If you are not familiar with this headline and want to look it up it relates to Time Magazine’s annual competition to find the ‘person of the year’ and the final choice for 2006. See this article for details.
The basis of the article is to claim that the theory of ‘Great Men’ changing the collective destiny of the human race took a ‘serious beating’ in 2006 as it became the year when the individuals became visible as never before, and it was their collective wisdom that affected the direction of 2006. In short the theory is that we are now in charge of our own destiny, a pretty scary thought, though it does perhaps go some way towards explaining the almost universal disenchantment with politicians!
I am not so sure about this nice neat idea that we are increasingly able to organise ourselves, that seems to me to be the next stage of development beyond Web 2.0. After all it’s worth remembering that when Tim O’Reilly laid out the seven basic principles of what distinguished Web 2.0 thought ‘harnessing collective intelligence’ was one of them; there was nothing to do with execution.
Current progress with Web 2.0, and the collective ability, is happening, but it’s because someone does play the role of the ‘great man’ in setting up an environment for us to practice our collective activities; www.myspace.com as an example. Okay so it’s getting easier to do our own thing, and set up mash-ups, or whatever, but there is nothing in sight yet, that I know of, that represents a political movement to organise society. The closest we are to this seems to be Second Life; www.secondlife.com where a parallel society does seem to be emerging, sometimes in ways that the principle creator doesn’t really like too.
With a population of more than 2 million, Second Life is well on the way to being of a size to be a ‘state’ in RW, (the term Second Lifers use for the Real World). More importantly it has got to a size where the inhabitants require some degree of organisation to achieve commonly desired objectives, and that’s where it gets interesting to me. This virtual world is a wonderful speeded up example of what our future might hold for all of us. Right now it’s a world created, and peopled, by those with advanced technology skills who do not have to worry about the limitations and dependencies of RW.
Therefore the issues being experienced, and the solutions that address these needs that are developed can be genuinely innovative in terms of their approach, and maybe many of the issues will be those that the rest of society will face in a few years time. The first signs of a political struggle are appearing with the so called ‘Second Life Liberation Army’ which has political demands – personally I really can’t understand if this is serious or just a game – and a Judge Posner who is offering views on morality, law etc. see this article for more details.
However there are real companies there too, experimenting with advanced technology ideas to see how to develop products that suit these new roles, and that’s serious, so when you want to think about the future of society and the ability for us all to play an active role in that society it’s not a bad idea to go and look at what is happening on Second Life to see how it may all develop. As an alternative to becoming a citizen you can get information on what is happening from both the Reuters news bureau at http://secondlife.reuters.com/ ,or from the very good http://nwn.blogs.com.