In a world full of answers you start your journey by asking the right questions
With all the “hair product” commentary circulating about Julian Assange and the Wikileaks revolution it’s probably time to step back, start looking for the bigger picture and asking the deeper questions of what impact – if any – has the arrival of the internet and now the MobCon had on our democratic forms of Government?
Back in Early October I published the links to Malcolm Galdwell’s Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted and Tim Adams’ response Twitter and Facebook cannot change the real world, says Malcolm Gladwell .
In that article Gladwell explains why he believes a social network built of negligible risk and weak ties will never be as effective in driving home (r)evolutionary change as a politically active civil rights movement born out of high risk and the strong ties.
“As an example of the comparative ineffectiveness of wiki-activism Gladwell cited the virtual support groups that arose at the height of the civil war in western Sudan. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition had 1,282,339 members, he noted, before detailing, with a flourish, the financial commitment of those “protesters” to their cause: an average of 15 cents each.” - Tim Adams’ Twitter and Facebook cannot change the real world, says Malcolm Gladwell
What is perhaps most interesting about the Wikileaks saga is it appears to be fast becoming the tipping point – another of Gladwell’s slogans – where these weak links are being forged into strong ties as the web – and indeed increasingly the wider community of ‘real world’ politics – becomes increasingly divided over the actions being pursued by both the supporters and the detractors of the Wikileaks movement.
The more enthusiastic supporters of Wikileaks will proclaim the “revolutionary” 360 Degree view that is championed by the movement is the future of open democratic government. The more cautious would suggest that 306 degree views belong to an ideal world and unfortunately the business of politics and government operates within the social dynamic and the constraints of the real world. Or put more simply Government can be open, chaotic, inefficient and ineffective or closed, hierarchical, efficient and effective.
“There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well… Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?” - Malcolm Galdwell’s Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted
History shows us that new communications technologies do not fundamentally change the way we are governed. They do however change the way Governments represent themselves and communicate with the electorate. Think of the impact of Books, Radio, Cinema and TV in the past.
However the interactive nature of the information revolution suggests it has the potential to deliver much more than just a new way for Government to communicate with the electorate. The question is just how much more? Will it make Governments more open, accountable, effective or efficient? or will its impact be negligible? What will be the long-term impact of the internet on Government? Will the way Governments operate fundamentally change or will they stay the same?
To answer that question let’s take a step backwards. In a much earlier post on Surfing the Edge of Chaos I explained that the asynchronous nature of the network or the collection of networks that we call the Internet is operating, and will continue to operate in the foreseeable future, in parallel with at least four distinct concepts time. There is
The winners of the Agricultural Revolution monitored and managed their world by Kronos.
The winners of the Industrial Revolution monitored and managed their world by Cyclical Time.
The winners of the Information Revolution will dominate the market with their ability to monitor and manage the Kairos moment.
The different parts of the network will interoperate using different perceptions of time. Operating on Kronos time are the archaic remnants of the agricultural revolution (i.e. Government, Defence and the Legal System). Operating on Cyclical time will be the survivors of the industrial age (i.e. Schools, Hospitals and Corporations). Operating on Kairos time will be the early adaptors of the MobCon (i.e. Teenagers and the Tech Savvy). Operating on Chaos time will be the natural world and those lucky, gifted few who are capable of surfing on the edge of chaos.
If we look at the evolution of our democratic style of government we discover it is a construct of two distinct ages and therefore concepts of time. Under the British Westminster System our Judiciary, our houses of review and our functional government – also known as the public service – hark back to the agricultural revolution. This “agricultural” layer is of course the least political and in many ways the least accountable layer of the Westminster system of government.
The most accountable layer is of course the Elected Legislature. A relatively recent invention that belongs to the industrial revolution. Unlike the other layers it is the engine room of our modern democratic system. It is effectively a practical construct that allows us to embark on a non-violent civil war that can deliver a bloodless coup on a cyclical basis (e.g. every 3 to 5 years) if the majority of the electorate is seeking change. The rational being that in an industrial age a clock work civil war machine is the most efficient and effective method to maintain continuity and keep the markets operating without undue interruption.
History tells us that the “clock work” Governance model did not replace the old “agricultural” Governance model. It became the democratic layer sitting on top of the old autocratic Agricultural Governance Model.
Moving forward I don’t see the internet or the information revolution replacing or for that matter improving our existing forms of Government. What I do see happening is a new layer of Government being created to accommodate the asynchronous nature of time within the information revolution.
This means the Modern Democratic Government will evolve in response to the pressures applied by organisations like Wikileaks and others by expanding and incorporating a social layer into their Governance framework. If it mirrors the growth of the social web then this layer will inevitably become the most politically active layer within the Government Hierarchy.
This new layer may or may not deliver a more open, accountable, effective or efficient Government but should provide the electorate with a forum to actively participate in the activities of Government.
To a certain extent this transition has already begun with the emergence of the pollsters and market researchers as a force in party politics.
For those planning Government Policy the primary question will be what new forms of taxes and levies can be applied on the electorate by delivering this new social layer. After all new income will be required to fund the burden of both the old “Agricultural” (e.g. Judiciary) and Clock Work (e.g. Education) Government Services and the new Social Government Services that will emerge from building this new social layer.
In simple terms - and to bastardize the original premise behind the American War of Independence – Governments the world over will demand of their electorates they receive “No Social Representation Without More Taxation” for no other reason than this new layer – if it is to become a key part of the preexisting Government Systems – will be very expensive to build, integrate, measure, monitor and maintain.
One only has to measure the diplomatic, national security, political and social costs associated with the fall out from the ongoing Wikileaks saga to recognize just how expensive this new layer of Social Government will be.