Speed, scope, scale, and simultaneity – the 4S’s - are the key characteristics of postnormal change. They are the linchpin to understanding how the contemporary postnormal times are a radical departure from the change we are used to.
It is not just that things are changing, but that the very nature of change itself is changing.
The notion of Speed is changing. Things are moving faster and faster. Faster travel, faster internet, faster development, and the faster we go, the more money we make. A look at any trend’s S-curve calls for a rapid growth phase, a period of acceleration, but in postnormal times, the acceleration is accelerating! What used to take years, can now be accomplished in months, weeks, or even days. The rate at which the “new” overthrows the “obsolete” is astounding. The rich get richer at super speed; the poor get poorer promptly.
The notion of Scope is blowing up. The world is not only moving faster, but is also becoming a “smaller” place. Events and issues have a global and international impact. A small, localised event can take place across large territories and on opposite ends of the globe at great speed. Air travel and constant international movement of goods and services can spread a virus from a village and transform it into a global pandemic in matters of weeks and days. What could be recorded as tens and hundreds is now recorded in thousands and even millions. 24-hour news broadcast and social media can turn an insignificant piece of localised news into a global spectacle in matter of minutes. A careless tweet can have global repercussion.
The notion of Scale is shrinking. Global events can reach right down to community and individual level. What happens at international level impacts the lives of individuals right across the planet – financial crisis, pandemics, terrorism, climate change, development of new apps, surveillance, even shortage of medical equipment. We cannot ignore what happens in some remote corner of the planet because it could rapidly engulf us all.
The notion of Simultaneity is multiplying. The belligerent increase in speed, scale, and scope is only made more volatile by the proliferation of simultaneity. Crisis, across the globe as well as in communities and the lives of individuals, do not appear one at a time – but a number of them tend to appear all at once! The old proverb, it never rains but it pours sums it up. An economic problem occurs side by side with a political problem, which occurs side by side with a grand host of other societal problems from healthcare to identity, culture, and lifestyle. In 2018, Ebola, MERS and Nipah epidemics occurred simultaneously. Most scientific discoveries and inventions nowadays are made simultaneously by multiple groups of scientists. Often a single event may trigger a chain of events leading to simultaneity of events.
The 4 S’s can be illustrated by the phenomenon of a Tweet. A tweet travels instantaneously, reaching all corners of the Earth. The information conveyed in 280 characters can take on a variety of contexts, inferences, tones, and resultant meanings. A small event in one location can very closely mirror and spread to distance lands. Nominal news can become national and international headlines in a matter of hours as its scale magnifies. The impact of 280 characters can incite millions to solidarity and togetherness as much as it can spew hate and violence. A war can be started over words in a matter of minutes. A life built over years can be abruptly cast to ruin over the course of a long-haul flight. Twitter imbued a global population with the potential power to destroy itself and rebuild something new before anyone had even noticed anything had changed.
The 4S’s set the stage for postnormal change. Accompanied by the forces of the 3C’s, a system can very quickly go postnormal - resulting in a postnormal burst!
For more on Postnormal Times, consult the Essentials section.