Back in the old days, we shopped in stores, where Black Friday events caused trampling injuries. Our wallets were stuffed with cards for using credit, receiving discounts and unlocking doors. On average, English words were a couple of letters longer. Schools issued books, not tablet computers, and foreign exchange programs required students to actually travel overseas. Tablets relied on batteries, which required a recharge after only a couple of days. Hyperconnected folks stayed mostly tethered to power outlets and WiFi networks. People preferred to record and share events on smartphones, more than take part. Palm-held touchscreen apps helped tech junkies with everything, from infant parenting tactics to finding cheap gas to social activism. There was a lot of political discourse occurring; Congress had an approval rating below that of the United States turning communist.
After a decade or two, that’s probably how we’ll look back on 2012. With the year’s hyped up solstice behind us, the Mayan’s say we’re now living in a new era, a point where the human experience is expected to drift toward a total breakdown or an epic breakthrough. It doesn’t take a sensationalist to suggest our material culture is developing at an unprecedented rate, but whether it’s a malignant growth depends on how convinced you are of our ability to control it. In my opinion, to avert a disaster, our material knowledge must not outpace our cultural competences. When combating violence, we must focus less on how its committed, more on why. Our evolved consciousness must respect everyone’s right to life, liberties and truth. We must focus on acknowledging that the pursuit of happiness, freedom and personal fulfillment are common human desires, uniquely tailored for various environments.Many futurists suggest exponential growth will lead to a technological singularity, where progress in technology occurs almost instantly, artificial intelligence is born and man becomes immortal. It took Homo sapiens 2,000 centuries to fashion their first commercial computers, requiring hefty systems to process high level programming languages. During the past 50 years, the number of transistors on integrated circuits has doubled about every two years, as we’ve made powerful computers common items in consumer pockets. Most recently, we’ve experienced an amazing pace of improvements in mobile technologies and Internet access. Less than 400 million people around the world were connected to the Internet after the inception of the 21st century, according to the Internet World Stats reports. Now, 13 years later, reports estimate more than 2.4 billion people connected, almost instantly sharing video, voice and text messages around the world. According to Twitter’s stats page, its micro-bloggers took three years, two months and one day to send the service’s first billion messages, or Tweets. Today, it hosts more than 200 million active users who, combined, send at least a billion Tweets every three days. Through a consistent evolution of its material culture, mankind is cranking up the volume of its collective voice. Throughout 2013, participatory media will continue to drive attention away from broadcast media, as information sharing expands into an even more effective crowd-sourced project. Consumers and activists alike will keep rallying for organizational accountability, while directing content deliverability. Humans innately seek out collaborative tools, systems to get informed and inform others, to create connections and build understandings. People who’re suddenly exposed to social technologies routinely sack repressive media policies. During their country’s recent uprisings, three out of every four Egyptians primarily used social media to raise awareness about the revolutions, organize actions and manage activists, according to the Arab Social Media Report by the Dubai School of Government in November 2011. Eighty-five percent of Arab women said social media makes it easier for them to express themselves, while 80 percent said it empowers them to be role models for social change. However, save for the most oppressed communities, the average person will remain caught in habitual comforts, under appreciating social media’s liberating trend. But as the 21st century advances, digital natives will continue to expect unrestricted participation within global information sharing channels, as a natural trait of any society that honestly values the voice of its people. Facebook asks its one billion active monthly users, “what’s on your mind?”
Through a consistent evolution of its material culture, mankind is cranking up the volume of its collective voice.
Anonymous is a loosely associated hacktivist group with nearly a decade spent portraying a cyber vigilante. The organization is currently targeting Steubenville, Ohio, where a 16 year-old-girl was drugged and gang raped last August. Enraged that kidnapping charges had been dropped and only two people faced charges of rape, which were moved to the juvenile court system, the group infiltrated personal computers and email accounts. They launched “Operation Roll Red Roll” and hacked into the private information of people they believe had a role in the crime. They started publishing incriminating information online Jan. 1, including an alleged cover-up scheme, photos and a video of a high school “Rape Crew” laughing during a drunken rant. Social media, the court of public opinion, responded with expressions of horror and outrage. This type of underground justice system, where discretely and successfully exploiting digital data represents a seemingly supernatural power, is a genuine global concern, according to the National Intelligence Council:
“The spread of (information technology) use will give individuals and groups unprecedented capabilities to organize and collaborate in new ways. Networked movements enabled by IT already have demonstrated the capacity for disruption and the ability to quickly draw global attention to the need for political and social change. IT use enables individuals to organize around shared ideas in the virtual world and carry out sustained action. … The exponential increase in data, combined with emerging capabilities to analyze and correlate it, will give unprecedented capabilities to individuals and connected networks in nearly every part of the world well before 2030. … IT devices will play an increasing role in the fight against corruption and government malfeasance and incompetence.”
Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed people are motivated by a hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and then self-actualization. His theory translates well into Web-based networks, lending to an explanation of how online communities grow over time. When first exposed to the ambiguity of a virtual community, participants establish their ability to maintain a connection and purpose. Next, they must feel secure from computer viruses, privacy violations and personal attacks. With this foundation, they become more social, trying to belong to communities and sponsor sub groups. Their participation surges with recognition for their contributions. Lastly, they accept leadership roles that recognize their skills and open new opportunities. More and more, people are achieving a sense of self-actualization online. After the shooting rampage in a Connecticut elementary school last month, people relied heavily on social media to tackle the polarizing issue of the nation’s gun laws, according to Pew Research Center. In the three days following the massacre Dec. 14, gun policy accounted for almost 30 percent of surveyed social media conversations in the United States, exceeding expressions of prayers and sympathy. Two years earlier, after the shooting outside a mall in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8, 2011, social media discussions about our country’s gun laws barely blipped the radar – representing just 3 percent of online conversations during the first three days.
If we continue to build walls and borders around nations of people, promoting a cold, disconnected existence of constantly retreating and defending, empowering corrupt politicians who hoard resources and wealth, the human species will stumble. However, if we continue to empower all people, a global collective consciousness, through impressive communications technologies, enabling widespread cooperation of the whole, rather than the few, we’ll move toward a more positive, transparent, peaceful future. We might usher in an era of change with the most impressive catalyst for human creativity ever experienced.