Systems Theory 2



Part 1 - How Organisations Work

Part 2 - How Organisations Connect

Part 3 - Making Amateur Radio Accessible


by Richard Thomas G4JJP - February 2021


Over the last twenty years, there has been a huge upheaval in the way people connect and access information and resources.  It has been driven by (a) the explosion of the internet and communication technology, and (b) changes in the dynamics of family life, where pressures of work and shifts in social behaviour. It has transformed the way we access almost everything. It wouldn't be wildly wrong to say that this is as big a shift in society as the first industrial revolution.

The problem is that many Amateur Radio Clubs have, largely, ignored it.  So in this section we're going to examine some of those changes.


The Transmission of Ideas

If we're to understand how to make Amateur Radio more accessible, we need to understand the evolving processes of connectivity between individuals, systems, and organisations.

Technology has always been central to these processes.  The emergence of language was the single most important process for organising and developing thought; the codification of language(s) into symbols and words followed; and then the means of recording and transmitting those words between people and groups underpins the developing history of mankind. Ideas have legs, but they need people to come together to engage with them, and advances in technology - writing, printing, and more recently electronic communication - have facilitated the transmission of ideas.

Fortunately, we don't need to go back to prehistory to understand the changes we need to deal with.


Victorian ClubsThe Emergence of Clubs

The earlierst clubs were probably the medieval trades guilds - though trades guilds go back much further.  Around the time of the French Revolution, informal political clubs emerged. The Coffee House movement in the mid 17th Century in England developed the intellectual, political or religious groups of the time. And in Victorian England, the London Clubs were the real seat of Government.

Like attracts like and repels difference. Political parties, religious organisations, and social interest groups formed their own self-sustaining clubs.  Because they existed to promote a particular issue or world view, they often became competitive.  It's no different for facebook groups today - people with similar views come together to have their views reinforced, not challenged (we will see later how this aspect of social grouping works against advancing the accessibility of Amateur Radio).

And in the early 1900s, the first Amateur Radio Clubs began to be formed.


Amateur Radio Clubs

The important point to grasp here is that until very recently, access required presence. If you wanted access to political, religious, or social activities, you needed to go to the places where people interested in those things met together.   You needed to travel and to meet physically - to go to political meetings, to go to Church, or to go to the theatre.

experimenterWhen Amateur Radio clubs first emerged, they followed the social norms of all clubs:  committees were formed, a hall was hired, talks on aspects of the hobby were arranged, and funding was organised through membership subscriptions.  In systems theory terms, Radio Amateurs formed closed groups - little different from the other closed groups that grew up.  And some became competitive - in systems theory, they developed covert agendas with boundaries that had less to do with making Radio accessible and more to do with control.

Information about Radio also followed the social norms of the time.  Remember, there was no Internet, but advances in printing meant that magazines about radio and electronics were available with colour pictures.  You could subscribe to regular magazines, and people tended to collect them into a mini library of information.  Instead of Google, you searched the back copies of Practical Wireless or Radcom.



The Internet and Disintermediation

 It was much the same with shopping.  If you wanted to buy something, you had to physically visit the shop. The problem with shops is that they can only stock a limited range of stuff, access is limited by proximity and time, and because of the overheads, the cost of running the shop is passed on through the price of the goods themselves.  

Take Pubs as an example. The Brewery Tap was the pub that was directly run by the brewery.  The advantage was that you could access the full range of beers produced by the brewery - not just the stuff that the local pub thought it could sell.  It was cheaper, because there were no transport costs. And you were much less likely to find your beer contained additional water. 

It was called 'doing away with the middle-man'. Or to give it it's technical name, 'Disintermediation' - removing the intermediary. Greater availability of stuff at any time of day (or night) at lower cost right on your doorstep.

And then along came the internet.  Which, with the evolution of transport systems and a huge change in family dynamics (and more recently accelerated by the pandemic which made us even more reliant on the internet), led to things like Ebay, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google. All of them are prime examples of disintermediation.

TwitterAnother example is the use of social media to disintermediate communication.  Donald Trump could communicate directly into the homes, hearts, and minds of his supporters (and detractors) using Twitter.  No more having to rely on the filters of newsrooms, printers, or political meetings. 

The internet has driven a disintermediated revolution that has transformed the way people access almost everything. Whether those things are products or information, training or social entertainment, we've seen a fundamental change greater than the industrial revolution in about one eighth of the time.

So what does this mean for Amateur Radio?