Let’s start with a question. I will describe a situation and you try to make an educated guess about the year that I’m talking about. Okay?
- Masses of people are driven out of their work by machines.
- People are forced to take up cheap labor at one of the new big companies for a few bucks per hour, often in bad working conditions.
- No benefits, no health insurance.
- People work 80+ hours per week to make the bare minimum.
- Society sees soaring inequality.
- Social unrest is building up.
Is this 2016? Or is it 1778 in England or 1788 in France?
Here we go again. One era ends, another one starts, and we seem to have the same problems again:
- A social disconnect between the elites and the general population
- Rising inequality and
- Insecurity regarding personal life planning, income and work.
The result of all this is displayed in voting results that remind us of the dark times in our history; it is displayed in hate speech on the internet and in a divided society.
People turn to radical leaders because they feel democracy hasn’t delivered.
Which are the eras that we are talking about here?
It seems every time society changes to a new era, new forms of organization outperform the previous ones.
Today, the silo and ivory tower structures of the Industrial Society are being disrupted and replaced by clearly more efficient asset-sharing networks.
But wait: What about government? Does government have disruption as well?
At the last turn of eras, monarchies were disrupted by democracies. And this is how the last disruption of government looked:
Not exactly a peaceful endeavor …
Now what can we do to prevent such an escalation this time?
There are three things that could be considered.
1) What society can do: We need a new system. The old one doesn’t work anymore.
The last social contract was formulated just before the French Revolution.
It defined the rights of citizens and the principles of democracy — instead of monarchy — back then. Meanwhile, society, the economy and the way we work have changed considerably.
But what do we need to change here?
The last social contract strongly focused on the rights of the individual. It was all about ME. Sounds fine, doesn’t it?
Today, in a complex Network Society, it may be necessary to add to our individual rights and duties a sense of solidarity and responsibility for each other and for society. This is why we may need to move from ME to WE as a principle.
But: we need to learn this. We have been socialized to compete, not to unite:
In the Industrial Society, we learned: “Competition is good for business.” Now we realize that, in the Network Society, this changes to “Cooperation is good for business.” If you are a professional, say a graphics designer, and you are out there on the web alone with your website you’ll realize that cooperating with your peers will create better visibility for everyone.
Another example: There are experiments with three year-olds where they help each other go through a set of tasks. In the same experiment, the seven year-olds watch each other fail. What happened in the meantime?
If we want an inclusive and prosperous society, we need to preserve this natural helpfulness of our children instead of socializing them for pure competition … and ignorance.
2) What government can do: Government must disrupt itself.
“Hey government, disrupt yourself!”
Sounds stupid, right? Well, maybe it isn’t.
Let’s first look at the question: Who wants to disrupt government this time?
Government bashing currently suggests that governments cannot do their job correctly. They are called inefficient and expensive. The private sector claims it can do the job better, therefore it wants to take over government services.
This raises a couple of questions:
· Are we seriously saying that Google, Amazon, Facebook or, let’s say, Uber will take care of citizens’ rights, decent work conditions and pay?
· Are we seriously considering that platform companies at large will suddenly discover their social nature and limit themselves in order to create a more balanced society?
There isn’t any such evidence in history.
We don’t need to go into too much detail, but history has shown that there is one core problem with this, as Yes Doz explained: Society consists of all people, also the most difficult, or the ones with disabilities or ones with financial problems, also the most demanding ones or the ones with social problems. All those make public services less profitable, this is why private sector doesn’t want ALL the clients.
But government and society have everyone.
So, before we venture into a future of disconnected services because they are not profitable, and before we receive our tap water from a company we didn’t vote for in the first place and that we later cannot get rid of, it’s worth taking a look at what government and citizens can do to take a stand in the Network Society.
Currently, private sector network economy players heavily engage in political campaigning by using their network. Uber created a button in their app with which people could complain about some regulation. The Mayor received thousands of complaints and gave in. That’s how it happened in New York. And this is just one of many examples.
Time to ask a few questions:
Is this democracy — or is it abusing democracy?
Could really everyone get involved?
This is certainly in the interest of investors, but can this be in the interest of society at large?
Did people have the chance to make informed decisions or were they used?
There’s no need to fall into a depression over the fact that society is currently waking up to find itself abused and brainwashed for the benefit of a few. Society just needs to figure out what can be done to empower people and the values they share. Here’s a suggestion on how to do this:
In order to disrupt itself to work well in the Network Society, government will need to become a network as well.
Government policies often lack acceptance, but this is exactly where networks and collaboration come in. (Please don’t imagine participation as 7000 citizens gathering in a convention center to argue about policies.) Real participation is co-creation. That means I participate in certain fields of government or civil society where it’s needed (!) and where I am competent or interested.
Co-creation is not about being important; it’s about making a contribution. This way, trust can be re-established and policies can be endorsed instead of imposed. This way, citizens stop being used and can start getting together to co-create their own future — and consider more than corporate interest.
3) All this comes down to one thing: We need MORE democracy.
Barack Obama said in a recent speech at the DNC: “Democracy is not a spectators’ forum.” I couldn’t agree more. It is not enough to vote and then sit back or complain.
In addition to rethinking government, democracy may need an update as well. We may essentially need to move from the current representative democracy to a truly participative democracy. Democracy 4.0, if you so wish.
What can this mean?
You often hear: “We need to prepare for the future that is coming.” There is no such thing as a set future that is being rolled out. The future needs to be MADE.
And the future is what we make of it. If we make nothing of it, someone else will — and then we will be their slaves.
Let this sink in. And then decide not IF, but WHERE you are going to participate.
Take action. In civil society, in real government participation projects … but consider one thing: Avoid the purely artificial online-only participation projects that actually say “we don’t want to talk to you anyway.” Look for the ones where people really meet and collaborate, like the City of Vienna developed its digital strategy together with citizens — and citizens even collaborated in follow-up projects.
One reservation: pure grassroots or a society free of hierarchies is not the solution. Why? Grassroots is outperformed by strategy everytime (everytime!).
There’s something called negotiation power.
The negotiation power and strategic operation of the private sector is clearly visible.
In a possible scenario, citizens could rid themselves of government in an idealistic — and maybe naïve — attempt to rid themselves of being governed, only to find themselves governed by Google, Facebook and Amazon instead, only to realize that they just abolished their negotiation power and a strategic leadership by abolishing government.
If people eliminate their own negotiation power, we will see exploitation and inequality escalate quickly … until people strike back?
This is the point here: Can we agree to move on to a new era without demolishing everything this time?
Can we agree to manage the turn of eras in a civilized manner this time? Maybe because it’s 2016?
The idea behind this is that Network Society is about sharing.
But it is not just about sharing economy. It is ultimately about sharing prosperity and about sharing government if we want to avoid repeating the problems of the past.
Let’s create a new elite, in a true sense: the elite of those who take action for the common good.
Solidarity and responsibility are what need to claim our future.
WE are government.
WE will manage the network age.
Welcome to OUR world.
. . .
P.S.: If you like to take action and join our real world discussion groups, no matter where you are, please email the author of this text under info [at] opennetworksociety.net