September 3, 2002

Michael Schrage: To say that the Internet is about “information” is a bit like saying that “cooking” is about oven temperatures; it’s technically accurate but fundamentally untrue.

The so-called “information revolution” itself is actually, and more accurately, a “relationship revolution.”
Internet “Netizens” vociferously argue that cyberspace is far more a medium of community than it is of information.

    Consider the automobile analogy so popular with “Information Superhighway” champions. The internal combustion engine was a transforming technology. But who defines the automobile giants like General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen as leaders of the “gasoline processing” industry? The real transforming power of the automobile wasn’t its ability to process fuel more effectively; it was the new relationships it created. The car created new kinds of relationships everywhere from drive-in movie dates to the suburban shopping mall.

As a general rule, too many organizations have spent too much time obsessing on the information they want their networks to carry and far too little time on the effective relationships that those networks should create and support.

Consider a small thought-experiment: Whenever you see the word “information” — as in the strategic importance of managing information, or the importance of timely information in solving problems, or the need to make substantial investments in information technology in order to compete in the cutthroat world of global competition — substitute the word “relationship.”

Ultimately, the issue boils down to value: How do organizations, markets and individuals create and manage value? The fact is, people — not information — create the value that matters, and information is merely one of many ingredients that people use. Consequently, the real future of digital technologies and networks rests with the architects of great relationships — not just the architects for timely bits and bytes of information. People who believe in the hype of the Information Age are — pun intended — badly misinformed.

Here’s another thought experiment. Apply these thoughts to eLearning. Change “content” to “relationship.” Content is not king.

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