Rants on social media, citizenship, and politics
The Internet’s infrastructure, social media and mobile devices make up the technological tripod upon which the new information ecosystem of hyperconnectivity is supported.
Hyperconnected citizens on their part have developed new ways to interact with information, media and power, establishing themselves as social actors in processes that, up until now, have been under the control of institutional mediators.
Every great innovation in information technologies has had an impact on the relations between the power and citizens, redefining the scope of the public sphere.
Until the advent of the Internet, each “new technology” (press, radio, television, satellite and cable) had only reinforced the power of those with access to costly, scarce and regulated technological infrastructures of communication.
The media operate under the paradigm of distribution (one-to-many), using centralized pre-filtering systems (the editors), managed their relationship with power in democracies as a control mechanism (Fourth Estate) and their relationship with the public in terms of representativeness (implicit delegation).
Although the media was supposed to represent the voice of the people, the mechanisms made available for the audience to provide feedback were rather scarce. The old communication model was notoriously asymmetrical, had a marked tendency to massiveness and was consequently, unidirectional.
With the Internet, the access paradigm (many to one and many to many) replaced the distribution paradigm, previous filtering mechanisms disappeared (since content was generated by users on self-managed platforms), control over power got dispersed (people’s media) and the mass’ media ceased to be the exclusive intermediary between citizens and power (disintermediation).
Social media and mobile devices enhance Internet connectivity, providing its users with unprecedented autonomy, allowing them to not only control power in a distributed way but also exert control over the media and coordinate with other users, both inside and outside the Web.
Every day, hyperconnected citizens discover and create new participation and control channels, taking online activism to the street and then amplifying it from the street back to social media.
This is how hyperconnectivity has permanently changed the public communication stage and is also changing markets, education, politics and government, outpacing by far these institution’s ability adapt and react.
Media, enterprises, universities, political parties and public administration are faced with their greatest historical challenge: reinventing themselves in order to survive in a world that has changed and keeps on changing. A world in which technology, for once, has empowered people.
The debate surrounding the cultural and political impact of social-centric technologies has been opened and has many fronts. The “digital transformation”, the great mantra of our time, can not be seriously undertaken without a relation of rapprochement between what is gained and what it loses in a hyperconnected world.
- How much disintermediation, transparency, distributed control and permanent consultation can a democratic system tolerate before becoming something else entirely?
- How do we prevent the communication of either public administration, political activity and current affairs analysis from becoming a simple exchange of tweets and memes in pursuit of the next trending topic?
- What’s the privacy, security and vulnerability toll our ever-connected lifestyle it’s taking on us?
- How do we protect the virtualized institutions (the media, the parliament, the square, the market, the classroom) from their enemies?
Now that we know that technology has switched the relations between citizens and power, it’s time to ask ourselves if the world we are building is freer, more democratic and safer than the world we left behind.
Originally published as foreword in Social Media, Citizenship & Politics. Keys to the new public sphere (Albertina Navas, ed., Quito, 2017, pp. 5–7. ISBN: 978–9929–759–10–7. Translation: M&M Interlanguage).