FROM PLACES TO SPACES

But the big will have a different kind of bigness.

In the space of networks, size is reckoned differently. The new organization is flat, spread out laterally, diffuse, with nested cores, and swollen in the middle. Companies will change shape more than they will change size.

During the industrial era, size was polarized to extremes. There was the “world,” or the masses, and there was “I.” Industrialization emphasized the large-scale efficiencies of mass production, which quickly led to mass consumption and mass society. A drift to the large, if not the largest, coursed through the society. If something was worth doing well, it was worth doing at the scale of the world. Ambitions ran to the tallest skyscraper, the biggest factory, the largest dam, the longest bridge. The technologies of communication of that age also flexed the muscle of big. The printed page and the radio signal–as central to the industrial age as anything made of iron–informed, educated, and mobilized hundreds of millions from a single transmission source. The power of big was never so nicely diagrammed as in the TV: a tiny spark amplified to reach billions of people over thousands of miles at once, in unison.

The “I” on the other hand was fed by mass advertising and the cult of the individual, which sprang up after the Second World War. A fascination with psychoanalysis, with the ego, with personal expression and self-esteem, culminated in the “Me decades” starting in the 1970s. The first bits of the information age fed this whetted appetite for further individualism. We got personal computers amid personal trainers, personal advisers, and expectations of everything personalized.

 

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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK