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Punctuated Equilibrium & Phase Transitions

Fountain at Hirshhorn sculpture garden on July 9, 2009 

It is a type of evolutionary theory.   I won’t vouch for my grasp of  the biological details, but I think it well applies metaphorically to societies and lots of things in life.   Events seem to go along more or less the same for a long time and then they jump to something else.  In fact, little changes are building up over time, but they are not apparent and counterbalanced until the system just cannot hold.   This is what happened in the old Soviet Empire and it may be what is happening in Iran today.    It is hard to understand how people of the time could have not anticipated the change because it is so easy to see … looking back. Prediction is a lot harder.

The concept that goes with this is “phase transition.”  The standard example of this is water.  It is a solid ice until it reaches 32 degrees.   Then it turns to liquid. This doesn’t happen gradually.  20 below zero looks like 31 degrees above, but get above 32 and it is completely different.  After that it stays the same from 32 until 212 degrees, when it suddenly turns into steam. 

Hirschhorn_sculpture_garden_on_Jul_9_2009.jpg 

No matter what you call it, I feel like I have just experienced it with the new media.  All those webchats, twitter, Facebook, Flickr, webpages etc have been kicking around IIP for a long time.  Some people were working on them.   But today I noticed that we have made a kind of phase transition.   We are a new media organization.  President Obama is speaking in Ghana today.   We at IIP are supporting with SMS, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.  We even have a place on Second Life, where avatars will discuss President Obama’s words … and it all seems natural, business as usual, NBD to everybody but me. 

And I am feeling like I just missed a train. I liked blogs. I felt reasonably comfortable with Facebook.  But I really don’t have much use for SMS or Twitter and I positively don’t like Second Life.   I used to be kind of a leader in new tech methods of public diplomacy.  I was a pioneer, a mapper of strange new waters - at least that is what it seemed to me.   Now colleagues are swimming effortlessly in the new media ocean, while I am looking out after them like a beached whale.    The wonder is that this all happened in the course of about a month.  The world I have known for some years have shifted, hence my thoughts of punctuated equilibrium and phased transitions.

I am not sure I can go along on this phased transition. Maybe I walked along this trail as far as it can take me and I need to leave further progress to others. Maybe it is just that it is almost 3am and I can't sleep. Maybe things will look clearer in the light of day. President Obama will speak on a from a far away continent in just a few hours and our new media will shrink the distance to something inconsequential. What a wonder.

Anyway, I suppose there are other things I can do. 


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Comments

On the other hand, "President Obama will speak". At the heart of all the new media, there is still somebody making noises with his mouth, just as leaders have done for millennia.

John, I wouldn't worry about the challenge of "the new media", those are just tools and right now there are 1000s of them all vying for "market-share"/readership. I suppose due to their low/no costs that many of these media are favored/used by different segments. In another 10 years we'll just have a patch hooked to our brains that will report our thoughts in real-time without having to speak or type them.

The challenge of our day is deciphering some MEANING and INTERPRETATION from all that chatter. That is what World-Wide-Matel does best !

Here's an interesting article on Forbe's on the "battle" between Twitter, Facebook, and Google. But none of them are very effective without energy created by coal/nuclear/biomass/wind ??

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