Old World, New Order

We are connected. Technology connects us, enables us, informs us, educates us, and entertains us. It’s not equal, not everybody has access and not everybody uses technology the same way: Different economies, different cultures, different expectations. It’s easy to assume global uniformity, but we must adapt to the local environmental considerations. Wherever you look, technology (not just the Web) enables communities in radical ways, from simple text-messaging news systems connecting remote communities in India, to full-streaming live video in the always-on super-connected (generally affluent) ever-spreading hubs in other corners of the world.

Whichever network you use – whether it is SMS GupShup in remote communities, Twitter, Plag**, or the fledgling live video streaming services such as Periscope and Meerkat – technology has allowed us to connect with individuals without the need for approval from a hierarchy. Our news comes direct from the source. Pictures are taken on mobile phones and uploaded to the collective. We can search and discover events as they happen, even respond to crises in real-time. With the added layer of live video from the scene, we can tap into the ‘now’ more than we ever could. We always used to live events in the past – through the newspaper, the television, online newspapers, SMS updates – each iteration bringing real life one step closer to the ‘now’.

There is a revolution coming. I’m not talking about an uprising here (though these are happening around the globe, and sadly mostly extremist), but a quantum shift in how we interact with the ‘now’. We have traditionally digested information from sources which are edited, and some bought and paid for to deliver specific messages to support business or politics. But that is changing as we can now, in real-time, access live information (e.g. Twitter, Periscope, Meerkat, et al) in its raw form. Any medium is subject to author’s bias, so these new sources cannot be automatically assumed as objective, but we can gain a rounded perspective of an issue and not have to digest the party line we are fed.

The new services are often socially lead. Snapchat was all about sharing photos and video clips with your friends which self-destruct so there is no trace remaining. Fun and frivolous, and quickly adopted for seedier services if you read the common press. However, Snapchat recently added a corporate layer with channels adding exclusive bite-sized content allowing you to consume information and not just updates from your friends. Snapchat’s ‘event’ channels are great for getting inside information on events – people can tag their uploads for an event feed and these are aggregated so you can voyeuristically be there. One example was the dramatic snowstorm on the East Coast of America this winter, with footage being uploaded from across the region. You were there, in the ‘now’ of the storm. Periscope and Meerkat are variants of this, being led by social rules (‘who we follow’), though the emergence of a publishing platform for channels is much more relevant for the everyman, and having searchable content (like Twitter itself) with tags will enable the everyman to directly stay in touch with the ‘now’.

The real magic in these fledgling systems is when we realise they are not one-way, not just for consumption, but two-way, for communication, for enablement. These future tools and platforms will allow us to find interests, to automatically be alerted of anything of relevance across platforms, and to contribute and respond. Debate can be forged around any topic – from scientific interest, religious thought, spiritual wisdom, politics, literature, and more.

Do we not already have this in place, you ask? Not in its entirety. Currently, it is passive and historic in context. Until we directly engage and interact we will never have the ability to influence the course we take as a species. Imagine if the recent televised UK political debate was streamed live via Meerkat or Periscope and not just through the TV (some parts actually were, but the audience is restricted to the early adopters). True enough, there are social TV apps you can install on your iPad (e.g. Beamly, formerly Zeebox), but these are niche. Platforms that integrate with the main conduits we use – currently Twitter, Facebook, et al – will gain more mainstream relevance more quickly and allow us to interact and effect the ‘now’ at any level, local and international.

These new tools put us on a cusp, at a paradigm shift if we take it, and offer a doorway to a new way of living, a new way of being. This may sound overly melodramatic, but it is only our choice of how we move forward that is stopping is. Collectively the supertanker metaphor springs to mind – we will be slow to change as it is difficult to quickly turn a steaming supertanker – but the door is there and the opportunity awaits.