And that future, regardless of what we think will include the internet, social media and its related iterations and devices, present and future.
This post is part of a new series exploring how the internet is changing our behaviour and what the implications are for democratic decision making. Today I will outline my premise – the promise of the internet. My next two posts will introduce you to two of the new 'clerks of the internet', Alexandra Samuels and David Eaves. A subsequent post will examine what Canadian philosopher George Grant described as the 'despotism of technology'.
The printing press popularized both the writing and reading of books. In doing so, it broke the manacle and mirage of omnipotence enjoyed by monarchs, church and intellectual elites.
Marshal McLuhan noted that communication revolutions like the printing press, disrupt old ways of behaving and destabilize existing institutions. Monarchs could no longer control every aspect of political life. The clergy were no longer the only source of information about science, medicine or indeed religion.
Alternate ideas, theories and insights became accessible, ending the limited ways of thinking and knowing linked to privilege.
McLuhan also suggested new technologies affect our social organizations, perceptual habits and social interactions. They seep into our consciousness affecting how we see the world and how we behave.
In 2006 I attended a session on the role of technology and social innovation organized by Winnipeg consultant Martin Itzkow. We met in Ottawa so perhaps the metaphor was pre-ordained. Martin, Mike Gifford founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc. and Russell McOrmond who hosts the Digital Copyright Canada forum (where all Canadian Citizens are Rights Holders) offered the following image of the ‘potential’ benefits of the internet and world wide web.
Think of it, they suggested, as a virtual Parliament Buildings – a container for democratic decision making. People can be attracted, (elected) to it for a variety of reasons, both noble and selfish. The Parliament Buildings don’t make the decisions, elected parliamentarians do. The internet can become a tool, medium or container for a more just world or it can exploit, reinforcing existing and adding new injustices. The key are the rules of behavior (open source software) and the power and ability of people to create and cooperate, (open access to data, eliminating copyright).
These individuals are ‘web savy’ in a deep sense. They see its tendencies to perpetuate the corporate status quo. The new industries, and dot com billionaires don’t dazzle them. They are not interested in creating what Charles Leadbeater in his book, We Think, laments as a, ‘capitalist cornucopia.’ Instead Leadbeater suggests, they seek to create a more democratic and just world, ‘laying the seeds for alternatives to both capitalism and the market.’
The web, internet and related technologies might be helpful for organizing our data, accessing information, facilitating communications and reducing the costs of processing. However, the functions can be more fundamental and the potential more majestic They point to Mozilla (the makers of Firefox); Linux and Wikipedia as examples of crowd-sourcing, creativity and democratic decision making.
To them ‘open source’ software and open government are the regulations, policies and statutes of a democratic virtual ‘Parliament’.
Kevin Kelly author of the new book What Technology Wants, argues that technology is not a live, conscious system. We can hide from it, fear it, ridicule it or we can seek to grasp its significance at a meta level. He urges us to discern its long term flows in order to better understand its agenda. Kelly wants us to 'grok' technology’s unconscious tendencies, urges, trajectories and leanings with a view to shaping and influencing it to make the world more democratic and to call forth our individual and collective creativity.
In my next posts I'll introduce you to people who are striving to capture the full gifts of these technologies and to steer them into their best roles.