Everything and Everythought: Looking at the Future

I’ve criticized Cisco often for making statements more calculated to generate PR than to provide any insight about the conditions in the networking space.  Cisco’s CTO Padmasree Warrior has been at least as guilty as any other Cisco exec in this regard, but I recently saw a quote from her that makes some sense.  The context of the comment was thin, so the insight behind it might be as well, but there’s some real value in the vision, which is that instead of striving for work/life balance, we should be striving for work/life integration.  There may not be much more thought behind this than there is behind the “Internet of Everything” but there could be strong (if accidental) substance below the surface, enough to say that this is where Cisco should have focused all along.

Mobile broadband and social networking have made social interaction pervasive.  If there are companies who believe their people, particularly their key people, aren’t checking Facebook or Twitter regularly during working hours, they need to dispel their delusions.  What the broadband/social revolution has done is made socialization an independent context for all our lives and not just a distinct state of living.  That means that people could be expected to time-share between work and non-work, not only during working hours but at all times of day.  In many ways, it’s the ultimate notion of telework, except that the world, the day, is the workplace and not just the home.

I’m not going to propose that everything becomes broadband-enabled work, that eager workers with 3D printers will churn out pieces of cars assembled by robots driven around to pick up the parts using Google’s auto technology.  I’ll leave the heavy PR lifting to Cisco.  However, I am personally a very productive person by the measure of everyone who knows me, and a big part of my productivity is that I fit work into every niche that doesn’t impact my overall quality of life.  Thus, I avoid feeling stressed or trapped.  Fact is, I feel fairly comfortable with my lifestyle and its balance.  People who like me shuffle information and electronic communications could adopt the same model.

Which is where Warrior’s insight is insightful.  We do have a terrible tendency to focus revolutionary capabilities on pedestrian missions, or to immediately jump so radically into the future that we leave the Jetsons far behind.  If we can build our personal lives around mobile broadband we can darn sure build the professional lives of knowledge workers the same way.  That should be what we focus on doing.

This implies an extension in my notion of point-of-activity empowerment.  You can help a worker wrestle with interpreting a set of patch panels or valves in a kind of context-less way.  We don’t know where the worker was coming from, how they got the job, whatever, but the local concept still works.  That’s generally going to be true with event-driven models of productivity support.  What the integration of life/work implies is that we have to broaden the model of worker time management, supervisory interaction, and collaboration to deal with the idea that even the notion that there’s work to be done is an event to be driven.  Hey, I’m waiting my turn on the third tee; let me complete the review on a few mortgage applications.  The ability to do that exists now, but the mindset is probably uncommon and the supervisory model to accommodate that style of working is certainly uncommon.

I think that the life/work integration process is based first and foremost on a different collaborative model, because collaboration is the basis of supervision and supervision is how telework or its integrated life/work extension is separated from giving everyone a paid grant instead of a salary.  The hard question here is just what that different collaborative model might look like.

It’s facile to say it’s based on social networking.  It’s more accurate to say that it has to somehow combine “communication” in at least a somewhat and optional real-time sense with some mechanism of context, multiple contexts in fact.  We could visualize this new thing as being a bunch of Twitter-fed wikis, or perhaps even like Google Wave of old.  Concepts, ideas, needs, jobs, assignments, all represent a context.  Obviously this has to be more complicated than a simple context set; contexts are hierarchical and they’re linked by metadata so you can traverse them according to any number of associative properties of the contents.

That’s the thing about a true social collaborative framework; it has to get complicated like social behavior does.  You can’t build an empowering framework that dumbs down the user.  The growth of context demands a collateral growth of organizing metadata, a compensating flow of information.  Could it be that Warrior has invented something that’s actually more important than the Internet of Everything?  It’s the Internet of Everythought.

Certainly the problem with Cisco’s IofE concept is presuming that adding machines to a network automatically generates N-squared  traffic growth.  Obviously it doesn’t because the refrigerator has little reason to talk to the toilet.  But if you posit a group of people being proxied into multicontextual existence where they shift from one task to another by switching everything they see and manipulate, you can see a lot of traffic flowing, a lot of network changes.

Gamers might call this “immersive reality gaming” or “artificial reality”, but what is real in an electronic age?  Is social networking linking people and making friends, or is it linking and making electronic analogs?  To the people using it, there isn’t any difference.  We are our online egos.

Translate this to networks, for a moment.  Think of the cloud as a kind of context store, where waves of what you need to know wash around in response to what you’re doing, reaching toward you with the stuff that’s relevant to your context or sweeping back if you turn away.  It may sound outlandish, but how can something like this not develop once you say that human intelligence draws knowledge it needs?  Think about it and maybe some context will wash over you!

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