Yesterday’s annoying article-of-the-day has to have been Richard Hillgrove’s piece in the Guardian in which he lays out his vision for social networking sites in the aftermath of the Ryan Giggs comedy road show.
In tones of finely judged outrage Hillgrove asserts that Twitter, Facebook et al need to grow up and introduce some kind of "a delay mechanism so that content can be checked before it goes up". Oh, and we need to set up some sort international arbitration thingy. And – since he’s been given an appropriate platform - he takes a swipe at "the left wing" for having the temerity to stand up for freedom of speech and privacy at the same time.
The article annoyed me in so many ways that a) I lost count and b) I strongly suspect (given he’s a PR type) it’s a finely crafted attempt at trolling for coverage, good or bad. I do realise that I’m being most obliging in respect of the latter, but one thing he did say - with the kind of authority that only a luxurious beard and a ten-gallon hat can confer – got me thinking:
Unless we decide to become an anarchistic society, Facebook and Twitter must be reeled in
- deep breath! –
It was the bit about deciding to become an anarchistic society that got me interested. Setting aside that it’s a bit of a contradiction in terms (and the rest of the sentence), the truth is that the anarchisation (as Hillgrove sees it) of society is well underway and doing rather well, thank you.
The reality is that the ways in which people use a whole range of services (which happen to include Twitter and Facebook), take no heed of the boundaries set up by governments or laws. This has been going on for some time now, but the disruption it’s causing is becoming more and more visible.
These services aren’t themselves changing anything, but they (and the technologies that underpin the internet) are simply making it easier and easier for people to be people: to communicate (and gossip), to trade, to self-regulate, to be inventive, creative and ultimately to do things as they see fit and change the way things work with little or no outside interference from vested interests.
This is the mechanism that did for Ryan Giggs and it’s the same one that underpinned the revolutions that swept the Middle East earlier this year. It’s the same mechanism that’s forcing media producers to rethink their business models in the face of peer-to-peer technologies and governments to fear for the secrecy of their back door deals. And it won’t stop there - emerging P2P currencies like Bitcoin could seriously threaten the ability of governments around the world to generate revenue by taxing financial transactions. Who knows what’s next?
So here’s the point: all of the social structures we’ve invented for ourselves – law, finance, government, brands, fame - only work so long as people are prepared to buy in to them, and to believe in the common dream of an ordered society that they codify. As soon as people (being fickle) think there’s a better way (or a faster buck), they’re off, and the whole thing starts to come apart.
So far in our history, genuine change to people’s day to day lives has been a slow process. But the technologies and services that have and will continue to emerge are just making it easier and faster - on an unprecedented scale - for people to do their thing. For good or for bad that means change, and I, for one, would rather look to the future than try and impose the past.