Social (Media) Revolution
“I don’t think the Founding Fathers had any idea of how we would be using technology today when they formed our government,” said my friend James on the phone last night.
He continued, “What we need now is some sort of global self-governing system that allows each person and each body of people to govern themselves. And, at the head of it, a group of individuals who would sacrifice their power at any moment if it meant keeping it uncorrupted.”
“You mean, something like organized anarchy?” I asked him. It seemed a contradiction in terms. “Sounds more like Utopia to me.”
“The sort of government I’m talking about would be transitional,” he replied, “on its way to Utopia. A utocracy,” he joked. Ah, James, your optimistic idealism is showing again. How splendidly Gemini of you.
But James has me wondering:
What sort of government does our emerging technology require? No, scratch that. There are too many facets of technology to consider when trying to answer that question.
How about, what sort of government does our emerging global connectivity require? Is a constitutional republic truly the greatest government the world can produce, or is that simply my American (and military) upbringing speaking? It occurs to me that while I live in the United States, my upbringing in the Army has taught me that my own constitutional rights are secondary to the U.S. military’s.
Personal freedom is slightly foreign to me, so when I try to envision a government that can support our advancing technology, my first thought is to put someone else in charge. I wonder, is that because I grew up always answering to someone else, or is it because putting someone else in charge is what we’ve all been gradually doing with the advancement of global communication?
For example, many of us feel like our smart phones are an extension of our bodies. Consequently, when they malfunction, get stolen, lost, or disconnected, we look to tech support to remedy the problem. We don’t know enough about our phones to be able to fix them ourselves. We are dependent on the resources provided by T-mobile or Verizon or AT&T or Sprint to tend to our digital extensions. All of us have reached members of tech support that are helping us from other countries. With such accessibility to countries and cultures, do we invite political conflicts of interest?
But you’re talking about consumerism, you say, not government. What do cell phones have to do with politics? Just ask the people of Egypt. Or Syria. And Libya. Gadaffi’s death was rumored to have been announced on Twitter.
“Massive street protests in Egypt are spreading virally as tech-savvy demonstrators are using Twitpic, Facebook and YouTube to disseminate videos and photographs,” reads a Fast Company article written by Neil Ungerleider.
Not only has Egypt been able to rally its people to demonstrate against their government, but our global connectivity has made it instantly public. Are we spectators then, to the politics of other countries, or does our mutual involvement in global communication include us in the policies of the world?
With so many people “plugged in” to a world-wide social media, with so many of us connected, are our world’s political borders dissolving? If they aren’t, perhaps we are the unwitting cyber version of peeping toms, as we receive constant updates concerning this matter or that from around the globe. Then again, if they are, what is to prevent conflict on a massive scale, simply because the physical boundaries that been put in place to “keep the peace” have been transcended through social media? There are so many of us online nowadays. Could any one of us inadvertently start a war just by tweeting?
So we’re back to the original question: What form of government supports our emerging global connectivity? We’re becoming increasingly open in our communication, so does it follow that our global governments should open themselves as well? The World Economic Forum (WEF) compiled a report in June of 2011 suggesting just that. In their report, The Future of Government: Lessons Learned from Around the World, the WEF states:
“[This] report also explores the powerful but, in some cases, controversial concepts of open government and open data, giving examples of how governments are using the power of the Internet and the Web, including social media, to transform governance, empower citizens and rebuild the social contract between political leaders and citizens.
“Open government represents an emergent movement worldwide, although national governments will continue to differ with respect to the definition and implementation of these ideas. Clearly, sharing best practices and lessons that work as experience accumulates will be crucial.”
Hmm… maybe James wasn’t far off the mark. Countries connecting across the globe while, at the same time, governing themselves? It could work, at least in theory. Open government is not something I had considered. Of course, many types of governments have been profoundly successful in theory.
Perhaps the success of our future governments depend on past wisdom; as Oscar Wilde observed:
“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.”