What does someone do in a bunker? And in a train station? The answer seems quite straightforward. The bunker guy protects himself, the station guy buys a ticket and catches a train. But they are also doing something else more relevant to the transformations that the new information environment is making possible.
The people in the bunker are isolated from the world. Their primordial value is security. They want to protect themselves and their property. In principle, they have everything they need inside the bunker. Whenever they need something else they know where to get it. They quickly get out of the bunker, go to the predetermined place, get what they need and go back straight after. All the information they get is contained in the bunker, and in the few trips to their “trusted sources”. They live in a self-inflicted closed information environment, with nearly zero occurrence of serendipity.
And at the train station?
The people in the train station are in a public space. Their objetives are normally straightforward: buy a ticket or/and catch a train, but to perform these tasks they enter in an open, not -controlled environment in which they may find themselves doing something unexpected (i.e. by serendipity) e.g. buying a bag in a shop at the station, meeting a friend that offers them a new job, meeting their future spouse or a brief passionate affair. A train station, as any other public space, is an open information environment, in which safety and control are not primordial values, but sharing is. The shop has to put a big sign and front window to announce their products, the people at the information centre offer you the necessary information for your trip and even beyond, a stranger may give you directions to the nearest exit, metro station or restroom.
This analogy describes two opposed information environments: closed and open. Each of them has benefits and costs. Closed environments are safe, but not creative. For they don’t allow for the unexpected, the unplanned to happen. Open environments may be hazardous if we’re in them completely unprotected – think of the small kid in a train station alone -, but they give opportunity to new, surprising and innovative things to emerge.
When things are stable and not connected. A closed environment can be the solution. Too much openness can be unproductive when one needs standardised procedures and behaviour for things to work. But when the world is in transformation and increasingly more connected, openness is not only beneficial, but perhaps the only way to survive. For new solutions, new ways of looking at the things, the fast integration of different perspectives become advantages in front of those that do not change and are closed to new ways of thinking.
So now think of the bunker as bureaucracies, and the train station as networks. Two different ways of organising our activities to produce useful things for all of us. Which one is more ready for the world that’s coming?