The dance between humans and how they inter­act with new tech­nolo­gies ulti­mate­ly leads to new words, deeds and norms (behav­iours). In 2003, I don’t think I knew what “LMAO”, “OMG”, “CULater”, “S´up” and many oth­er rel­a­tive­ly new e-terms meant — if these terms even exist­ed.

Big move­ments start out as small, sub­tle changes and steadi­ly gain momen­tum, which means peek­ing in ear­ly helps you to under­stand bet­ter the devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ry and antic­i­pate where trends might be head­ing. When it comes to tech­nol­o­gy, ear­ly adopters even­tu­al­ly find them­selves in con­flict between the world as it is now and the emer­gent new world they are, in fact, help­ing to shape. These thoughts sur­faced after I read Randy Rieland’s recent thoughts about “How Dig­i­tal Devices Change the Rules of Eti­quette”.

Rieland relates some fun sto­ries in order to make some impor­tant points. He tells about send­ing a text mes­sage to his son to find out about a class he was tak­ing. The prob­lem was that Rieland texted four sen­tences to express his inter­est. We don’t know how his son did in that class, but here’s how he respond­ed. Says Rieland, “But his mes­sage was clear: If I con­tin­ued to be so lame as to send texts longer than two sen­tences — using com­plete words, no less — he would have lit­tle choice but to stop answer­ing.”

This may seem to be low-lev­el famil­ial sparks; but, in many instances, such sparks form the gen­e­sis of entire­ly new val­ues and belief sys­tems (eti­quette becomes the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the rules) and the emer­gence of a new com­mon sense devel­ops. That is what Rieland is explor­ing in his post. He cites oth­ers who take posi­tions on whether it’s okay or not to send thank you emails (who has the time to read such sen­ti­ments?), ask any­one for direc­tions (haven’t you heard of Google Maps?), or rou­tine­ly text dur­ing a per­son­al con­ver­sa­tion or dur­ing a meal (why not eat and mul­ti­task?).

But it’s clear, by the end of the arti­cle, that Rieland sens­es a major shift in the norms of com­mu­ni­ca­tions based on such anec­do­tal evi­dence. I have to agree and have already begun to won­der about how all this will play out in terms of the future com­mer­cial impact of such changes. Will new dic­tio­nar­ies need to be draft­ed that detail “neti­quette”? (Oh, wait, there is one!) Are Emi­ly Post’s rules of eti­quette now past their sell-by date? Or, as Rieland notes, will we need new cur­ric­u­la to teach peo­ple how to inter­act face-to-face since so much inter­ac­tion is now dig­i­tal?thinking mind

Such explorato­ry think­ing is rou­tine for any­one who is into nextsens­ing: the essence of oppor­tu­ni­ty fore­sens­ing is hook­ing into the real­ly big changes ear­ly on so that you can antic­i­pate — even par­tic­i­pate in — how they unfold in order to iden­ti­fy pow­er­ful new ways to add val­ue based on your priv­i­leged under­stand­ing of what is now hap­pen­ing.

These kinds of changes are more fre­quent than the well-known (and often exam­ined) gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in atti­tudes toward things in gen­er­al and new things in par­tic­u­lar. This is not about young vs old. Nor is it about he vs she. Nor is it about one com­pa­ny or coun­try vs anoth­er. This is about the shift­ing of norms and how peo­ple might cap­i­talise on such shifts. And when changes are pro­found and fre­quent, one’s per­son­al duty to stay up to speed becomes increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult and con­stant. The per­cep­tive mind can nev­er real­ly rest from its work of mak­ing sense of things and dis­cov­er­ing — invent­ing — new mean­ing.

Nextsens­ing, then, is a think­ing-inten­sive (rather than a cap­i­tal-inten­sive or phys­i­cal labour-inten­sive) endeav­our; and our thought-time is a finite resource that requires us to not only man­age the noise but also to man­age our atten­tion. (Per­haps this is at least one fac­tor con­tribut­ing to increas­ing num­bers of peo­ple being diag­nosed with ADD?). This new demand on our mind real­ly is a big deal and goes far beyond mak­ing good deci­sions on the job or find­ing the next big thing.

All this needs to be con­sid­ered in light of the links between what we think about and how that leads to changes in our actions. It’s a nev­er-end­ing process; and it sounds exhaust­ing (I know), and those of us who are try­ing to gen­er­ate an oppor­tu­ni­ty fore­sense on any sub­ject need to be fit of mind and body as the men­tal chal­lenges will always tax our human sys­tem. Yet, once one engages in nextsens­ing, few choose to return to accept­ing things sim­ply as they are. Think­ing is expand­ing.

The thought man­i­fests as the word;
The word man­i­fests as the deed;
The deed devel­ops into habit;
And habit hard­ens into char­ac­ter;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of con­cern for all beings…
As the shad­ow fol­lows the body,
As we think, so we become.

– Ralph Wal­do Emer­son

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