Historical Perspective on the Development of Weak Ties

Following on our previous post on “How the Fourth Revolutions Enhances the Power of Weak Ties” I find interesting to observe the history of weak ties throughout the different periods we have identified in the Fourth Revolution book: the Hunter-Gatherer Age, the Agricultural Age and the Industrial Age.

In the Hunter-Gatherer Age, Weak Ties were inexistent

As clearly exposed by Jared Diamond in his latest book “The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies“, in the Hunter-Gatherer Age, weak ties did not exist. You were part of the tribe or not. If you were not part of the tribe we had to fight you as a basis (before any attempt at discussion). This is still observed with tribes that had never any contact withe the outside.

In the Agricultural Age, with the advent of Writing, Empires and Cities, weak ties developed, mainly within the wider urban community. Still the extended family (the ‘blood’) and unions between families remained extremely important and essential, before considering any additional relationships.

In the Industrial Age, with the advent of printing and long distance communication of ideas, weak links became much more important. There are a number of instances where weak ties played important roles in particular in the community of scholars, who were exchanging correspondence and ideas all over Europe. It also extended to the skilled workforce and artisans. However, because of the technical limitations, long distance weak links were still difficult to maintain and communication infrequent.

Finally the Fourth Revolution and the Collaborative Age will allow us to fully leverage our weak ties to a much wider and dispersed community of people.

Ideas are breeding through chance encounters with other ideas. They breed through our weak links. With these weak links becoming easier, more global and prevalent, how can the Collaborative Age not be an Innovation Age?


Leaning into the Revolution is a choice

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is a buzzing modern city. The skyline is bright.

A mere 20km East from the city center, steep hills are covered with primitive impenetrable jungle.

Impenetrable to all except the Orang Asli, the original inhabitants of the land. They continue to choose their life of hunter-gatherer. They are the only ones to understand the jungle, it’s paths and it’s life.

Today their children continue to choose to continue this hunter-gatherer life. They are poor by our standards but rich in spiritual connection with nature. They are happy.

What might they think when they see us hurrying amid the flow of artificial lights and pleasures?
Kuala Lumpur by night skylights
It is possible to decide not to lean into a new Age, into a new society. As long as this choice is conscious, it is respectable. Life can be fulfilling.

The worst is not to make any choice.

Will you choose to stay in the Industrial Age, or will you lean into the new Collaborative Age?


Specialization and trade

From Age to Age, from Revolution to Revolution, specialization has increased.

Hunter-gatherers were mainly specialized between men (hunters) and women (gatherers and children-raisers)

In the Agricultural Age, priests, soldiers and specialist artisans were the specialists that did not produce their food.

In the Industrial Age, a multitude of specialist trades developed that did not produce their food and only contributed a small part of the production process.

Specialization cannot develop without trade. Specialists spend their time on their specialty and cannot get what they need to live without trade. Specialists need trade to develop to exchange their production and get what they don’t produce.

Beyond the Fourth Revolution, specialization will further increase. Even maybe to the point where each individual will be recognized as an individual specialist in it’s own self. In any case trade will also necessarily further increase.


Hunter-gatherer Age – the beginning of specialization

The Hunter-Gatherer Age, which follows the First Revolution of Speech, is the beginning of specialization.

During that Age, specialization is mainly related to sex. Men go hunting, women do gathering close to the shelter. But among the men and also among the women, specialization must also have started to appear, based on the skills and capabilities.

Specialization will increase through all the successive Revolutions and Ages.

What will the Fourth Revolution add in terms of specialization? What if, each of us becomes a specialist in it’s own right? 6 billion special people?