Futuresonic – Social Technologies Summit day 1 :- Digital Futures – Stowe Boyd #futr09

This was the opening keynote speech from @stoweboyd, looking  at the evolution and impact of ‘social tools’ on the connections, communities and constructs used by society and the manner how that could effect social interactions in the future.

It was part of the Digital Futures strand of the social technologies summit @futuresonic covers the exploration of how we embrace new collaborative, transactional and communicative modes and their transformational impact on the digital economy and society.

@stoweboyd began by outlining that the Web is the most valuable human artifact ever created.  As foil to the obvious and accepted value of the web, there isn’t as yet an accurate measure of the cost of sustaining this entity. That no one knows the cost, does that mean no one seems to care?  Apart from the basic resource costs, what about the  cultural costs? Though many of those will only be recognised in hind sight.

In the future history will view the current generation through the lens and subsequent effects of the Internet or the web.  And by the ‘web’ is not the props – databases, servers, network etc.  But more much important and of value is the interactions that comes from it. 

“We’ve made the web to ‘happen’ to us.”

He went on to describe the efficacy concepts behind ‘social tools’. 

Social tools become valuable as a measure of the ‘connectedness’ not  the efficiencies provided by them.  Many people need to use them, to input into and to get value, getting to point of the ‘Super Majority’ [the state of constant and ongoing, continuous interaction and participation within the environment by many individuals; providing a cumulative whole that is different yet in an atomic sense the sum of the parts.]  Other tools/software are designed to provide efficiencies/productivity, for example people don’t value MS Excel by virtue of ‘connectedness’ or the community evolved from it.

In an example of social tool, he described,  IM systems.  For these to become reliable, requires a cultural shift of the organisation so that everyone uses it (almost all of the time), and publishes info about their status or location. 

On anecdotal level, Lotus Sametime became prevalent within CSC through the viral spread of use, and peer to peer advocacy.  Interestingly a ‘social tool’ I am struggling to see the value of is Yammer in this context, people are joining, but whether there is a niche of conversation between Sametime and Twitter remains to be seen – people are ‘there’ but there’s almost no participation.

In researching new behaviours patterns connected to social tools.  @stoweboyd found that people are more willingly to trade personal productivity for connectedness to the benefit of the whole rather than the individuals.

@stoweboyd also coined “Edglings” term. Describing a movement away from centralised controls of the traditional mass media and intuitions of the industrial era. “Edglings” the people making choices to redistribute the ‘control’ or ‘influence’ of centralised large organisations (media, political, religious etc) to lie with the individual and the people. Where an individual’s network of connections to trusted sources, becomes far more valuable and influential than any processed centralised commodity, and they recognise that – ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are they.’ 

This flowed into a description of the democratisation of mass-media by the social media revolution providing tools that are easy to use, and with a low barrier of participation and costs. This is taking society back to a  pre-industrial social scale, more egalitarian society – where everyone has the chance to relate to each other as individuals.  However, it does not mean that there is equality because there are plenty of ways to measure rank or relevance or reputation ‘values’ through these new social tools.

The demise of traditional mass media and in particular the collapse of local media or publications is real and current.  A real shift of how individuals decide by whom and through whom they are informed ( by their contacts on the web), and also how they should spend their time on particular stories/memes/topics.  The power of the editor is broken and irrevocably.

In this shift away from mass media, where the primary mechanism for getting information stems from most trusted social connections on the web.  These are now providing a more ‘village’ like spectrum of social relationships, rather than the mass media top-down information flow.

He returned to the discussing the impact of social tools by relating to the tempo of communication that inherently characterises these modes of communication.

Micro-blogging is a fully public model, IM chat is private and email is secret. 

TEMPO Asynchronous Synchronous Synchronous
ACCESS Secret Private Public
CONTEXT Inbox Room Stream

While these co-exist at the moment, there is good evidence to suggest that email will die out with the next generation(s). Look at the communication behaviours of teenagers etc.  What people are doing things in the ‘open’ and ‘transparent’, will now and in future have greater impact and consequence that what was done in ‘private’ or ‘secret’.  “You can’t underestimate the future potential of doing things in the open now.”

The impact of the spectrum of social tools from IM, location based tools, social networks -facebook, social TV, will influence and form society. People will be shaped by it as rocks are shaped by water over the course of time.

Move from the centroids to the edglings the table is from Stowe’s post

Describing the evolution of individuals from centroids to edglings through the advent of social connectedness on the web. Bringing about a greater awareness of the local, individual identity as it relates to others and our cultural identity, and how we as a society approach the value of the environment, happiness and contentment.

  Centroids Edglings
Work  & Politics Top Down,
Bottom Up, Egalitarian
Point of View Objective, Impartial Subjective, Partial
Belonging Hierarchies Networks
Family Nuclear Post-nuclear (tribal)
Political Scope Nationalism Glocalism
Media Mainstream Participative
Environment Exploitative, Unsustainable Restorative, Sustainable
Spirituality Centralised, Dogmatic Decentralised, Enigmatic

However, not all shifts are quick and easy or will be all sunshine and flowers. We will discover there will be other restrictions and constraints of liberty.  And the centralised institutions will not let go quietly. An example of this interference and constraint is the AOL restriction on advancing their IM product (AIM) at the time it was a market leader by introducing  voice/video features. The Department of Justice prevented AOL from doing this feature set advancement allowing Yahoo and MS to catch up in the IM consumer market space. The D.o.J. also missed an opportunity here to mandate interoperability across IM platforms!

In summing up Stowe referred to Claude Levi-Strauss as in that post above.

“A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of others before love of self.”

Social media, and the democratisation of mass-media brings with it an opportunity to re-instate the approaches of society and culture that existed in our pre-industrial world.


There were some questions – mainly around the inequal access and awareness of the power internet and the tools available. To which Stowe quoted the author, William Gibson “future is here, just not equally distributed.”

At the moment it is clear that in the main asymmetrical connections are inbuilt at the moment (apart from Korea – where a gigabit symmetrical service will be a reality by 2012).

Also he was questioned on the impact of social media on politics.  He answered that political parties are inextricably linked to traditional mass media, their constructs have been designed around the use of mass-media to engage with the populous.  There is likely to be change and a shift in mechanisms of party politics in future, but this will take time 20 – 25 years or so.



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