Welcome once more readers, and for those of you messaging me asking where the next blog was – here it is, you impatient little monkeys. Sorry once more for choosing to have a life outside of working and blogging, it’s most selfish of me I know, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Still, I’ve dragged myself back in front of a keyboard for a few minutes, and today I would like to begin with an apology. To my parents. Recently I attended my father’s birthday dinner, and as we were making small talk waiting for the first course, I asked if they had seen my latest blog. A somewhat muted “yes.” was the reply, and so I enquired what was bothering him. And then came the words of bitter condemnation which can bring any self-confident British writer to the verge of career suicide….
“You’re beginning to sound like an American.”
It was like being struck by the Almighty Thunderbolt of Zeus. True, I had spent some time recently conversing with new American fans and friends online, but was it truly that bad???? Yes. Yes, it was. Sorry Dad, I’ll try to keep the colloquialisms to a minimum this time, and repay you for the time and money you invested in my education. Although it is worth noting that even I, ever disdainful of the corruption of our language, had no idea how deep the rot went. They can’t even spell grey correctly.
….. So, there’s a lot going on in the news currently, isn’t there?? Not that there is ever a day where the news credits roll and the announcer says “Today’s top story – sod all happened worth talking about.” But what I mean to say is that there is a lot of significant stories worth paying attention to because they impact us all as a globe, a race, a unique species. And no, I am not referring to the Kardashian divorce. The very nature of developments in communication and media over the last few decades mean that news no longer has a sell-by date, since there is no ‘old news’. Instead you can witness revolutions in the Middle East and rioting in London direct into your living room in real-time whilst you eat your Cornflakes. Or Google it at work on that window you’ve minimised behind your cash flow projection spreadsheets. Allegedly.
This instant and virtually world-wide access to breaking news means that a new (or is that news) phenomenon has emerged in the way in which the audience can interact with developments on the other side of the world with an heretofore never seen level of engagement. If you keep up on current affairs, you will have heard stories of how Facebook groups and posts on Twitter enabled revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia recently. Whilst social media did not create a will or method for revolution there can be no doubt that the speed with which it allowed matters to come to a head was dramatically increased. Protests were more easily organised and synchronised, and the world-wide media was granted unparalleled access to ‘on-the-ground’ footage forwarded from a thousand laptops and camera phones.
More recently still, there was some far less politically motivated rioting in London recently. Whilst our fair nation was quite rightfully up in arms about what was essentially some low-wage residents looking for a flimsy excuse to rob some sports goods and sell them on Ebay, interesting news began to break about how the rioters had been organising themselves via the Blackberry Messenger service. After a few days, when our government finally remembered where it had left its balls and got behind our police force, order was swiftly restored. Then came the stories of the first ever people in England to be arrested and successfully prosecuted for using social media to incite a riot. Also of note were a number of campaigns online via sites such as Flickr to display images of rioters caught by CCTV and bypassers cameras with the intent of informing the police of rioter’s identities. A number of convictions were obtained using imagery located on social media sites. Both the face of the rioting underclass and the response of the justice system were entering a new more fluid IT-based era.
Quite possibly the most visible example of this increasing trend is the OccupyWallStreet campaign. Although initially confined to the Wall Street protest, within hours messages on Facebook were carrying the message of the protest across the globe, circumventing what many Americans referred to as a media ‘dumbing-down’ of the event. In a very short space of time not only had identical protests erupted in many other American cities, but copycat protests were springing up world-wide. Let me give you an example of just how far-spread the Occupy movement has gone. As I have mentioned before, I live on a small island just off the south coast of England. We are a diamond-shaped island twenty-four and a half miles east to west, and twelve miles north to south. In the scale of world politics, we are the chewing gum under its foot. Tiny. Insignificant. Or are we??????
There is an OccupyIsleof Wight movement. They have a Facebook page. They may have Twitter, I haven’t checked. But they have voices. And voices want to be heard. Whilst they may only be a few voices, and not very loud, they are there regardless. And surrounding them are a hundred other similar protests, all with a few voices of their own. Linked by social networking. Suddenly, their combined voices are louder. Pretty soon the Chancellor and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, have stepped down over concerns surrounding the protest camp outside the cathedral. Now those voices are loud enough to influence. To change.
In a sense, whether you agree with the principles behind the Occupy movement or not, this is an exciting development. More than ever before people now have a way to make their voices heard to their governments, to really affect change in their government systems. But a word of warning here before we all start burning copies of the Financial Times and painting ourselves in woad screaming “They’ll never take our FREEDOM!!!”. There was once a wise man named Voltaire who said
“With great power comes great responsibility”.
Yes, big surprise, it WASN’T Spiderman’s uncle who said that. Every day’s a school day around here, folks. Think about the Occupy movement in terms of a global phenomenon. Who is leading it? Who is formulating its policies? Are all the Occupy movements in contact with each other, truly coordinating with each other? Or is this really just an opportunity for political protestors everywhere with similar agendas to band-wagon their way into the eye of the media? Will my OccupySubway Facebook page ever result in a free 12″ BMT with Ranch Dressing? I don’t have the answer to that question, or I wouldn’t be writing this. But I’m smart enough to be worried by it. If a social media enhanced protest movement CAN really have far-reaching potential for a major change in policy on a global scale, should we be charging head-first into it without checking if we all know where we’re going? Or even why we’re going there? True, I do believe that ONE of the reasons politics seems so slow-moving to the general populace is because of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. But another reason is the systems of checks and balances we have in place to ensure we cannot make mistakes that have harmful repercussions. In theory. Whether change is for the best or not, too much change too quickly could be a dangerous thing, especially if it’s reactive rather than pro-active. When we take steps to change our world, we’re better off taking tiny little baby steps. Because Small is Beautiful when you can’t afford A Big Mistake.
Phew, some weighty thinking off my mind there. I have to allow these heavy thoughts into my mind sometimes, since they’re the only thing stopping my imagination from flying away with me. I promise that the next blog will be back to my usual bitter, narcissistic sarcasm on a far funnier topic. But all play and no work makes me the 1%.
And remember the Assassin’s Creed (No, not the video game. Get out more, darn it!).
“Do unto them before they get the chance to do unto you”.