“A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviour,” says Clay Shirky in the new film Us Now. Shirky refers to the incorporation of online behaviours into mainstream society, and its effect on human behaviour.
The shift occurs now that the common person’s primary experience with social media has ceased being about the “Wow” factor of the technology, but rather that the tools have undergone a sort of societal internalization, and are increasingly being innovated for new purposes, by non-elite folk.
Not only have the wide array of communications technologies been adopted en masse, the very arrival of the “next thing” has diminished in its psychosocial force; novelty has become … anticipated. The ubiquitous presence of social networking media is still in its incunabula, but society is already altering its behaviour in the macro.
To call this behavioural shift a movement is insufficient in its scope; it is more about the change in the way people think about what their roles are regarding action and innovation than any particular cause. Self-selection, transparency and participation have underscored this shift.
Technology provides the means and the medium for accelerated change, but it is not the sole driver – rather, the essence of the present change is in the perception that occurs once humans become familiar with and then run with the new tools.
President Obama’s campaign was won by its very contemporary nature, in which self-organizing cells of campaigners raised funds and converted voters, without having to wait for orders from central office. As powerful as that was, it was only the very public demonstration of a new way of being. It was already happening; Obama’s campaign managers were the first in their venue to realize this.
Presently, decentralized groups citizens are administering a bank, managing a semi-professional football club, and writing perpetual and relevant open-access encyclopedia. Top-down government, as it presently administrates, is another institution that will be forced to reinvent itself into a mass-participatory configuration.
Revolutions, like tides, manifest on their own terms. Initially imperceptible, then incrementally recognized by a few select observers, they are driven by the masses, who often don’t realize what they are part of.
To learn more about the intersections of technology, participation and public policy, register to see the Canadian premiere screenings of the fantastic looking Us Now, and read about or join groups such as ChangeCamp.