The Evolving 5th Estate

Trendspotting for Tomorrow

Individuals assemble and organize themselves into groups for many reasons, companionship, protection, material gain, entertainment, enlightenment, education, and mutual aid. Some of these groups become formal institutions like governments, corporations, the stock market. Others remain informal and casual. One of the purposes of formalizing the structure of a group is to make it work dependably and predictably. With the rise of electronic communications and social networking via tools like Meetup, Facebook, Twitter collective action by

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

collaborative groups that are informal and non-institutional has become easier to establish and maintain.

The characteristics of how organizations operate include how the whether the group is loosely or tightly coupled, the transaction costs of membership and action. The organizational characteristcs create both intended and unintended consequences for the group. Sharing is a key component of new kinds of groups that are collective or collaborative. Cooperation creates a sense of community, but gives rise to a need for control, for example, most listservs and discussion or commenting groups need to have a method to control or get rid of “trolls.” Collaboration requires collective decisions so there is no one person who can take credit for group actions. Collaboration requires negotiation. Collective action creates shared responsibility. Today, community tools and social networking tools make it very simple to get groups up and running but there remain questions about the strength of ties and number of bonds that any individual can maintain, even with the best of social networking tools.

In 1998, Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz proposed a “small world network” theory. A small world network cheats nature by providing a better-than-random trade off between the number of links required to connect a network, and the network’s effectiveness in relaying messages. These networks are hightly resistent to damage because there is no single critical link. This kind of social network approximates a power law distribution. Linking together small networks creates dense, scalable networks.

The small world networks are filters of information and amplifiers create “social capital.” Social capital includes bonding capital which is exclusive to the individuals in the bond relationship. There is also bridging capital which is inclusive. Studies of social capital suggests that bonding capital is strong, but produces an echo chamber effect, while bridging capital produces more good ideas because it brings together diverse elements.


  • Job-defined work orientation among individuals is giving way to other-defined lives. Even in a recession, some millenials are waiting for the right job, rather than getting locked into a job that won’t be rewarding over time.
  • Ideal shifts from risk-taking (want to be policeman) to Fantasy Hero Escapism (want to be a rock star)
  • Shift from word wars to greater reliance on science and technology in policy discussions
  • Shift from regulation (FCC) to uncensored cyberspace
  • Energy wasters become innovators who conserve. They see guilt as “theirs”
  • In religion, shift from a focus on “production values” to back-to-basics religion
  • No more “Red/Blue” states. Micro precincts instead, and niche voters. This granularity is good for marketers, but will it be good for politics?
  • Shift from US as partisan to “honest broker” on the international front
  • International alliances come to the fore e.g. UN surpasses NATO.
  • Trade moves more open than closed, despite economic downturn
  • Global competition shifts the American Century to someone else’s century.
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