Opportunity and the Connected Age

Throughout our lives, all of us have all enjoyed the fruits of opportunity. This is particularly true if we are fortunate enough to live in America. In fact, it seems a distinct American trait to feel proud about hard work and subsequent achievement.

To be fair, however, each of us who has enjoyed any success in our labors must look back towards the original opportunity we had to apply our hard work. We all start with opportunity and make our success from there. More than any other nation on earth, opportunity followed by hard work has been the American way.

The potential dilemma we face in fulfilling the American Promise in this age of cyberspace has to do with the possibility that it’s actually now more difficult to find and exploit good opportunities. For instance, a question we could ask is “has being so super-connected in America helped or hindered the basis of America being the land of opportunity?”

It’s easy to make the argument that of course cyberspace enhances our opportunities. We now seem to know more about each other, how we live and what we do for a living. We can more easily see online information about what our schools teach, what jobs are open and what states have the best employment figures.

Doesn’t that kind of interconnectedness mean everyone has equal access to the same employment opportunities? Maybe…but maybe not. If you’ve been unemployed and unable to move to one of those states with good employment chances, you’re probably saying equal access to opportunity isn’t really all that alive and well in American today.

In the last post, we made the case that opportunity shared is superior to opportunity held close. Sharing opportunity across a community strengthens that opportunity through diverse approaches to thinking and taking advantage of it. Enabling greater “equal access” to opportunity gives us all a better chance to succeed in the hard work of accomplishment Americans do so well. Cyberspace should help us create those greater access options to find and exploit opportunity, right? Again, maybe and maybe not.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to renew equal access to opportunity for all. In a super-connected America, we would think that the free flow of information would indeed help reduce barriers between us…share in opportunity. Paradoxically, cyberspace and super-connectivity do as much to inhibit as to enable access to opportunity.

One example of creating an environment that helps fixate us on our differences rather than our commonality as Americans is a relatively new technologically-enabled ability to selectively gather news from “like-minded” sources. Too many of these sources appear to have increased barriers and inhibit the growth of opportunity rather than expand it. These “sources” include: Drudge Report, Red State Nation, Dailykos, MSNBC, Fox News, and even E! (an instance of an “entertainment” channel that seems equally influential to many) to just name a very few.

In fact, just the use of the term “channel” when describing the medium upon which a television network broadcasts is pretty suggestive that media producers explore ways to separate just as much as appeal to our different interests. We might call this a form of diversity, but we might also call it segregation.

Always on 24-hour news, which chooses to report on the most heinous crimes and government missteps from around the globe, has further degraded our sense of personal security and identity. This insecurity, coupled with the current levels of economic uncertainty, has arguably eroded our willingness to embrace shared access to opportunity. This all too often drives us to seek safety in like-minded communities that also look more like “us.” For a well reasoned analysis of this phenomenon related to national politics and education, spend a worthwhile 15 minutes watching the recent interview of Colin Powell on NBC News.

Our Constitution’s first amendment guarantees no one will abridge “the freedom of speech, or of the press…” but as we see from the growth of such diverse sources of “news”, this also promotes the creation of barriers between the way people think about freedom and opportunity. It could be viewed as a paradox of sorts, but only balanced thinking about fairness of access to opportunity (as opposed to “Fair and Balanced” reporting) can help us break through these types of barriers.

America has offered access to opportunity in ways no previous national entity ever has. And today, in a super-connected world, America should be the undisputed leader in demonstrating the power of universal access to opportunity. Instead, our political system through tactics like “winner-take-all” has further divided us.

“Winner-take-all Redistricting” for state and federal elections is just one often-cited issue that gives us an example of this at the government leadership level. Fortunately, the value of that tactic is at last being questioned by even conservative perspectives…opportunity still has value to many, conservative or liberal.

We’ll be coming back to the critical requirement of equal access to opportunity as the basis for the best chance of success for America in the connected age. The next couple of postings are going to look at leadership in the era of cyberspace, at all levels, as an immediate application to help us ensure the growth of opportunity in our nation. Thoughtful, effective leadership offers us the best near-term chance to leverage the connected nature of America and move opportunity forward for all of us.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on other ways to create and exploit opportunity in America.

Originally posted by Carl W. Hunt and Charles E. Hunt, 2/11/2014.

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