My good friend Steven Hodson has written an excellent post called The impossible dream – Social Technology. Steven is, rightly, concerned about the fact that many people in society are not part of the freedom and conversation social media technology has brought us. Steven writes:
As enamoured as we are currently with Social Media we have become more entrapped by the services built on what Social Media is all about. Social Media is an idea – a platform of sorts – that because of its philosophy of openness and transparency gave us a new way to communicate. It was a two way communication where those that created the content could interact with those that were consuming that content.
In of itself Social Media has changed the landscape of our online lives by letting us be participants instead of just bystanders. Even though we have gotten caught up in the ways we use the new media it doesn’t change the fact that the Internet has evolved – if only ever so slightly. Even with that evolution though we are still living in a world where access to this new world is a haphazard affair.
Stephen points out that as long as basic access is seen as a revenue generator for companies there will always be people left out of this conversation. He writes:
In effect when you have Social Technology borders of every kind change, morph or just plain melt away. Your world changes when the barriers that we have perceived to be an integral part of our lives are no longer there or have changed.
The borders around our job truly change like they never have in the past. The borders of the country we live in don’t have the same power they once did because we are no longer held to them in the same way. With Social Technology everything changes – our world changes – we change.
But it is because of those very things – those changes – that I don’t believe we will see real Social Technology within our lifetimes. These types of changes are too radical and endanger too many positions of power. So the dream will probably remain a dream.
I would advice you to read the entire piece, it is excellent en gets you thinking (it did for me). I believe that Steven is right about his assessment that his dream (everyone has access) will not be met in his lifetime. There are too many complex factors that inhibit this to happen. But Steven got me thinking in another direction. It may yet be impossible to drop the transactional costs of getting online to zero (so that everyone can participate), but imagine the power that Social Technology could bring to improve the quality of life for all of us (and yes, that includes the poorest).
If there is one thing history has proven it is that is enough people care for a change to take place, it will eventually happen. We are currently facing some of the most difficult and life threatening challenges with severe climate changes, the absence of clean water and food in large parts of our world, financial issues. These are all very physical problems. You may wonder what Social Technology can do about them. I imagine it could do at least 3 things:
- It can help us create awareness of the problem
- It can help us discuss and find solutions that can actually work
- It can help us create enough momentum to force ourselves and our governments to act
We are already seeing the grass roots of such incredible changes in society. Just look at the discussions that are evolving around our climate issues. A few years this was a problem that no government was willing to face, now it is one of the most important issues at hand. We see movements appear that were not government supported (cradle to cradle) but are now embraced. We see people getting fed up with buying large SUVs and now turning to smaller, less environmental damaging cars. We see a whole new green economy appear and the current financial crisis has proven that people are willing to invest in ‘green’ and sustainable causes. The awareness that we cannot continue to consume the way we do is increasing, and while 2/3rd of the world is demanding to be part of this consumption society, we see awareness appear that we cannot continue like this.
I believe that Social Technology is partially driving this awareness and need for change. I also believe that it will increasingly become more important and help us all to change the world we live in. Not because of the technology itself, but because of the unlimited power it brings us. It allows us to be participants instead of bystanders. It allows us to take responsibility, instead of leaving it with others. And when a large part of society is participating, it doesn’t let us be bystanders anymore. Let’s just hope it is not too late yet.