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Confab in Silicon Valley: How to move from 'dumb mob' to 'smart mob'

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The vested interests of those institutions resist the loss of control while the insurgents persist. The first phase of change is therefore usually conflictive and destructive – witness the religious wars in Europe after the Gutenberg press. The forces in this phase are centrifugal – pulling apart and fragmenting.

In our age, the advent of social networks and the transparency of shared networks challenge all hierarchies from monopoly of the mainstream media to professional knowledge protected by credentials (such as doctors), to dictators protected by force.

This unmediated spread of information has given birth both to “the age of the amateur” and the passionate populists of the blog mobs. But the breakdown of intermediaries and the control of information by the credentialed has also given birth to the “unknown expert” whose “10,000 hours” of work and practice is all the qualification required. This breakdown is what has also enabled the leaps of innovation coming from “the dorm rooms and edges” of society.

Systems that adapt to the new transparency, or harness it, can survive. Those that resist will ultimately lose trust, and thus allegiance, and fail.

The rigid, such as the autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia, are brittle and break. The more flexible, such as the medical profession, which has turned patient information websites to its advantage, thrive.

Somewhere in between, autocratic China is headed in two directions at once: a “hyper-surveillance state” that seeks “total information awareness” of the activities of its subjects, yet a state itself subject to the “sous-veillance” of the microblogging population in a kind of “monitory webocracy.”

In this sense, China is a “gigantic petri dish” of what comes next. The balance could go either way. To some, the monitory webocracy of microblogs helps solve the age-old problem of “insufficient feedback to the emperor,” which has led to the fall of many an out-of-touch dynasty.

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