Integrating the fragments to build a new civilization will be neither a simple nor an easy task. The new will be built partly from remnants of the old, but it will have to have a new social glue, a new world view, new technology, and a new ethical consensus. This section will contain a summary of how some of the ideas throughout the book relate to this integrative theme.
Fragmentation and Dependence
The theme of dependence has been an important one in this book. As indicated in Chapter 1, the course of history depends on the ethics and technology of the people it describes. Indeed, the very notion of society assumes human interdependency. All actions are part of chains of consequence--they have effects, and none of them is isolated--everyone's depend on everyone else's. The same is true of technology--everything is connected to everything else. Thus in sum, as in Chapter 1:
The recognition of this principle is at the root of building of new cultures, for whatever its diversity, a society consists of the commonality of interests and mutual dependencies that have been agreed to by the people involved--even in the inherently unstable situations where this agreement has been temporarily secured by force. In the difficult years of transition when an old society is brought face-to-face with its successor, the old inevitably fragments. This has been pronounced in the current transition because of two additional factors: First, rapid technological change has coincided with pronounced shifts in the ethical and spiritual foundations of Western culture, and these have promoted equally rapid social changes. Second, the specialization that was so important to the industrial age tended to encourage people to fragment their life roles into discrete compartments. One result has been to place great stress on the individual and reduce the emphasis on duties and responsibilities to society as a whole.
This book has attempted to make the case that, as a new world view takes hold, new bonds of dependency must emerge and that these will give structural form to the successor civilization. The new will still depend on machines, on techniques, and on speciality knowledge, but these will exist and operate in the background of society, rather than by being its sum and substance. People will tend to the needs of other people for more of their time than they spend watching over machines, and they will concentrate more on ideas and somewhat less on technique.
Two trends may affect the speed at which cultural fragments of the machine age are assembled into a new form. First, reaction to perceived extremes of fragmentation may promote even more rapid integration--in the same contrarian manner that the stock market often reacts after a too-sharp increase or decrease in prices. Such perceptions of concern may include those of the breakdown of old moral codes and religions, an increased crime rate, the isolation of individuals from each other and from government, emphasis on rights to the exclusion of duty and responsibilities, and the focus on individuals at the expense of society. The extent to which such beliefs are true matters less than that people become uneasy with social instability and seek a new and more solid social framework in which to think, work and relate to others. Chaos--even the mistaken perception of it--is simply not stable.
An opposing trend is the continuing rapid pace of technological change, which may contribute to the propagation of new technological and social fragments on an ongoing basis. As a result, it may be necessary for the next society to have continuing dynamic integration as an important operating principle, at least for a time. There is also the possibility, in those nations that are already highly industrialized, that the momentum of the pattern of fragment creation in late-industrial society will result in an "overshoot" into wide-scale social disintegration, aborting the coming of the fourth civilization as described here, or shifting its locus to other parts of the world. The potential for such "overshoot" will be examined more carefully in section 6 of this chapter. It is therefore conceivable that the nations best equipped to successfully implement an information age integration may be those that do not have a long industrial history accompanied by a debilitating load of cultural fragments. In other words, China or some other nation building from scratch may inherit the future, rather than the West.
This last observation applies to all aspects of the machine age culture--they must be re-integrated into a cohesive unity, in order for it to be meaningful to speak of the advent of a fourth civilization. This means, for example, that the academic disciplines must cross-fertilize and begin to integrate. It means that the population as a whole must have better access to and better opportunities to participate in what have in the past been called "academic" activities, and that the intellectual elitism of the past will continue to diminish. It therefore means that there must be a better and more broadly educated population. It implies a renaissance in the arts, new interests in the social sciences and humanities, a more human face on science and technique, a new ethical consensus, and likely a revived general interest in underpinning religious ideas. It means coming to terms with a dynamic view of the physical world and a rapprochement even between science and religion. More broadly, it means gaining the ability to assess ideas, however strange they may initially seem. After all, if certain ideas, disciplines, or doctrines are fit only for intellectual ghettos, it would not be long before the people who expressed them found themselves likewise isolated. In short, integration takes place as interdependence is recognized and a whole culture is pieced together, a whole civilization is built.
In particular, the conundrums faced as the fourth civilization begins are so large, so pressing, and so comprehensive, that humankind can no longer afford the luxury of not using cross-disciplinary approaches in their solution. Environmental problems, for instance, require scientific, economic, social, and political solutions that make sense not in isolation from each other--which is where their practitioners worked in the machine age--but in unified concert. Snow's "two cultures" have to cross boundaries and become one--not by way of a takeover by the sciences as Wilson would have it, but as a true partnership of equals.
What is true in the academic sphere is true of the world as a whole. Its peoples live on a single planet, and are interdependent whether they care to be or not. Environmental, social, economic, and political problems know no boundaries; their solutions cannot either. This is not to suggest a homogenization of all the world's disparate cultures; it is rather to point out the necessity of their cooperating more than competing. The fourth civilization is global in scope; people and cultural groups who attempt to stay entirely their own course and keep others at bay will either fail in the attempt or find themselves shut out of the new era.
The nature of relationships is also different in a more open and unified, less individualistic and fragmented culture. In all of the first three civilizations, relationships were principally conducted through a hierarchy. The hierarchical family, which one could argue was shaped by the prevailing technological environment, served as a model for all of society. Thus, religious institutions, governments, and eventually corporations all were structured in hierarchical fashion and had a command pyramid. One individual was the leader in each of these organizations or in each sub-cell, and had a variety of assistants, each with their departments and authorities. Most people in the organization or larger society were a part of the led, the commanded, the governed, or the workers, and their function was to obey, to follow and to accomplish the tasks given them.
The fourth civilization focus on the dependency of people upon each other and on the importance of their relationships with each other increases the value of what each person contributes to the commonality. This is antithetical to a hierarchical command structure in most activities of the culture. Interconnections of information, technique and relationships are too complex to maintain under a simple hierarchy, and the technology is available to handle them in several dimensions simultaneously, not just vertically. The appropriate model for a culture in which barriers are dismantled, privacy is lessened, and fragments are integrated, is an informed network of partnerships in work and relationships, rather than an inflexible chain of command and obedience. There will of course always be leaders, but effective leadership in the fourth civilization will be more by enlightened consent, and much less by absolute fiat.
Thus, the suggestion was made in Chapter 9 that representative democracy might ultimately give way to participatory forms--on the local level first, but with the potential for extension to a worldwide scope eventually. Other organizations now having an extensive hierarchy, such as some churches, may find their influence decline rapidly unless they devolve the decision making process to their members. More specifically, they will have to realize and respond to the fact that fourth civilization organizations will be the people who make them up, they will not either command or even necessarily employ them. Decision making and accountability in all areas will become much broader and more mutual; in most organizations people will be mutually responsible rather than hierarchically accountable. Such a model could be termed networked accountability and the term implies that each person has direct and mutual responsibility for the success of the total enterprise, precisely because they are the enterprise.
In a hierarchical system, those at the lower and wider end of the pyramid have only to do as they are told. Even if they wish to know about policy, decision making, and the management objectives and goals of the total enterprise, management/politicians/religious leaders can frustrate this desire by keeping necessary information from the lower ranks. Authority flows one way and accountability flows the other. Absolute monarchies, feudal systems and their surviving relatives under the modern communist, third-world police states, and religious theocracies epitomize this in the political realm, and the closely held and managed corporation does in the economic one.
A networked model for government would surely imply a participatory democracy with minimal formal government apparatus, as the functions of providing society with an infrastructure would be broadly diffused among many small professionally owned and operated enterprises. These would have a local scope and focus in most cases. Relationships with distant places could be handled by agents on the scene and by long distance communications rather than by large numbers of political appointees and diplomats.
Recent moves by some Western governments such as those of England and Canada to privatize many of the corporations they have built or acquired could therefore just be just the beginning of a trend that could also see a massive localization of many previously centralized services. There is resistance to this both from statists and from those who perceive the apparent fragmentation of hierarchical structures as the end of the process rather than as a means to reassemble them on a diffusely networked basis. There will also be opposition from vested interests such as unions, whose leaders will try in vain to dissuade their members from participating in such activities, say, by purchasing their workplace. The opposition will be particularly strong where the enterprise has been a part of the industrial age centralized state, and it is necessary to move it to the entrepreneurial private sector, for the opponents will then attempt to arouse public passions against the inevitable by wrapping themselves in patriotism to make their pronouncements. As the example of the former Soviet Union shows, the process of diffuse privatization can also be taken hostage by organized criminals along the way, temporarily halting any benefit to the common people.
Similar trends can be seen in churches, which, though slower than business to respond to social change are much faster than government. Centralized and tightly governed denominations are giving way to fellowships of like-minded congregationally-governed groups having a support staff, but no particular authority in their central offices. Independent community churches are already thriving, particularly those that are stressing the relational and acting as social change agents because of their beliefs. Among Christians, the idea of the "priesthood of all believers" is making yet another comeback, as part of a new conception of the essential spiritual equality of all humans under the sole authority of God.
A 1985 best-seller of this name by Naisbitt and Aburdene detailed changes that were even by that time already taking place in the work force and tried to project these forward into the next millennium. The trends they detailed were based not only on information age paradigms, but also on their perception that the new industries already in place would have a higher demand for workers than could easily be satisfied, once women and the baby-boomers were absorbed into the labour market. They foresaw dramatic labour shortages, with future workers being in such demand they would be able to write their own tickets with respect to job security, working hours and location, fringe benefit packages, retraining and other terms of employment. Some of the key trends identified either by them or in this book, and that have already begun to reshape the corporate environment are:
o the trend away from large corporations toward small entrepreneurships,
o the increase in participation of women at management levels,
o the corporate provision of contracted child care, medical and dental programs, health and fitness facilities and counselling services--in order to attract and maintain workers,
o the new emphasis on company loyalty and involvement in the decision making process,
o the new commitment to extensive retraining and job satisfaction,
o the provision of flexible hours and benefit packages,
o the extension of ownership to the employees in recognition that they are the enterprise,
o the merging of university and corporate interests as each grows more like the other, and
o the opening, broadening, networking, and general demystifying of management.
Many of these themes have been touched upon in earlier chapters of this book. Some of them have already been widely implemented; others have not become important as yet. For instance, workplace demographic change has been slower than they expected; in the mid 1990s jobs were still being lost in sunset industries about as fast as they were being created in new ones, and shortages did not appear even in the computing and information sectors until after 1997.
However, in general, changes in corporations may be the most prophetic of all institutional ones, because companies are forced to respond rapidly even to slight changes in the economy. Thus the forces that are destroying hierarchicalism and promoting networked models are most advanced in their case and their consequences are good indications for what is in store for the slower-moving institutions of society.
The average corporation of the future seems likely to be smaller, largely worker-owned and will have few or no job descriptions. Existing owner/worker/partners will decide when to add new professionals to their teams, and these will be expected to responsibly and quickly contribute to the joint interests. A typical worker will, like Heinlein's human being (see section 10.3), both take and give orders--and likely to and from the same people at the same level of authority at the same time, rather than in a chain or command.
On the larger scale, big projects will be undertaken by networked corporations whose relationships are put together by high-tech engineering/consulting firms. Such meta-specialists in the technique of assembling techniques will play an important role on the corporate scene, for the number of very large corporate players with a permanent identity will be quite small, and the formation of strategic and often temporary alliances among smaller companies will be much more important. An individual professional can become a team player in these big-league enterprises because it is already possible for anyone to maintain a seven day/twenty-four hour office accessible to the entire world, and do so without secretarial assistance.
A networked model of mutual responsibilities within and between corporations and in personal relationships also implies a larger emphasis on ethical conduct. Since fourth civilization society is postulated to be built on relationships rather than on job descriptions, and on integration rather than on fragments, a high degree of dependability and predictability in those relationships is essential. While a relativistic ethic might be temporarily compatible with a specialist, role-playing, and fragmented society, the fourth civilization demands a cohesive and reliable absolute ethic, because it will be built on a rather diffuse network of relationships. People will be once again counted upon for who they are, and not just for the way in which they can play a specific role in one compartment of their fragmented lives.
To put things another way, a fast-paced, rapidly changing and relation-dependent civilization cannot afford to feel its way tentatively through a minefield of potential civil and criminal lawsuits over its every decision or action. Things are happening too fast for that. By the time a major lawsuit can be settled, the elements of the dispute are rendered irrelevant by the passage of months. The professionals one deals with in one's own networked corporation will have a mutual economic interest and community that will work to reduce such hazards internally. They will also need to have enforceable codes of ethics so that their behaviour can be depended upon by the owner/workers of the other corporations who do business with them, either professionally, or as consumers. While using computers may make it easier than it has been to produce comprehensive and iron-clad legal documents governing such undertakings, and even to produce quick decisions on disagreements, a networked model must depend far more on the a priori assumption of ethically reliable behaviour than it does on a posteriori threats of legal action over non-performance. To put it another way, the costs of law suits cannot be allowed to continue growing, or they will swallow the entire world's production.
In a professional trust environment, there is little time for and too much to be lost by legal action; means will be found to avoid the litigious death-embrace by ensuring that conditions leading to it do not arise in the first place. It may also become more likely for a partner/worker who has acted unethically and damaged another company--even a competitor--to be bought out by the other partners and decertified by the professional body than for the injured parties to sue for damages. While there would still be criminal activities, the use of the courts to settle contractual disputes between professionals would, in this scenario, decline dramatically. In sum, there will be practical economic and professional reasons for ethical behaviour; its rewards will promote it, even if no intrinsic value is perceived.
This ideal for professional ethics is based on pragmatism, honesty, full disclosure, truth in advertising and the concept that a person's word is as good as a bond. Mutual, rather than competitive advantage is important in such an environment. After all, the competitor on one project is a potential partner on another. The assumption will not be that a professional knows everything about the field of current practice, but that such a person is equipped to find out what is necessary quickly and efficiently, and can effectively integrate it into the whole project at hand because of a wide-ranging knowledge and the ability to grasp interdisciplinary work as a whole. Such a professional would do so not with an eye to exclusive personal advantage, but with that to successful completion of the total enterprise and to the mutual benefit not only of the partnership but to some extent that of the society as a whole.
At least, such seems to be an indicated outcome of the networked society. Human nature being what it is, there are likely to be many who will want to make a living subverting this model rather than contributing to it. However, in doing so, they would be generating fragments, not a viable integration. The latter requires a bond of trust on the part of those integrating.
To such ends, an important part of every education will be an in-depth study of ethics--both in general terms, and in the ways that such principles relate to specific professions. Throughout the nineties, early versions of such courses were already proliferating at many universities, particularly in schools of business and of computing science, where there had often previously been the most difficulties. It is important to note however, that such courses are of little use if they are designed only to raise sensitivity levels on ethical questions. Professionals having to make real choices in real situations are little served if they are only aware that ethical considerations happen to be involved. They get little from reading numerous case studies if they have no ethical apparatus to employ in drawing conclusions and modifying their own behaviour. Instead, they need to use specific, generally reliable, and probably hierarchically ordered guidelines in order to function predictably. If such cannot be achieved, the fourth civilization as described here will not come about, for the necessity for professionals to rely upon each other in such respects will dictate that no lesser course can be followed.
As indicated in Chapter 10, the school system will also have to change to encompass the new social and economic paradigms. For the grade school, this means a new stress on communications skills so as to prepare students to enter a world where these are essential to earning a living. High school graduates will already be skilled in the finding of information in electronic databases, and in integrating and recasting this into new forms for their benefit and that of others.
Universities will have three major challenges. The first will be to achieve an integration of their own. This means a new emphasis on beliefs, ideas, emotions, and relationships, and a new integration of these with the study of technique, including that of politics, economics, and the hard sciences. Their graduates will need to know who they are, what they believe and why, and be able to place an intellectual foundation under their experience of technique, for all this will be expected of them as leaders in the fourth civilization.
The second challenge, related to the first, will be a shift in strategy when dealing with ideas. It has become the practice to do so only by asking questions. But, while a questioning and healthy doubting attitude are necessary for intellectual maturity, questions alone too often constitute a destructive criticism that leaves the student empty and cynical. Since the imperative of the fourth civilization will be the finding of practical answers, students will need to be taught how to do so. Thus, universities must become places that do not just teach to question, but how to find answers, and having found them, how to integrate them into the total person and society.
The third will be to learn how to deal with the information revolution itself. The existence of the electronic Metalibrary implies the availability of information, and courses on any subject a student might wish. By the late 1990s there were already virtual universities on the Internet, some of them sponsored by old and prestigious institutions. It remains to be seen whether the "bricks-and-mortar" college can compete with one that has no travel expenses or dormitory fees, but can buy interactive lectures from the best teachers in the world. In other words, can the traditional university survive?
Computing technology is the driving force behind the changes to the institutions, professions, and other disciplines. It is re-shaping society at least as profoundly as the industrial revolution did in its day. It has become essential for decision making, knowledge acquisition and representation, and for the functioning of communications and commerce. This technology is, therefore, by its very nature, interdisciplinary, and its proper study and application require broadly educated and experienced practitioners.
The ethical consensus of the industrial age was based on a belief in one's place in society. Church (if applicable), job, family, and state all delineated one or more socially approved roles that were played out by the majority of people. As that age closes, these roles have been compartmentalized and fragmented, and they now await a new integration that will provide a basis for the next civilization. That such integration is necessary for a coherently identifiable civilization is taken here as axiomatic--continuing fragmentation can surely lead only to chaos and anarchy. Some might regard networked relational models as anarchistic by comparison with hierarchical ones, but they are not. Rather, they are different models for different times, hierarchicalism having served its purpose and run its course.
The suggestions made for modifying democracy will also seem troubling to some, but if the basic presupposition that free people ought to govern themselves is still to be taken as absolute, then form must inevitably follow function and bring change to the structure of modern government. Most troubling of all to many will surely be the idea that religion will not only revive but also become a major spiritual energizing force of the fourth civilization. History would suggest, however, that this must be so; indeed it may be the safest prediction of all those in this book. The question of where and when this will come together most effectively and what people will lead the information society has been left open, however, for the best confluence of all the integrating forces is extremely difficult to forecast.
This matter of potential revival of the human spirit and of religion is an important leadership question that was posed in Chapter 11 and has yet to be considered in detail; the next section is devoted to doing so.