“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”
It is remarkable that when Marshall McLuhan made this observation the Internet (Arpanet) was about to be born and the World Wide Web was still 17 years hence. He was referring more generally to media, although electronic media and databases were as central to his thoughts as to the source of the next big change. As for being worked over here’s a few recent stories: a man called Cal 9000 in the US marries his avatar, San Antonio in Texas becomes the first major US city to be without a book shop, on his wedding day at the altar one man tweeted “Standing at the altar with @TracyPage where just a second ago she became my wife! Gotta go, time to kiss the bride.” British physicians were advised to ignore amorous advances from patients after some were propositioned on Facebook, Dutch lawmakers were told off for tweeting in parliament and in Canada an MP had to apologize for insulting a rival on Twitter.
The speed and pervasiveness with which social media has driven new personal behaviours – from Facebook communities to blog commentaries and twitter streams – barely merits comment as being so extraordinary. In political terms the impact of the new channels on Obama’s triumph has been well documented and in other democracies they are clearly affecting the discourse between society and it’s aspiring political leaders. While the use of twitter by Iranian dissenters has provoked a new wave of ‘centralising’ activity from the Chinese government. In the economic sphere the takeover is less complete. Although huge volumes of commerce are now driven through e-channels the full impact of social dialogue is really only just being understood. If markets are now conversations then business clearly has much to learn about adapting behaviours and embracing this new customer or even activist consumer mind set. Indeed enterprise has been relatively clumsy in its response to this new dynamic compared to political organisations. So the Web hasn’t quite worked business over but the commercial world is beginning to see the need to adapt and practice listening.
To reflect on the aesthetic and psychological again a quick reference to the 1960s: “In an electronic information environment minority groups can no longer be contained – ignored. Too many people know too much about each other. Our new environment compels commitment and participation.”
Much has been written about this new ability to participate and imperative to become engaged and stay engaged in small communities, yet the deeper impact of this on aesthetic and psyche remains obscure. What do these new relationships mean in terms of how we understand influence, become engaged and trust one another? How do we form, spread of idea’s and their amplification in people’s daily life? Who creates this new approach and what are the ascetic principles? These are all questions that remain open. However, one clear ascetic side effect has been the growth of freakery and geekery as shown in the examples from personal life. One New Year’s prediction – while there’s still time – is that 2010 will be the year of the Art geek as augmented reality and other outlandish trends are amplified by online curators. Heck – as with the film Avatar’s may even come to replace flesh and blood actors.
As to the ethical, moral and social implications of being worked over by the web I am not sure where to begin any thoughts would be most welcome.