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The Revolution Will Not Be Institutionalized

February 12, 2009

“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.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. nmboudin permalink
    February 28, 2009 11:50 am

    It’s good to see that people are picking up on threads that run through random media, community causes and idea groups like ChangeCamp and VanChangeCamp
    I can imagine the debate. Revolution idealized often excludes government, but in reality, it remains, either in a new form or in old form with new banners. The revolution at hand is propelled by an unprecedented ability for the public to inform itself, and to communicate and organize. This means the public has more opportunities to participate in sophisticated ways. I see greater opportunity for representatives to hear and speak with constituents.
    Someone once proposed the idea to me that governments were like public utilities, and the parties a specific brand of utility. So if we can form better partnerships with our representatives, then we can facilitate a more public agency. What is revolutionary is the way people view their ability toward the efficacy of their own contribution, and that does not necessarily exclude the existing authority, though it certainly can exert pressure on that authority to change how it presently conducts business.

  2. February 12, 2009 12:46 pm

    hey nick

    amazing timing. i just attended an organizers’ meeting for vanchangecamp last night, and my brain is still boiling from the effort of trying to synthesize all the different thoughts and perspectives.

    what truly fascinated me was how much the room disagreed about the same thing we often get stuck on in our canada’s world dialogue sessions – how much do we need, or want, government to be involved in this new revolution? there are people who would like to see changecamp become primarily about bringing the philosophy of transparency and participation to government – getting government onside. others want to make sure that it’s a space for people who feel they’ve transcended government, or who are so disenfranchised that they won’t engage with anything government-oriented.

    my personal feeling is that there’s lots of room to do both – but only if we are ok with starting out under one big tent. if something is going to be called “changecamp,” i don’t really see how it can be anything else.

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