - and ironically due to the need to filter and focus on a manageable set of network ties, there may be more limited serendipitous encounters due to information overload. People may also be doing more horizontal reading - i.e., scanning, not finishing articles and filtering at a more horizontal level. The question becomes - are people living in information bubbles, only getting reinforcement from sources in that bubble?
The new social operating system is affecting the world of work as well. It's not about being in one small bounded group in a hierarchy. Many people are now doing simultaneous work on multiple projects, in multiple, distributed teams and with multiple "bosses" and heavily reliant on technology for communication and coordination. Rainie characterized this as moving from a traditional 'fishbowl' of shopfloor or cubicle cities to a networked switchboard model - where the individual is the orchestrator of things.
The benefits of this emerging model is that it can surface extra information, allows organizations to apply talents where needed, brings in mulitple perspectives and solutions, allows the enterprise to be more fluid and nimble and potentially more innovative, supports diversified, better decision-making. But there's also problems with trust, focus, coordination, loyalty, extra effort in managing a complex flow, and institutional memory lapses.