This post was originally published a few days ago at Conversation Agent as a part of a guest series around the Institute for the Future‘s map of the future, and it generated quite an interesting conversation. Enjoy, and feel free to add your thoughts to the conversation!

It’s difficult to picture a future without communication being a large part of – well, everything. We live in an age of instant electronic communication that characterizes and informs the way we operate our lives, essentially on every level in the developed world and increasingly in the rest of it. This creates an interesting dependency, especially for a new generation.

Looking Forward, Who Will Make Sense of the World?

When the VP of PR at Disney shared this video at a PRSA conference I attended this summer, I quickly found myself sharing it with everyone I knew and engaging in some interesting conversations about communication, information, authority, knowledge and the future. It may or may not predict the future of the media, but it’s certainly something worth talking about – in the future, who will organize information and help us make sense of the world?

One of the biggest responsibilities of communication is the sharing and preserving of knowledge. It always has been, since the time of oral traditions being passed from generation to generation. In the modern world, the responsibility for fact, accuracy and the preservation of history has become largely the burden of the press, which has played an important role in creating standards, organizing knowledge and helping people find important information. They didn’t necessarily always get it right, but checks and balances, codes of conduct, ethics, standards and norms were put in place to make sure the public’s interests were protected.

Now, in an age characterized by participatory media, the role of making sense of the world is being opened up. The world “publish” is no longer a gatekeeper controlled process, it’s the name of the button you click to post your own thoughts, ideas and insights.

This matters to communications, because in the world of self-publishing, blogging, participatory media, there may be informal standards, but there is no true oversight. And without standards, oversight and codes of ethics to govern not just the content, but how it’s ordered, organized and used, the future of communication – especially in its relationship to knowledge – could be a bit uncertain.

The Challenge: The Changing Definition of Expertise and Authority.

This brings me to an interesting question: In the future, will experts be defined those who filter and present knowledge, regardless of how much or what they know? My thesis adviser gets very riled up when I bring up blogging and self publishing, in terms of expertise. “They’re just regurgitating primary research, not adding any new knowledge to the mix,” she exclaims, (I’m paraphrasing). We debate about it, and I can understand her perspective.

To many, the blogosphere appears to be a world in which anyone can learn the rules and own a term on Google, making him the instant “expert” on the topic, regardless of actual expertise in the subject matter at hand. A world where the definition of expertise is in flux and controlled largely by math rather than comparison to knowledge presents a challenging image of the future. One in which wikis, blogs and podcasts outweigh encyclopedias, books and traditional media because of their ease of access and participatory nature. And whether or not that is a good or bad thing is a huge debate in and of itself. But the question remains, in this world, is there room for actual knowledge, truth, or fact?

A Future of Opportunity – For You

In a participatory culture that’s characterized by online communication, individualism is increasingly defined through the collectivism of online communities. As thoughtful, professional blogging shows us, there are people who care about ordering and making sense of the world, promoting good ideas, and preserving integrity in the process of online communication.

This poses a great opportunity for thinking people everywhere to join the conversation and begin building their own knowledge, sharing their ideas, and building expertise. And it’s the responsibility of these same people to impose standards, quality and ethics into their own process.

The future of communication really boils down to whether or not responsible, thoughtful people will govern (or at least participate in) this truly free democracy under principles that secure the future of communication while making it interesting, relevant and valuable.