I learned a new word over the weekend — cyberbalkanization
“Balkanization” is a geopolitical term originally used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or non-cooperative with each other. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balkanization ) “Cyberbalkanization” is the fragmentation or separation of information in the virtual world.I found a fascinated academic paper, written back in 1997, that mathematically demonstrates that technology has the potential for great opportunities through collaboration as well as negative possibilities through balkanization. Here is the article title and link:Electronic Communities: Global Village or Cyberbalkans? By Marshall Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjolfsson, published in 1997(http://web.mit.edu/marshall/www/papers/CyberBalkans.pdf)The introduction for the paper:“Information technology can link geographically separated people and help them locate interesting or compatible resources. Although these attributes have the potential to bridge gaps and unite communities, they also have the potential to fragment interaction and divide groups by leading people to spend more time on special interests and by screening out less preferred contact. This paper introduces precise measures of "balkanization" then develops a model of individual knowledge profiles and community affiliation. These factors suggest conditions under which improved access, search, and screening might either balkanize or integrate interaction. As IT capabilities continue to improve, policy choices we make could put us on more or less attractive paths.”
In our technology-enabled world, we are rapidly locating ever increasing specialized information. The access to this wealth of data has two directional opportunities. The more broadly disseminated information can be shared, and understood across a spectrum of people, the more connected we all become. Yet, the more specialized the information and the groups of people who share it, the more separated they become from others who do not have, or know of the information. Therefore disconnecting people from each other.This paper demonstrates, through complex mathematical calculations, that all this vast information available can push society in either direction – Global Village or Balkanization of society. The math goes beyond my skill set, but I am fascinated by the theories and conclusions.Some thoughts to consider:A highly balkanized organization, such as a specialized group of experts, collaborating on the same problem can produce the biggest output. These developers, sharing data and insights that focus specifically on the same topic, will more efficiently create new insights.Balkanization can prove to be destructive as well. The paper states that over-specialization creates silos of information, along with experts that do not voluntarily share with those outside their tight circle, nor do they embrace data that exists separately from their group norms. It creates an exclusionary society. While this group of experts more likely will accelerate in linear thinking, there is less chance at leaping forward into vastly new ideas that do not conform to the specific information they use.Cyberbalkanization is happening to our communications media world. Every day there are more sources of information. The web’s exponential growth offers never-ending access to more data. The technology of broadcast and the web deliver more “channels” than any of us can ever attempt to view. It’s fantastic to know such wealth is there for the taking. But, often we don’t. Even with so many options, we tend to narrow our choices to the few that most align to our personal likings. Excluding all the others. Through voluntary balkanization, we create our own paths of information we consistently use to get our input. This effectively blocks off the data that we could be getting from the rest of the universe of options. Therefore limiting ourselves by narrowing what we will allow into our brains. Our judgments are based on only the resources we give permission to participate in our decisions. The availability of a vast universe of information does not mean we actually use it. We are potentially limiting our ability to see new ideas that could change our perspectives.The paper sites many examples of how our use of technology is beneficial to society. For politics, for science, and for business. I also saw application within our profession of marketing and communications. We utilize many of the methodologies that are discussed. After all, our work is best when a combination of it all. Business and politics. Sociology and anthropology. Science and Art.We work from the science of linear thinking – where balkanization gives us focus toward a specific objective. We also celebrate the art of discovery in big leaps, the non-linear solutions that seem to come from out of the blue. The global village of ideas that exist through technology, when shared and explored, will yield unforeseen concepts that capture the hearts as well as the minds of people. We must use both ways of learning to find real successes.