- Going snowboarding, heavy rains permitting #
- I’m never buying another polar heart rate monitor #
- @Ronan went to change the battery and came back with a blank display. It’s under warranty so we’ll see. in reply to Ronan #
- got my LOST fix. weird. #
- Woke up early for a change. Raining hard outside #
- @Ronan well, the Polar warranty covers two years. It’s actually quite good when it works #
- @megapixel you look to be in great shape. I guess people who fret about exercise are half way there #
- Find out how people react to your tweets. http://tweeteffect.com #
I woke up today to read a really good email from Jason Calacanis. I was certainly one of the people who wrote some negative stuff about Jason only to be confronted with a nice man who is both a successful entrepreneur and a great speaker. It’s always an awkward moment. Luckily, after more than a decade using the internet and maybe the calming effects of age, I’m much less prone to internet asperges syndrome although I’m much more likely to blurt something out on twitter or have to check myself every now and then when sending a short email. The other day, Mike Arrington got spat on. While Mike isn’t exactly the most loved guy on the internet, many draw the line at getting spit on. While I agree that things are getting out of hand for people like Jason and Mike who are some of the most successful people who have bootstrapped themselves on the strength of blogging, they’ve also done their share of negative baiting, Arrington’s bashing of Twitter and particularly Blaine Cook comes to mind as well as Jason’s spats with David Winer. However, when the stakes escalate to personal violence then it’s time to splash water on our collective faces and try to wake up.
The Internet Magic Mirror
The crazy thing about the internet is the “fake anonymity” creates a magic mirror effect between the haves and have nots. In this case the “haves” can be anything from more money, more fame (especially the internet variety), or simply more expertise. Usually, the target of ire is someone with a very visible profile or following. Their actions are more or less public and their opinions shape discussions on the internet. It’s like we’re looking at them from behind a magic mirror. They see a mirror, we see them. The only difference is they may not see us but they can hear us like we hear them. If you peek at the comments section of any famous blogger intrepid enough to allow them, you see it is a veritable cesspool with some rare gems in between.
Why is the anonymity fake? Unless, you are a cracker or hacker versed in internet protocols you know very well that unless you hop a couple proxies and take steps to cover your tracks, that when you overstep the line, the police will come knocking at your door. Probably, given away by your internet service provider. Also, the longer you stay on the net the more common patterns emerge. Common handle names and avatars not to mention writing style. These are all digital fingerprints that you leave all over the internet. If you own a domain, your real name and mailing address might be a whois search away or plug in an email address from your contacts into facebook to look them up. Yet, we seem to think that we are a lot more safer saying whatever comes to mind without thinking out the consequences when posting online. We might as well as use our real names.
What we have is something more akin to a WWE wrestling match than civil dialogue where crowds jeer and boo the “bad guys” who are in reality not so bad and even really great people in real life. It becomes a form of entertainment where we forget that we are constantly looking to these people for inspiration and ideas while ridiculing them with snide comments.
The Value of Anonymity
However, while I agree with Jason’s plea for civility and empathy, we are talking to people in a stable, democratic, and more or less civilized society. We must not forget that anonymity can serve as fertile ground for the exchange of ideas and as agents for social change. Civility and privacy is defined by the ruling class, just look at the liberties the Bush administration took with our privacy. Anonymity is the “blood barrier” of last resort that prevents government from encroaching on our rights when social checks go awry, it’s why the internet is a dark, powerful force in changing communist China (for better or worse is something history will show). America’s founding owes a lot to men like Thomas Paine (who would no doubt be a political blogger in this day and age) and the Federalist Papers. America’s independence and democracy was forged in the crucible of anonymous discourse led by the very leaders of the American Revolution. To sacrifice anonymity in the interest of civility and empathy would be a very steep price to pay indeed.
Some Things Need To Change
- Great talk about being a coder and keeping your soul http://vimeo.com/2723800 #
- Upped my rating a peg. #
- @iluvsmooches very true indeed, I’m sure they’re also looking on hotornot #
- @yolospat zed could make money as a motivational speaker and/or stand up comedian #
- I really want to love NetNewsWire but the performance with large subscription lists has sucked for years. #
- My game gets worse everyday #
- @davesenior @calculi glad I’m not the only one thinking NNW doesn’t scale. The iPhone version’s even worse. #
- I think my muse just left the building. #
- @stephenhughes I got 2300+ subscriptions, mostly garbage but still wish NNW could scale #
- I really ought to exercise more #
Technological advances radically alter dynamics of social change. The election of President Obama is a watershed moment that represents an evolution over a decade in the making. For the first time, social networks were mobilized on a scale that silenced critics of the technology’s limited utility to society or the “realness” of online social connections. Social networks redefine the whole concept of grass roots. Grass roots are no longer limited by time or location as long as there is a broad cause that can bring people together.
The biggest obstacle of utilizing web technology for social change is probably mobilization. Although this is changing, people are averse to making physical or monetary commitments to online activities. The bulk of web sites and services are designed to cater to niche markets that satisfy a specific need and most services are naturally supported by advertising that targets those markets. Social change requires a commitment on the part of participants, a dedication of resources whether it be time and/or money. It is something that can’t be done without passion.
With something like the presidential election, the whole nation’s destiny is at stake so naturally it is much more easier to build momentum and engage participants in the cause. There are definite goals (getting someone elected) and a solid deadline (election day) and numerous milestones (state primaries). In addition, the movement is happening on both the national and local level. People can get engaged with fund-raising or volunteering. Having said that, no other cause can bring so many of the elements needed to succeed at that level. What are the elements that make campaigns of social change successful online?
The internet is still a place driven by ideals, at times utopian and unrealistic. For example, despite many users being averse to spending money online for services they are just as much turned off by ads that support so-called “free” sites. The opposite side of ideals is outrage. Perceived social wrongs drive a lot of traffic, whether it’s evidence of misconduct or someone flaunting ill-gotten gains. Controversy drives people to chip in with their 2 cents and throwing links around the internet. The Obama campaign was driven not only by the ideals encapsulated in the Obama team but the collective anger at the Bush administration of the country’s economy that virtually wiped away years of solid economic growth. Underdogs are also likely to gain more support on the internet than giants (just look at Apple and Microsoft).
Novelty is a strong driver for building interest on the internet. Obama’s status as one of the first, strong black presidents no doubt contributed to a lot of initial interest in the man and what he stands for even before people became acquainted with Obama the politician. A lot of the high-traffic generating content on the web is both weird and good. Obama fulfills this brilliantly, on first look novel but the more you get to know him, you realize that he is also brilliant and more than the hype.
With information technology it’s hard to tie people down to any one place and force feed them information. You need a variety of content to entice people whether it’s status updates via twitter or video messages on YouTube or even memes created by passionate supporters, you need to constantly be at the forefront giving people bite-sized chunks of content they can chew on between bigger events.
Although there are limits to the number of people one person can interact with, utilizing public accounts and a variety of official channels on social networks is one of the best ways to make the most of this new technology. Causes give like-minded people an excuse to interact with each other in an engaging way. It also creates a powerful motivator for bringing people into the fold through the social network’s version of peer pressure. It’s amazing how many times Obama came up in a variety of ways on places like Facebook and Twitter.
But Can You Bottle It?
I suppose the single biggest question is with all the hints and case studies offered by Obama’s presidential campaign is whether you can bottle it? Packaging something like this into a coherent application would surely be a great startup idea and would also be a driver of social change (which is good for society) but could you?
- Step out of my house and see cops and soldiers all over the place #
- Won a game. A bit dirty at the end but that’s life #