The advent of the Internet made networks the next big breakthrough. Retailers created e-commerce web sites that delivered unique search results and recommendations. Libraries digitized their catalogues to enable searches by subject, keyword and adjacent books on the shelf. Colleges put their course schedules on the web to automate enrollment, wait listing and monitoring of fulfilled prerequisites. The information glut of the nineties was handled by tagged data, large data arrays and search algorithms. "Added connections between nodes of content" was the main thing. Informal learning and conversations were in tune with the times.
It's already time for the next big breakthrough. Generation Y has begun to graduate from schools and enter the workforce. The generation gap experienced by Gen X with Gen Y at home and in school -- will now invade the economic engines and cultural infrastructure. The meaning of the words: "network" and "ecology" will change.
When most people speak of ecology currently, they refer to a combination of nodes. "Ecology" and "network" are nearly synonymous. They are addressing the change from working in isolation to including partners and alliances. As Dave Pollard wrote recently:
A network is actually a fabrication of knots (nodes) designed to trap, rather than connect. Our use of the term to describe n-to-n connectedness of a group of people through multiple degrees of separation is novel, I suspect because such connection does not occur in nature.
Thinking of ecologies as nodes maintains the imagery of "content with added connections". It justifies large corporations with weakened governments beholden to their commercial interests. It perpetuates institutions for textbook education and surgical/pharmaceutical health care. It misses out on the value of ecologies as the next big breakthrough.
Ecologies fill in gaps with growth. Ecologies replace obsolete growth in stages. Ecologies restore balance disrupted by extreme growth. Ecologies grow innovative solutions to problems created by replication. Ecologies thrive on emergent outcomes of highly interdependent invasions, changes and reversals. Ecologies do not manufacture goods, fail to recycle waste products, or stockpile inventories. Content is incidental, disposable and recyclable. Connections is everything.
Because its not here yet, this change is unthinkable. The early signs are "off radar" and seemingly ludicrous. The best way I've thought to picture the next breakthrough so far is "a network with no nodes". In lieu of things that get connected, imagine highly interdependent voids. Instead of linking capable resources, picture joining together "gaps". Rather than tagging content by how it will be used, appreciate the central importance of unknowns, mysteries and unanswered questions.