The Internet’s Voice

In a past article I talked about the issue with “Mob rule” with the internet, except I also proved, to myself certainly, that my ability to communicate needs work.

Thankfully through the BBC’s Digital Revolution project, I discovered Clay Shirky makes the point much more succinctly.

For those who want to have a go at putting a programme together, this is a must see project, and I think the outcomes might be very interesting (or at least quite humorous). It certainly illustrates the amount of work needed to put a programme together.

Back to the Internet’s voice… another rush on the site is one from Danah Boyd, who is a Social Media Researcher at Microsoft looking at young people’s take on the social media and the effect it will have in their lives. A couple of things struck me about this:

The Permanence

Pretty much everything you commit to the internet will at some point end up being copied in some form or other. Whether it’s in google’s cache or in the Internet Archive, it will be copied, unless you make sure at a technical level that it isn’t… except everyone can copy and paste and “Save As…”. In essence it will always be there and you have no idea who will see it. An interesting point is when Boyd comments on her teenage past and the blog where she wrote about “working through issues” and a humorous hope that the presenter would not read that part of the blog. This makes me wonder: Is one of the things about growing up best served by forgetfulness ? Everything can come back to haunt you and how much right do complete strangers have to trawl through your past and haunt you with it ?

The Boundaries

Another really well made point is the idea about a Teacher. A Teacher as a person enjoys the same rights as most of us with the exception that their standing in the community is different, which means that behaviour that may be appropriate for anyone of their age/peer group is suddenly not. The internet has actually increased the amount of scrutiny and not in a good way. Why is the fact that a single teacher is on a dating site a cause for concern ? Why should the pupils know about it ? Why is this attached negatively to the job, when it really has nothing to do with it ? The Internet is now a wonderful way to bully someone and argue with people who if met face to face, you’d never say a word to. Is this constructive ?

Positive Contributions

So in the face of this, what is the positive parts being brought to the table ? Well some people point to the better political participation by people (sat “in their pyjamas – Gina Bianchini, CEO Ning).

This frankly I don’t buy. To me, the internet is noise. Any real meaningful contributions are still happening in the non-virtual world. I’m reminded that in the 80s BT thought they might put the airlines out of business through video conferencing. The internet is very good, as Clay Shirky points out, at creating places for lots of people to argue about things. One example is that when Obama got into office, one of the top things that came back through his website was the need to legalize the smoking of marijuana. I think that most of people would agree that in the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t a top priority except to a small vocal and organised minority who think otherwise. What about the Iran riots ? Well frankly, what about them ? We are left with one memorable youtube video (it’s not really SFW, and you can use your favourite search engine to find it) and not much in terms of change. The “voices” on twitter seem to have come from US/UK supporters changing their location to “Iran”. 8,600 people does not a majority make in a population of around 70,000. For all the technology it has not addressed some serious issues in people feeling that they are disenfranchised about the political system. If anything Social network would in fact drive groupthink, where people would be pressurised into voting similarly to their peer group, which the balloting system is supposed to avoid.

Speaking of “peers”, what exactly is a Social Network friend ? Are they representative of “real” friends or more likely then not, acquaintances or work colleagues (there may be overlap) ? How can you represent this ? How do you make the distinctions, and make them work as they used to do ? People have their little groups, there are the “work friends”, “university friends”, etc. Each group operates mainly without the knowledge of the others, and this is how we live now. Is this simply cultural or a way of protecting ourselves from some form of emotional overload that having 200 “friends” would bring ?

So the good news. The most you will get from life will not be from the Internet, and in fact most of the “real” things will probably never go near a social network. What does go near it, will escape from any control you might think you have and be there “forever”. Which was the point behind a now infamous piece by a young banking intern. People are social and like to talk, which is why the phone has not been replaced by video conferencing. The internet allows us to do many things, but it’s still pretty dumb. You still need to talk to someone when you work, and you can’t get the computer to know your personal circumstances in times when moral or ethical, or more bluntly, compassionate aspects are in play. In theory the ability to organise small groups is no much easier, but attempting to provide democracy or social mobility is certainly not working now. A world without borders sounds great, but no-one wants to pay the bill for it.

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