When Virtual Reality hit the world some years ago, people were amazed: How fantastic it was to be able to experience some place almost real without really being there!
When virtualization hit the IT business at least some people where amazed by that too: How clever it was to make better use of the server hardware and just have a thin client on an old computer for the users…
And then, what happened? Gradually, everything got virtualized. Servers themselves are not real anymore, they are virtual appliances on other (virtual) servers. Clients are not really were we think they are, they appear inside of a browser window and are actually just seemingly running on the client computer – in reality, they are running on the virtual servers, which again are running on their virtual servers.
The only real thing that exists now is virtuality – everything else is virtual.
But how does that connect to the old idea of producing and consuming that built our political and financial landscapes?
Hurray for service!
The fact is – it doesn’t! We have virtualized ourselves into a new paradigm of just simulating a production and, to some extend, to simulate the consumtion of it as well. We are faking our way through life. A movie like The Matrix wasn’t all imagination, I suppose.
When I grew up, long ago, people were in a mental transition towards the then new and somewhat utopian paradigm: the service society.
Of course, it was new and therefore it was argued – “we cannot live from cutting each other’s hair”, a politician said. But he was wrong. This is basically what we do now. We give and sell services to each other. Sometimes in the shape of something that looks like a product – like software. At other times is is pure mindwork – like this blog posting.
So we have reached the utopia. We finally got there – to the service society – thanks to giving up the idea of getting everything we buy as something physical. By changing it all into services, based on virtualization, we now really can live from cutting each other’s hair.
We have already seen solid consequences of this: Trade unions have almost vanished. Shops have closed (since the few real things we still buy can be bought in virtual shops). Political ideals have more or less disappeared – there is no difference in opionions and ideals any longer between those who own the production environment and those who work in it.
Also capital have been virtualized – not just through BitCoins, but through the fact that lots of things that used to cost money are now available for free. Why buy a newspaper or a book when you can read a virtual edition for free on the internet?
Even the society itself has been virtualized – through social networks, especially, but in general through an availability of information and connections to people across the former physical borders. Through an understanding that we must give something to these new societies, the social networks, that we must spend our time on them, we are at the same time withdrawing ourselves from and thereby reducing the meaning of the old society that was physically defined.
The Service Society 2.0
So, to whom do we now give service? Where are the services based? Do we care more for blogging to the whole world than to join a discussion in the street or in the nearby physical cafe?
What I believe – and please just correct me if you think otherwise – is that the new service society has opened up the world for people who might not have given services to anyone in the old days. It has also closed the ability to do so for people who would have been happy participants in the old, physically defined society.
The virtual societies do not look at much else than your ability to read and write – or to publish or share information in the shape of text, pictures, or videos. So those who are not good at that have difficulties finding any foothold in the new service society. Since the old producer/consumer society doesn’t exit anymore, at least not to the extend it used to do, there are people now in this world who may find it difficult fitting in.
Hopefully there is a parallel Service Society 1.0 – such one that hasn’t been virtualized but allows for people to actually meet in person and be the rich personalities they are. I believe that it is there, but are we loosing it? Is the pendulum simply moving to the other side instead of finding its balance somewhere in the middle?
The virtual opportunities are a blessing to the world. But so are people. I think that we should try to make room for both.
This post has previously been published at LinkedIn Pulse.