It has to be that the sheen of our web 2.0 world is a little faded from in 2007-2008 when I started and withdrew from a similar class. When I first read Shirky in mid-2008, I felt what it must have felt like to read Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999. His was the kind of theoretical approach to the Brave New World of social media that I was both in awe of and excited to see how the world could change because of this medium that thrived in spite of traditional hinderance of money and resources. I appreciated the case studies because they were largely around the frame of us, the users of the world, as global underdog that could take down theft safely behind laptops, almost shift the balance of power in entrenched political machines, and take down one of the world’s most powerful religious institutions. Shirky in explaining the force of the many to many, pitted us (the aggregate collaborators) versus powerful though narrowly focused institutions.
I wasn’t foolish to think that social media would mean a kind of perpetual digital revolution (Mao by way of Google), or that the kind of global realignment Shirky writes about would happen 15 months after he declared it, but maybe I hoped I was wrong. The Obama campaign or Graff’s, ‘First Campaign’ may be the culprit in skewing my perception that campaign forced tradition media to wake up and take a gigantic leap forward. Tommaso Sorchiotti’s slideshare presentation aptly and comically depicts this. The quixotic narrative of 2008 Presidential cycle lifted the resurrection narrative of the power of the web and vice versa. Both are a bit of mythology of course, I do think that ascendance of the Obama campaign and the side-story of their online strategy made the most compelling argument for the power of social media. But its 2009 almost 20-10, and I am left with thinking:
All new media tools herald a new dawn in how we communicate but eventually it falls victim to the tragedy of the commons, right? I guess I thought the villian of this tragedy would be some lone-gunman type and not MSM or the social media tools themselves. Social media, web 2.0 tools, and their companies are no different. Google, who could do no wrong in my book two years go has become just another company that is doing what it can to bend reality to its own creepy interests. Twitter just saw its ultimate social potential when it was the go-to medium of reporting Iran elections protests by the US government no less and yet it bothers me that Ashton Kutcher has more followers than NPR. When AIG has an RSS feed, it makes me want to stock my house with canned goods and wait for the Mayan Prophesy. I am not saying that social media and web 2.0 tools have jumped the shark, just that we still seem to have made this leap and no one really knows what is next. Web 3.0 and the semantic web is probably years if not a decade away. We are in this grey area where these tools are being actively adopted by the media institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times not because it generates revenue, but because it seems the only way to stay above mere relevancy. Perhaps I thought in a web 2.0 world, Moore’s Law applied to social change as well as computing speed. And maybe it does, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve culturally reached even a tenth of the journey to critical mass. Perhaps this still an odd time to look back on the last six to ten years of the web 2.0 social media explosion and study it as you would artifacts. It’s no longer new, yet we haven’t reached the point in this journey where we are closer to the end than the beginning. Then again, there is something to Shirky’s notion that technology doesn’t get socially interesting until it becomes technologically boring, and this world of many to many communications isn’t boring yet.