Watching the excellent documentary WikiRebels, I am struck by the idea that it matters little if Wikileaks is right or wrong if it is the new default. From business to journalism to entertainment to war, we are seeing ever more examples of decentralized networks challenging the world’s most resource-rich centralized hierarchies.
In most cases these two types of human organization are locked in an ongoing duel. As yet, no hierarchies have been destroyed by the networks that seek to steal their niches in human culture. Android has not killed Symbian. BitTorrent has not killed the movie industry. Blogs have not killed newspapers. Wikileaks has not killed Mastercard. But, as Mark Pesce noted in his excellent talk at PdF 2009, these hierarchical institutions have been attacked in a very real way. They have less wealth, less power, and less legitimacy (yes, US government, I mean you) as a result of the actions of informal, transnational, and un-funded networks.
It would be too easy to say that now networks and hierarchies are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game, because this figure of speech implies both that the hierarchies are stronger and that there is no clear winner. What is more important to not who is winning, but that hierarchical institutions are now being challenged with a severity that they have never experienced before.
It is too soon to say who will win. It is entirely possible that hierarchies will win the learning curve and find ways to thwart networks. What is important is that this is a new struggle over the structure of human society and each year brings more dramatic examples and grander victories for the network. We are living in historic times.