Do we really want the 'social' Internet revolution?
The Xpragmatic View #198
August 4, 2012
by Marc Buyens, Xpragma
The current "social" Internet revolution is all about sharing, collaboration, transparency, honesty... Great qualities indeed! However, do we ever think about the consequences?
The summer period is always a very calm period as for posts, events, etc. So, in general, it is not exactly the time to expect the big news or the great statements. However, a couple of days ago, the social business community was a bit shaken up by this post by Luis Suarez ‘The Fallacy of Social Networking’ about the disconnectedness between the social business enthusiasm and expectations and the sometimes harsh reality of our daily life.
Of course, his somewhat pessimistic observations are directly linked to the difficult economic climate in his homeland Spain and the likely consequences this has for many of his friends. We can only hope for better times.
However, even while living in one of the less affected parts of Europe these days, we also have our own concerns about the potential mismatch between the "social" vision and the reality of our society.
More specifically, we want to ask the question: "Is a world that is based upon the principles and approaches enabled by the current social Internet revolution a world that we want to live in?"
Most likely, this will seem a rather stupid question for most of you. Isn’t this social Internet revolution all about democracy, equality, transparency, honesty? Just look at what happened with the Arab Spring!
Yes, of course, you are right. However, do we also look enough at the facts?
Just have a look at this interesting TED speech by Don Tabscott about ‘Four principles for the open world’.
Great, isn’t it? Don’t we all dream of this great open world?
However, did you really pay attention and gave it some thought?
Take the example of the goldmine owner. It isn’t a very new story, but indeed a great example of what openness, crowdsourcing and collaboration can achieve.
What is the outcome?
Well, there is of course the expert (or in this case, the expert company) who delivered the great advice and who earns a really decent amount of money. And there is the mine owner, an already wealthy person (an ex-banker!) who now becomes somewhat indecently rich. And then, yes a bit absent in this story, there are the other contributors who tried bringing in the winning answer but failed. The free contributors.
Winner takes all. Nothing wrong with that.
Indeed. However, this basic mechanism of leveraging the knowledge and the effort of the many to the advantage of the few is increasingly becoming a dominant theme in our economy and in our society. The social Internet has become a massive leveraging machine and we are the fuel.
The underlying principles are well-known and have been beautifully described in John Hagel’s bestseller ‘The Power Of Pull’:
Access, Attract, Achieve.
However, can everyone achieve? Not everyone has the capabilities to do so. And even then, can a world exist where we all successfully execute these principles of accessing, attracting and achieving?
Of course not. The basic concept of leveraging necessitates that there are huge numbers of (nearly) free contributors to support the achievers. Free contributors are what made Facebook a $100 billion company. (Well, not really anymore according to today’s stock price)
That is the way we are currently going. It can hardly be avoided. We can all hope that these principles will be used to create a better, more human society, but reality will be different. As before, the few will control and exploit the many. It will only be a lot easier to do so. It is the dawn of the ant society. And we called it "social".
About Marc Buyens
Marc Buyens is analyst, management consultant and owner of Xpragma. He started Xpragma in 1999 after a 20+ years career in the IT sector. Today, he provides advice, training and mentoring services focusing on the intersection of technological evolution, organisational change and business strategy: a messy world of unfulfilled promises.
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