The advent of social networks is transforming the way the military does business. Net-centric warfare once was in vogue, seeking to capture electrons and raw fiber to transform the way combat was fought. Yet an even more powerful and unanticipated net is making waves in remarkable ways. It is the power of relational networks, fostered by loose ties and catalyzed by the proliferation of quickly evolving online platforms.
These networks of individuals are as far removed from centralized chains of command as anyone can be. They span ranks, ages, services and communities. As with water running down a rocky mountain, they find a way to interact and build each other’s knowledge base no matter the formal obstacles laid down by bureaucracy.
The power of these relationships was made very real to me last year when I joined Twitter. Randomly following military-related users, I soon became engaged in deeply strategic conversations with people I never would have found on my own. Senior Army officers were engaging informally with enlisted sailors and deployed Air Force pilots, sparring and parrying with a flurry of articles, links and philosophical references. Nobody told these folks to work together—they simply assembled on their own.
It became apparent that not only were these self-organizing and ever-evolving groups of people learning about warfare in a totally new way, they were becoming friends. Service members continents apart from each other, never having met, now had groups of peers and friends to have a beer with while on temporary assigned duty or leave. Their virtual conversations turned into very real, face-to-face interactions.