The social media revolution is often portrayed as a gargantuan shift the likes of which have never been seen before… its not really.
If you read the news and follow the hype you’ll be familiar with the calls to throw out your old ways or risk becoming irrelevant. While there is some truth amongst the hype, we’ve seen similar changes before and you are better prepared than you realise – so if you’ve been following these rapid developments and wondering how to make sense of it all, read on.
Communication has always been the working machinery of humanity, and it’s never been static. In fact profound shifts in how we communicate have occurred continually throughout history and they all follow the same pattern… social media is no exception.
The most recent and applicable information revolution to what we are seeing today is the advent of the movable type press of Gutenberg in 1439.
Back in the time of horse and cart, Gutenberg’s technology took around 70 years spread, and another 150 years for its accumulative value to be realised.
Through this roughly two hundred year period ideas were suddenly able to spread across society faster and more consistently than ever. Until Gutenberg, very few were educated and literate, but with access to cheap books, language became standardised and literacy rates soared.
Before Gutenberg local and world news was relayed in the Sunday Church service. After Gutenberg that centralised power became more democratised with the rise of doctrines, newspapers and individual opinion.
This new access to information was seen as a direct threat to the established hierarchy so many of those in charge, mainly Churches and governments, took exactly the same actions we are seeing in corporations and governments today… they resisted.
Back then, Spain and Portugal dominated the world and owed their prosperity to the traditional business models of war and taxes. Fearful of change Spain and Portugal spent the following two hundred years limiting or controlling the spread of the printing press. Through initiatives’ like the Inquisition, social discourse was quashed isolating them from a rapidly innovating world and eroding their world standing.
Poorer countries such as Holland and England with little to loose, embraced the technology leading to established standards in business, scientific thought and governance. Standards in accounting and technical breakthroughs in shipbuilding led to tremendous prosperity for these previously poor countries, all of which was facilitated by the fast and cheap exchange of ideas.
Correspondingly today, many of our most celebrated social media champions are companies who only jumped in because their backs were against the wall. Their subsequent turnarounds are well studied and the commonality is the courageous commitment that comes with necessity – i.e. Lego, Burberry, Deloitte.
Back in the 1400-1500’s this information surge touched all levels of society, and again, we are seeing the same thing today.
Published in 1522, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is estimated to have achieved an incredible circulation of 300,000 copies. That huge volume of copies says a lot about capacity, the innate demand for information and the potency of his work.
The 95 Theses played a key role in the questioning an outdated and arguably corrupt religious/political hierarchy, the outflows of which went on to trigger the Reformation in Europe and the rise of a nations right to self-determination. Oddly enough, the Pope wasn’t pleased so Luther was excommunicated and labelled an outlaw, all for pointing out the truths & inconsistencies that are now considered to be self-evident; one wonders how much time Luther was forced to spend in the Ecuadorian embassy.
This is the function of real social dialogue in its most literal sense, changing societies, and the world, forever.
Another hundred years later, and Isaac Newton’s work was disseminated throughout Europe for research and discussion.
By the 19th century, the printing press was the default medium of social dialogue and the platform across which all sorts of change and development was facilitated.
This was the true birth of modern media and represented a significant step in the democratisation of information away from institutions, back to individuals… and it’s happening again today.
If there was any difference from now to then it would be the speed of uptake; Social media in its current form is at best 20 years old and already there are over 1.5 billion regular users; social media has achieved more in twenty years than the printing press did in one hundred.
Again our hierarchies are being questioned as more direct paths to information by-pass inherent flaws in previous models to create new ways of working and learning that are much more direct and efficient. That’s not to say hierarchies are dead, they didn’t die in the Reformation, but they are undergoing significant disruption and for us this is what “Digital Disruption” points to.
Be it social, political, organisational or religious, all practises are subject to scrutiny, and for the idealists amongst us this is very exciting.
Resist, or don’t resist… it really doesn’t matter; this shift is happening regardless of who participates. However for my money this unfolding represents the largest and most profound opportunity we’ll ever have to contribute in alignment to our inspiration…