Is Social Media all about Tools or Revolution?

This is my first post for FF. July 2007. An eternity ago. As most talk and still do in breathless terms about each new tool – I ask the question – will these tools add up to a revolution. Now we see the global economy and government creak, what do you think about this question? Is this the better question? Might these tools create a revolution in power and the Press did in 1500?

In the 1960’s there was a breakthrough film for Michael Caine called Alfie. Alfie was a compulsive womanizer whose charm never seemed to fail. The film ends with him alone with only a dog for company. But the film is not about hot women and getting laid it is about loneliness and the need for love. I feel the same about a lot of the discourse about Social Software. We all love to trade tips about how cool this feature is or that one. But it is so easy to forget about what is it all about. What is the underlying question in our lives that Social Software may solve?

This is what I intend to explore on this site with you.

My own answer is this. Something is wrong with the institutions that we have grown to depend on.

In 1990, the literacy rate for whites in America was about 90%.

Today more than 50% of Americans can barely comprehend what they read. The school system says that if only they had more resources, they would be more successful. Today Cuba has better health outcomes than the US. Every month it seems there is a new scandal about side effects from drugs. Sicko is exposing how health insurance really works. Today food has never been cheaper. Farmers are broke, we face an obesity crisis and within 20 years much of our farmland will not be able to grow food. Gore Vidal has his new solar energy system shut down by his power company.

“[utility companies] have no intention for anyone to use solar power so long as there’s a drop of oil anywhere in the world.”

Much of New Orleans remains a ruin. The Telcos seek to control our access to the web – the US (13th in the world) has a pitiful broadband system compared with many other countries. America spends more on defense than all other countries in the world put together but is clearly not able to project its power effectively in Iraq or maybe anywhere. Hardly a week goes by when a senior corporate leader is not exposed for doingsomething immoral. In November 2008, the new President will have spent a billion dollars to win the election. Most of this money will have been spent on conventional media. When it takes a billion to become President – some people are going to have more influence than the poor old American Public.

What’s the problem? It seems that our institutions have turned inward and now serve only themselves.

There are great ideas out there that have the power to turn all of this around. We know that a local local direct food system will renew our food system. We know that if we put our resources behind parents of young kids that most of our learning, behavior and health problems would diminish, we know that if we invested in renewables and networks what we use to subsidize coal and oil that we could approach energy independence. We know that a military that saw its role in cultural terms could act with authority in a troubled world for a fraction of the cost.

The issue is not ideas. Every field has more than 20 years of great thinking ready to make a difference. The issue is power.

Like the Catholic Church in the 15th century, the institutions have the power to keep the ideas contained, the innovators cowed, co opted or crushed. The cost of our political system means that our representatives are owned by the interests that only serve themselves.

So what is to be done? How can we get our power back? I think the answer is that we need to remember what Luther did. He had a simple and appealing idea. You did not need to go to an institution to speak to God. We do not need many of these institutions either. We too can go direct. He circumvented the mass media of his time – the pulpit – and used the press to go direct and very cheaply. He made deal with key Princes who also wanted to be free of the costs of paying taxes to the Empire and to Rome. There are organizations like Google who don’t want to be in the pocket of the Telcos either.

Social Media is the key to all of this.

With it farmers connect to consumers – the village market is re-created. Kids learn what appeals to them from committed teachers like the old universities in Padua. Those of us with lifestyle issues such as weight, trauma etc help each other. Maybe we work with Google, Public radio and the universities to wire up around the Telcos?

Those with the ideas can break into the open and get the support they need. Successful projects can be amplified. Heroes applauded. Injustice and betrayal exposed.

I am a very fortunate person in that I have the honor to work with many who are trying to do just this. I plan to introduce you on these pages to some of the men and women who have taken up the broken sword of the king and begun the journey to find our own renaissance. For that is what followed Luther’s great break with the stifling institutions of his time.

We will meet people in media, food, learning, health, the military, science, finance, business and even politics. We will look at the great thinkers who have already found what is at the heart of much of our institutional failure. We will discover that most of them have the same underlying insight – that the problem is to be found in the nature of our relationships – that we have substituted kinetic or the use of power over emotion or the use of Trust.

The greatest paradox of all is that a new technology has the power to take us home away from machine relationships to being more human and more aligned to nature. So what Social Media is all about is remembering how to be human again.

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3 thoughts on “Is Social Media all about Tools or Revolution?

  1. I think the opportunity comes in shifting what the core of what we’re connecting around from our obligations and past toward the futures we’re trying to make happen. Right now we are mostly connected by social relationship – usually formed from historical relationship. The web also opened up connecting on topical interest through search and subscriptions, and while good, they are not yet connected to what we’re creating. Sure I can collaborate around a defined project or a individual document but those are all still structurally bound by our industrial modes of creation… process-driven creation of similar outputs. That’s not our future.

    We all however do things because in some way we think they will make our own future better. It’s the underlying motivation of every action. And usually when we pay attention, those futures boil down to a few key things for each of us. I’m not talking universal things, but about each individual having a few things that are important to them. And often, there are others that share some of those things, and when we connect on that basis we often find surprising new relationship that helps realize, in someway, that better future, sooner.

    It feels to me a bit like Meetup, Kickstarter, Skillshare, and StackExchange are getting closer to that direction but we’re not quite there yet. It’s a subtle but powerful shift. It’s the shift from what/where/how to why…. or something like that 🙂

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