Monday, March 30, 2009

Society and Government, 2.0

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I've been concentrating on "social media" for the last week or three. If you knew me well, that would probably amuse the hell out of you. Nonetheless, this particular Aspie has been been driven to understand the motivations and dynamics of the other primates in the preserve for quite some time; it's been a matter of self-preservation.

I've been active on digg and stumbleupon for some time, but of late, I've been focusing on digg, and have started to take twitter very seriously. Twitter - well, it's like a full UUCP newsfeed on crack cut with PCP.

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“Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea- massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it” Gene Spafford
Spafford was deeply involved in creating what amounted to the first social m
edia experiment, Usenet. I fondly remember the days when I had my own UUCP news feed, my sturdy Amiga polling automagically every 10 minutes or so.

I must confess that, due to life circumstances, I'd dived into the nascent Internet in the same way that younger folks seem to be diving into "web 2.0" apps like Twitter and digg, applying the wisdom of crowds to the issues of the day.
All these apps - and twitter, in particular, as it's so very platform-independent - are so intuitively useful and plastic that the main issue seems to be finding the combination of utilities that make it useful for what YOU want to do.  (Yes, you need to follow Christopher Walkin's tweets.) 

It was quickly seized upon by marketers and conservatives. One might argue (and indeed, I do) that is because it is a medium that favors the superficial thought, a bumper sticker mentality. But paradoxically, that's a superficial impression. 

Twitter is not a medium that favors complex thought or deep discussion.
But with the ability to embed hyperlinks, it has an immense power to point the way to places where such discussions DO exist. 

Aggregation and recommendation sites - such as digg - are somewhat paradoxical; often the discussions there are far more eclectic than those on the host sites, by rupturing the boundaries of insular communities, be they political, intellectual or scientific, although they are primarily about superficial and ephemeral issues, they can also create a great deal of buzz about issues that matter to large segments of the population, segments that might have little or no other points of contact. 

In those cases, digg, twitter, yahoo buzz and various other engines can suddenly "stampede the elephants" toward some hapless site, often crushing it into unresponsiveness. 

This can lead to some instructive - and hilarious - interactions. It's sometimes amusing to see what happens when those motivated by indignation are met with information wielded like a supercharged chainsaw. 

You might wonder what the point to such an argument would be. Obviously, it seems to fail the supposed object of dialogue, thesis and antithesis resolving into synthesis. But that is because the synthesis does not occur on the page - or indeed, within the minds of the dedicated proponents and detractors of the respective incompatible world-views. It is left, as it must be, to the audience to take away many separate lessons and for each to come to their own synthesis based on this and other arguments between these particular positions, people and worldviews.

What synthesis may be had? Well, obviously, I can only tell you mine. I'm a rationalist, a freethinker, a theist and a mystic. I hold both objective reality and subjective realities as having equal value - for me. I am a theist in part due to experience that I cannot explain by objective means - but that doesn't mean I consider them definitively inexplicable. Indeed, it's a tenant of my particular faith that all things in the universe are knowable and conform to laws that we have every opportunity to eventually comprehend. 

But that's just me - and it comes from a lifetime of watching, participating and doing. Everyone brings some of each, along with different personalities, early life experience, raw intelligence and even neurology that influence us far more than we would like to think. 

THAT is where the wisdom of crowds and an entirely new approach to going about the business of governing truly applies, what the Internet is rapidly becoming; not an end, but a means. Essentially - and completely without noticing it - we have evolved a world Parliament. Now, you might think that it's irrelevant, that it has no effect on the people actually doing the governing. But that would be wrong. It is increasingly influencing lawmakers and regulators, internationally. 

That, by the way, was supposedly the entire and sole role of Parliament in the first place - a debating society with no great authority; the point was to bring information and various perspectives on it to the attention of The People Who Mattered. 

Well, we know how that turned out, a century or two down the road, back when change was incremental instead of exponential. 

The Internet, as ad-hoc, informal branch of governments worldwide is not operating just as a means of applying pressure to government; increasingly, the electorate is contributing to the insight of their representatives. For good and ill, I expect - but one great and transcendent "good" of all the political ferment of the last several years, playing out as it did ON the Internet in full view, is a general demystification. The composition of politics and sausages are available to all, and to widespread surprise, awareness dawns that there are many varied sorts that you might wish to explore to various ends.

It's going to change everything. And the funniest thing about it is that nobody involved seems to have quite realized how much things have already changed and how little patience any of us have for attempts to maintain politics as usual.

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