Reality Grows Amid Fantasy

April 15, 2009

Signal Connections: AFCEA

When cyberspace emerged from William Gibson’s writings to become a part of everyday life, it still was defined by real-world criteria. When online businesses succeeded, it was because entrepreneurs built them according to rational business models. Large corporations and governments tailored their Web sites to provide known public services. Information flocked to the virtual realm, but again it was structured and defined by textual means dating back to Herr Gutenberg. Now, however, the virtual world is playing a leading role in redefining the real world. Unlike the traditional model of exploration leading to exploitation, cyberspace operates in reverse. Nearly two decades of cyberspace exploitation now is leading to exploration into new types of activities that are changing real-world processes.

The very nature of information itself is changing with new capabilities. People no longer want information packaged and presented to them in a structured format. Instead, they want to be given menus from which they will select the information they want regardless of format. In many cases, users can program those menus to package the type of information they want for delivery. This is more a sociological change than one of mere logistics. However, even that change pales in comparison with the overall sociological effect of cyberspace. Explorers are discovering that the way they best exploit information depends on how they interact with each other.

The effect on the intelligence community is one of the greatest examples of this widespread cyberspace-impelled change. The community is abandoning the longstanding tenet of need-to-know and is embracing the need-to-share. Its two-year-old Intellipedia has fomented a revolutionary change across the community, and this change is being embraced and enlarged upon by users. Virtual collaboration is becoming the rule rather than the exception. The nature of—and the relationship among—intelligence collection, analysis, processing and dissemination is evolving with this paradigm shift both inside and outside of cyberspace. And, some of the biggest potential changes may be occurring in the realm that personifies the separate reality of cyberspace: Second Life. People now are flocking to this virtual realm to build the kinds of lives they’ve always wanted in the types of places they’ve always sought. But this isn’t just a digital version of Fantasy Island. It’s a venue for exploring new ideas and concepts set in a framework reminiscent of the real world—but not tied to it.


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